Archive for December, 2009

Black Eyed Peas: Stewed Black Eyed Peas

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

New Year's tradition

Get ready for the hoopla – banging pots and pans, fireworks, and even firearms shooting off. Yikes! These are just a few of the ways people around the world welcome in the New Year. Originally, these loud rituals were believed to frighten away bad spirits and ensure a good year to come. Me, I’ll be doing something a bit more tame – cooking up a pot of black eyed peas.

Eating black eyed peas on New Year’s Day is a longtime custom among African Americans and Southerners who believe the legumes will bring prosperity and good luck, especially when paired with greens, which symbolize money. Some folks say you just need to eat a spoonful and others say at least 365 (one for each day of the year). Regardless, this year, in this economy, the superstitious dare not skip this tradition.

Some prefer to get their good fortune via a rice and black eyed pea dish called Hoppin’ John. I, however, prefer my peas simmered for several hours until they become creamy. That’s how my in-laws cook them up and how I’ve been eating them for almost two decades. They make a delicious meal served with a dash of Louisiana style hot sauce and maybe some vinegar, along with a generous portion of greens and big ‘ole slice of corn bread.

Black eyed peas can be found in most markets, either dried (found with other legumes), frozen or canned. If you have the time, make them from scratch with this recipe. There really is no substitute. But, if you cannot, opt for the frozen over the canned.

Happy New Year! Below are a few more New Year’s traditions that might pique your interest. Let me know if you have any to share.

Other New Year’s Rituals:

  • Good luck will follow to couples who feed each other grapes during the last 12 seconds of the year. Feed your love interest 12 grapes, representing 12 months in the year; one with each stroke of the countdown and make a wish (Spain and Latin American countries).
  • In you want to travel in the New Year, take your luggage outside and walk around at midnight (Mexico).
  • Eat round-shaped foods such as grapes and prepared desserts for luck; eat noodles for a long life (Philippines).
  • Wear red underwear at midnight for luck with love in the upcoming year or yellow underwear for luck with money (Mexico).
  • For those who are thrill seekers, plunge into icy waters for a polar bear swim on New Year’s Day (Canada).


Rum: Swizzle – Bermudian Holiday Drink

Sunday, December 20th, 2009


According to several sources, swizzle is the National drink of Bermuda. If you’ve had it, you know why – it’s divine. The rum, citrus and ginger make for a refreshing libation.

My friend Ernest, whose family hails from Bermuda, says swizzle is a favorite at Christmas and New Year’s festivities (as well as the Cricket World Cup in the summer months). Frankly, after making this drink, it has already become a staple for me and for entertaining.

This recipe honors the three traditional ingredients of swizzle: dark rum, citrus and sweetener. For rum: use a dark one such as the Bermuda produced Gosling’s Black Seal Rum. The heavier body of darker rums stands firm with the bold flavors of the other ingredients. For citrus:  lime, pineapple and orange juice make a slightly tart, yet sweet combo.

And, finally, the sweetener that makes this an A+ cocktail . . . my ginger simple syrup. Although most recipes (including one from the legendary Swizzle Inn in Bermuda) use falernum, a simple syrup infused with almond, ginger and cloves, I could not locate it and knew most of you would have the same problem. So, I improvised and made my own simple syrup that highlighted the ginger and also imparts a nice molasses flavor. It’s good! Next time, I might add a few cloves.

This holiday season I’m glee with my Bermudian Swizzle. Now, if I could just score some cassava pie.

Tidbits on Rum

  1. The climate of the Caribbean is ideal for growing sugar cane and the region has become the epicenter of the world’s rum production with every major island producing signature rums.
  2. When spirits such as rum are removed from breathable barrels, where they mature, and are put into bottles, the rum no longer ages. A bottle of seven-year-old rum purchased five years ago is still considered seven years old.

Sources:; Encyclopedia of Food and Culture


Rum: Coquito – Puerto Rican Holiday Drink

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

Coquito Holiday

For the holidays we’re mixing things up around here. Literally! We’re not “cooking” so much as we’re getting our holiday groove on, imbibing on one of the top selling spirits in the world . . . rum. First up is coquito. A deliciously creamy coconut elixir steeped in spices:  cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and vanilla. Coquito is standard during the Christmas season in Puerto Rican households, along with pasteles (savory pastries stuffed with meat), pernil (roasted pork shoulder), arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas), and tostones (fried plantains).

Much like eggnog, coquito is a rich holiday drink meant for sipping and savoring. A little goes a long way, especially because it’s loaded with several tasty ingredients like coconut milk and sweetened condensed milk. And, it contains a good dose of rum.

As customary with all things scrumptious, there are a plethora of ways to make coquito. Recipes are tweaked from generation to generation and person to person for a signature twist. More traditional versions require cracking coconuts and fresh eggs. My recipe, however, is much simpler using canned coconut milk and nixing the eggs (no need to drink raw eggs or deal with a double boiler). I’ve also added almond extract for another bold dimension.

Although there is talk of a coquito throwdown in these parts next year, my hermanas Puerto Rican and Boriqueñas were kind enough to let me in on a few tips:  1) cutting the eggs out is not sacrilege and 2) using Coco Lopez® cream of coconut makes for a much sweeter drink. Note, I’ve had plenty of versions of coquito that I found both too rich and sweet, so I use regular coconut milk instead of Coco Lopez®.

This coquito tastes like a tropical Christmas. If you can’t be on the island, taste it. For optimum flavor, make note to make this at least a day ahead.


Tidbits on Rum:

  1. Rum is derived from sugarcane. Essentially, when sugarcane is crushed, the juice that is extracted is boiled and separates into crystallized sugar and a remnant sugary liquid known as molasses. The molasses is further distilled and aged to make rum.
  2. Fermenting and distilling sugarcane to make beverages dates back thousands of years to China, Egypt, India, Syria, Southeast Asia and the South Pacific.
  3. About 80 percent of the rum consumed in the United States is from Puerto Rico.
  4. Rums come in light (silver) and dark (gold). Most light rums are produced in Puerto Rico, while the darker versions come from Jamaica.

Sources:  The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America; The Encyclopedia of Food and Culture.


Sweet Potato: Jamaican Sweet Potato Curry

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

Jamaican Sweet Potato

What kind of sweet potato person are you? A. Eat sweet potatoes at Thanksgiving meal and don’t eat them otherwise; B. Eat sweet potatoes year round; C. Don’t eat sweet potatoes. I predict most folks fall into the holiday eater group and these lovely tubers get ignored the rest of the year. What a shame because they are nutritionally loaded with Vitamins A and C. And, the better part (for some), they taste great even under the simplest of cooking methods (boiled or baked) and without added fats and spices.

Here, however, we’re using the spice rack . . . Jamaican style! Sweet potatoes are simmered in a warm spice mixture common to Carribbean cuisine:  ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, cumin, cloves and allspice. Then, it’s made luscious with coconut milk. For an added touch of Caribbean influence, I’ve added okra and I served it all on a bed of sautéed kale, since it was easier to locate in my neighborhood than the Jamaican spinach callaloo.

This is a vegetarian curry that can be enjoyed as a main or a side. It’s nutritious comfort food when the weather outside is frightful. It is hearty akin to the consistency of a thick butternut squash soup. And, the taste  is deep – the Indian influence is certain. Each spoonful makes me close my eyes and long to transported to an island far away.

The recipe is adapted from the Jamaican Fish Curry recipe in one of my favorite cookbooks, The Caribbean: Central & South American Cookbook by Jenni Fleetwood and Marina Filippelli (2007). It’s definitely a go to book for Caribbean cooking with make-you-want-to-cook recipes, beautiful photography and easy instructions.

Enjoy! With this dish I bet some C. types would convert.

Tidbits on Sweet Potatoes

  1. The origin of sweet potatoes is believed to be located in Central America with its ancestral roots in the Mexican wild yam. They have been cultivated for more than 5,000 years, although fossilized remains in the Andes date back 8,000 years.
  2. Sweet potatoes were the second most important root crop in the United States at the beginning of the twentieth century. In 1920, per capita consumption was 31 pounds. In 1999, consumption dropped to a mere 4 pounds per person.
  3. China grows about 87 percent of sweet potatoes grown worldwide; with nearly half used as feed for animals. Asia produces 6 percent, Africa 5 percent, Latin America 1.5 percent, and the United States 0.45 percent.
  4. Sweet potato flesh comes in a spectrum of colors: white, yellow, purple, red, pink, violet and orange. Nutritionally, all varieties are good sources of Vitamins C and E as well as dietary fiber, potassium, and iron, and they are low in fat and cholesterol. The orange and red fleshed sweet potatoes are an excellent source of beta-carotene (Vitamin A).

Source: Encyclopedia of Food and Culture.