A diverse subject, Caribbean cuisine is a blend of African, Amerindian, European, East Indian, Arab and Chinese influences. Caribbean food is full of flavor with an incredible mixture of tropical flavors, aromatic herbs, and spices influenced by its own colonial past.
Healthy Caribbean Cooking has become more manageable for many people wishing to taste the cuisine because of the influx of Caribbean goods being imported worldwide. This does not stop there! We cannot ignore the fact that the cooking styles have been developed also from ingredients found in Europe, Asia, and Africa.
Meat, poultry, fish, and shellfish cooked with various herbs and spices, tropical fruits, vegetables, and grains is the indication of how each history shaped the cuisine. Creole cooking, curries, jerk-style meats are just a few cooking styles that are well known these days.
Creating healthy Caribbean dishes does not mean that you need to always cook your food on charcoal, or fire grills. Thanks to modern technology, gas, and electric stoves were invented a long time ago. Another aspect of Caribbean Cuisine is cooking styles varieties. There is no water-down version of Caribbean cuisine; you are either authentic, semi-authentic or not authentic at all. It all depends on how you choose to cook your foods and process.
Freshness of ingredients
Caribbean people are accustomed to shopping for foods many times during the week. As the freshness of the ingredients is key to attain authentic flavor so does the lifespan of cooked meals. Having leftovers is not a common style in many Caribbean homes.
Many Caribbean people, although living in other parts of the world, will not buy frozen meat, poultry or seafood. They will go to livestock places to buy fresh meat and poultry. And to fish markets to buy freshly delivered seafood. Yes, freshness is key for a healthy lifestyle! We have become very reliant on food manufacturers to provide what we need in a manner we deemed organic.
The key elements for the freshness of ingredients are:
- Buy grains that have not been processed with chemicals
- Always buy fresh fruits, no bruising must be firm to the touch – We love making fresh fruits juices
- Always buy vegetables that are bright in color. No bruising and no dull looking veggies which are usually an indication of spoilage or rotten.
- Meat, poultry, and seafood make the best judgment with freshness. Know where you are buying your food and inspect for preservatives, additives and colorants added.
Herbs and Spices = marinades
We love herbs and spices and our marinades. Marinades are blends of herbs and spices. Each blend indicates how a dish will be cooked. Green seasoning as most people call it is mostly for meat, poultry, and seafood. Other types of marinades can also be created for meat, poultry and seafood depending on the colonial influences
Our marinades burst with flavors and add plenty of depth to meals. Our vinaigrettes also adds tons of flavors to cook meat, poultry and seafood as well as fruits, vegetables and provisions (also called root vegetables). For example, sweet potatoes with vinaigrette.
Our homestyle hot pepper sauce also has its own influence. For example, Pikliz from Haiti is a mixture of pickled vegetables, herbs, and spices, with lots of similarities with Pickled Veggies mostly found in French Caribbean Islands. This particular condiment is used in cooking and also to replace the conventional version of hot pepper sauce sold in markets.
We are in love with protein.
Protein is a key element in our Cuisine. We do not only consume milk products, eggs, meat, and seafood to obtain our regular dosage of protein, we also consume lots of grains. Beans are a staple food in our cuisine. One-half cup of beans contains as much protein as an ounce of broiled steak. Plus, these nutritious nuggets are loaded with fiber to keep you feeling full for hours.
There’s always a bowl of grains cooked with beans (rice and beans) or a bowl of stewed beans or beans soup serve at dinner time.
Vegetables are imperative in our cuisine
There is not a single Caribbean family who will not consume vegetables several times during the week. Whether the leafy greens are mixed with meat to create our stewed, it is an indication that our meals are not complete without vegetables.
Each island or country has its own national dish. Whether it is a meat or a grains dish, many will tell you that the dish is best enjoyed with a vegetable side dish.
We do not only consume leafy vegetables. Provisions (also called root vegetables) are also a huge part of our diet. The most common provisions you will find are yams and plantains. Caribbean yams and plantains are usually served with meat dishes.
Yes we love and cook with hot peppers
Cooking with lots of hot peppers does not always mean that the food is hot and spicy. Many of us will add a seedless hot pepper for taste and flavor and not for heat. We get the heat from our homemade hot sauce.
Sometimes you will see a recipe with a whole hot pepper cooked in the dish. This is merely for flavor enhancement. If the hot pepper bursts, it is immediately removed unless the dish was intended to be hot.
Fat or no Fat?
In the Caribbean, you will find many dishes cooked with coconut milk. These dishes are from the influences of our colonial past. It is not an indication that we love fat. Coconut milk is added to dishes for flavor. We leave in coconut paradise! And why not incorporate one of our favorite fruit in our cuisine.
We also cook with a variety of oils. You will find the common oils such as olive oil, sunflower oil, vegetable oil and canola oil. Other flavored oils are either imported or homemade.
It is true we also like to fry! We love frying our meats and dough. Carnival time is the biggest time we cook fried foods or as we call them fritters.
We also fry food for color. For example in Haiti, the process of cooking authentic fried meat and poultry dishes is different from other countries. The meat is boiled at certain temperatures and partially cooked for a period of time before frying. After frying, usually, a Creole will accompany the dish.
We are nuts about nuts
Cashews and peanuts are the most common nuts you will find in Caribbean cuisine. We love to add them in rice and grains or meat, poultry, and seafood dishes. Most of our recipes are very simple and easy to prepare such as our Chicken with cashews, the Caribbean Haitian version.
Our brittles are a mixture of nuts only or nuts mixed with fruits.
We love firing up the barbecue grill for large gatherings mostly. As a very popular method of cooking, many of us prefer to use our oven to roast as it is more convenient.
Eating healthy is hard, that’s what I always tell people. The hard part is knowing what to buy and where to shop. There are several Caribbean and West-Indian markets in many states and countries, don’t be shy to visit. You will be surprised to see how foods prices are very competitive compared to national supermarkets.