Written by: SUSAN KOSTER
“What’s for dinner?”
“What do we have?”
In the Land of Plenty, the answer might rather be, “What do you feel like eating?”, but you can forget about that on our island, especially if it’s a Sunday or a Monday. Not much is open on Sundays, and the boats – the “High-Speed Ferry” and the “Mail Boat” – don’t come until Tuesdays and Wednesdays. It’s much better – and safer – to have a flexible palate to work with.
You can also forget about planning out a complete meal in any sort of detail. Even if the boats have come and the food supplies have been unpacked, everything doesn’t always show up – many things may be out of stock, over-priced, or, they may have simply “missed the boat”. But enough of the negativity. We islanders can become quite accomplished at Grocery Complaining if we allow ourselves. Let’s be positive about what we have to work with instead, shall we?
Creative – very creative – cooks are the ones who thrive on an island. Roaches love cookbooks, so the internet is a great starting place to create a meal from whatever’s left! I have made some amazing meals on my rock using ingredients I might never have paired before in another life had I not been forced to think outside the old recipe box.
My favorite resourceful cooking advice that I would pass on to any aspiring cook is, “What grows together, goes together!” Some examples we all may be familiar with would be tomatoes and basil, or lamb and rosemary, or even rum and coke (…right?).
One time, having spontaneously invited friends over for afternoon drinks and realizing I had no appetizer-type food in the house, I came up with a concoction I called, “Greek Salad-Bread”. Pine nuts, feta cheese, rosemary, olives, green pepper, onion, garlic, oregano, and our own sea salt, flour, water, yeast, a bit of sugar, and olive oil. – we simply tore off chunks and dipped it in olive oil. The result? YUM!
Save your run of the mill veggie cravings for your trips to the states (we all experience that first rush of excitement when we get lost in the produce section of an American supermarket, don’t we?!) On our rock, it’s best to eat locally and seasonally. Local food is realistically priced and is truly fresh, having never been transported more than a few miles to our weekly Farmer’s Market. No, you won’t always find tomatoes, but when you do, buy them all – they are wonderful. Pumpkin and cabbage can usually be counted on and keep forever. Because we are on-island almost year-round, we are the recipients of the refrigerators full of stuff from all the winter residents when they leave. Last spring, I had three half heads of cabbage given to me; soup, cole slaw, stuffed cabbage, and steamed cabbage later, it was all consumed. And local pumpkin? You don’t even have to refrigerate the thing for a month. Once it’s cut, it’s delicious in soups, stews, rice, breads, and you can freeze the rest to be used later. Sweet green peppers are also available all year long and are, most of the time, crunchy, not wrinkly, and used with onion in almost every Bahamian dish.
As for fruit, same goes. There’s plenty available locally if you can adjust your taste buds to what’s grown in the islands. My partner is an obsessive fruit addict. Last year, our friends left us access to their papaya trees laden with coconut-sized papaya. He would bring home six a day… even the smell got to me after awhile. BUT, now we still have wonderful desserts of pureed papaya, a splash (or two) of coconut rum, an old banana, and a squeeze of lime. It’s better than ice cream, a whole lot cheaper, and healthier too (not to mention that chopping it with a spoon at the dinner table is certainly an eyebrow-raiser). Currently, it’s sapodilla season, and he brings home thirty at a time. They are good but thirty – seriously? They too are pureed with coconut rum, frozen in yogurt containers, and served with a lime wedge. Both the papaya and dillies, pureed and frozen are delicious mixed with plain yogurt.
Save most berries for another country. Strawberries are $6 a quart here and are generally moldy and lack flavor. Though I have to say, blueberries are a worthwhile, occasional treat – at $6 a half pint, they do last.
I also recommend learning lots of ways to serve rice of all kinds. It’s always good with the ends of the onions and the peppers, with fresh coconut, with the rest of the pumpkin, or with a bit of local seafood and makes a hearty meal.
Seafood… that’s another matter. We’re on islands, right? Surrounded by oceans? And yet – no fish markets, no seafood in the grocery store, no seafood when the wind blows, no seafood when the guys are selling crawfish to the fish houses. So we’re right out there with the locals in our little boat, using hand lines, and eating whatever we catch. Even the less desirable creatures make good fishcakes (plenty of local key lime and “peppa” makes anything delicious, right?). We get fresh conch ourselves – not a lot, but enough for us to enjoy some conch salad/ceviche, stewed conch, cracked conch, etc.
Meat is a luxury because it’s all brought in. Once a year we get a local lamb. I came out of the meat business, so I attempted to cut it up myself. My poor partner was in the driveway with a cutlass trying to help me cut the bones. But I found out that you can’t cook it like a New Zealand rack of lamb (sigh), as these local creatures eat from the wild. The meat is tough but not at all strongly flavored. Someone actually brought us a tagine from Morocco, and the lamb is best cooked up in that (repeat: what grows together, goes together!).
Land crabs…..those things that are all over the road after a rain, are a delicacy ….I’m saving my share for someone who appreciates them ….yuk.
As for desserts, this one is easy – Bahamians LOVE their sweets and do wonders with the ingredients available to them such as coconut, sugar, banana, sugar, guava, sugar, sesame seeds, sugar, peanuts, sugar, pumpkin, and sugar… catch my drift? Benne cakes, coconut cake, banana bread, guava duff, pumpkin roll… the list goes on and on, and they are all good. If you have a sweet tooth, you’re in for a literal treat.
And the rest – flours, sugar, nuts, grains, seeds: KEEP IT ALL IN THE FREEZER or live to deal with infestations, my dears!
My point is, if you’re on a rock, get creative and cook on the bright side and you most certainly won’t go hungry! This morning, we had Long Island hand-ground yellow corn grits and grapefruit and, for lunch, we had our own pizza with fresh-made dough, Italian sausage (a splurge at $9 for five… but pizza only uses two), onions, olives, tomato paste, sweet pepper, and all of our leftover grated cheese. Tonight’s dinner will be a great big salad with romaine, our own homegrown arugula, island avocado, chickpeas, feta cheese, olives, tomato, and onion. I do bake our own bread too – what’s available here is like a sponge.
Eet Smakelijk, en Guete, Bon Appetit… let’s eat!