One of the things that makes Haitian food so special is its use of fresh herbs and spices. Haitian cooks are known for their mastery of these ingredients, and they use them to create flavorful and complex dishes.
One of the main components in Haitian cuisine is Haitian Epis, a traditional Haitian seasoning base made from a blend of fresh herbs, onions, garlic, and peppers. It is similar to other Caribbean seasonings like sofrito and other Caribbean green seasonings but has its unique flavor profile. Epis is a key ingredient in many Haitian dishes, and it can also be used as a marinade or a condiment.
What is Haitian Epis and How to Make It
Epis is a delicious and versatile seasoning that can be used in various ways. It is a great way to add flavor to Haitian dishes or any other dish you make. In Haitian cuisine, it is used in rice and beans, stews, meat dishes, poultry dishes, and seafood dishes. It is also used in many appetizers like Fritters (Haitian marinades – with or without meat) and Accra (akra).
Epis can be made at home or purchased from specialty stores. There’s no wrong or correct way to make Haitian Epis. You can add other herbs and spices of choice as long as you have the main ingredients. The traditional ingredients for Haitian epis are:
- Fresh Parsley: also called Italian or Flat Parsley. This ingredient is a must and should not be substituted with cilantro with a different flavor profile.
- Fresh thyme: goes well with most herbs. It provides a fresh taste and is used extensively in French Cuisine.
- Onion: white or yellow onion, whatever you can find. You can also add red onion or shallots if you prefer. Although the latter is quite expensive, red onion is a better choice.
- Garlic: with potent medical properties, it is no wonder it is used in cuisines worldwide. Use fresh garlic and not ground or powdered to get the full benefit.
- Scallions or Green Onions: with a mild onion taste, they complement the freshness and taste of parsley and thyme very well.
- Bell peppers: Green Bell Pepper is strong in flavor and is usually found in Epis. You can substitute it with red, yellow, or red bell pepper with a milder flavor.
Adding an acidic agent is common
A liquid agent is needed to blend the herbs in the blender or food processor. The most used are vinegar and lemon juice. They both help with the blending process and help create a smooth, thick sauce of fresh herbs.
- Vinegar or Lemon/Lime Juice: Choose either. This is a choice you have to make as both are used interchangeably. Freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice is best, but bottled is also a good option. Choose a good brand of lemon juice.
- Olive oil is not your typical ingredient for health reasons and is usually not recommended. Many people still add it because they like the texture. not added, but many people always choose a good oil. Some people may choose canola oil, but olive oil is a better option as it contains more flavor. The olive oil is added when ready to use the green seasoning as a marinade for meat, poultry, and seafood.
- Sour Orange Juice (not pictured): This is a good substitution choice if you use green seasoning mostly for meat.
This collection of optional herbs is terrific with the seasoning blend. Choose the one you want and remember that these are very strong herbs, so be careful with the amount you use.
- Rosemary: a bit lemony with a strong herbal aroma and flavor. Use small quantities.
- Tarragon: a sweet peppery flavor that goes great with fish and chicken.
- Sage: slightly minty, great with pork, poultry, and meat.
- Oregano: a fresh flavor that will enhance the taste of meat and poultry dishes. No wonder it is widely used in Greek and Italian cuisines.
- Bay Leaves: very aromatic, great in sauce, meat, poultry, bean puree, and soup. Dried bay leaves are easier to find than fresh.
- Basil is not a typical Epis herb, but it contains many health benefits – why ignore it? Use in small quantities.
- Marjoram: an excellent, flavorful herb, slightly milder than oregano, great in meat and poultry.
- Sorrel is used in many Caribbean cuisines but is not a typical ingredient in Haitian Epis.
The options are added by preference and if available. These ingredients are not the norm except for hot peppers found in various recipes.
- Leeks are not available year-round and, therefore, an option when in season. It also provides a nice flavor when using green seasoning in rice dishes.
- Ginger: this is a newbie for many people. Many people use it to replace the taste of hot pepper for medicinal purposes.
- Chives: It is a great option in season and can replace scallions.
- Hot Pepper: Add it or leave it? It is a choice that is not easy to make because it can cause the mixture to be too spicy. The peppers of choice are Habanero or Scotch Bonnet.
Many cooks prefer adding salt, pepper, bouillon cubes, Maggi, or seasoning salt to complete their seasoning taste. This is done to cut time when marinating chicken and meat dishes. The problem with adding salt, seasoning salt, or bouillon cubes is that it can be challenging to control the sodium.
The Health Benefits of Haitian Epis
Each herb has powerful medicinal properties, and it is no wonder that when mixed together, they make food taste good.
What is the Best Haitian Epis Recipe?
The best recipe is the one you make that pleases your palate. The recipe enhances the flavor of your food and makes you look like a professional chef in your kitchen. Follow this recipe for Haitian Epis as a start.
How to Use Haitian Epis in Your Cooking
Typically, you will use as much as you need. For a 5-pound meat recipe, you can start with 3 – 4 tablespoons. You can adjust the taste and add other seasoning blends if you wish.
Are there any substitutes for Epis?
Of course, there are. But it is fun to create your own flavor. Seasoning blends are good substitutes. Using fresh herbs makes your food taste better.
Tips for making Epis to cook Haitian Food
- Use fresh herbs whenever possible.
- Prep before getting your blender. Wash and chop all of the herbs and place them in separate bowls.
- Combine the herbs, vinegar, or lemon juice in a food processor or blender.
- Do not add all the herbs at once. Blend in small quantities and process until the ingredients are finely chopped or blended.
- Adjust the amount of heat to your liking. You can add more or fewer peppers depending on how spicy you want your epis to be.
- Store the epis in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 weeks.
Haitian Epis is a flavorful and versatile seasoning that can add a touch of Haitian flair to any dish. It can also be used as a marinade or a condiment. It is a great way to flavor meats, fish, and vegetables.
So, next time you are in the kitchen, be sure to give Haitian Epis a try!