Island flavour: 6 easy Caribbean recipes

Island flavour: 6 easy Caribbean recipes

by Keshia Sakarah 17 February 2020

Keshia Sakarah shares six sunshine-filled recipes from the islands that make up the beautiful Caribbean.

Keshia Sakarah is a second-generation West Indian and owner of Caribe', a Caribbean restaurant based at POP Brixton in London.

Keshia Sakarah is a second-generation West Indian and owner of Caribe', a Caribbean restaurant based at POP Brixton in London.

Caribbean cuisine is a melting pot of flavours from all over the world, combined with native ingredients dating back as far as the thirteenth century. Its colonial past means the food has been influenced by African, Spanish, Indian, Chinese and British cooking techniques, among many others, resulting in a unique food scene that's still yet to be truly appreciated by the rest of the world.

Each island has its own signature dishes, reflective of its individual culmination of cultures, and while many from Jamaica are known in the UK (think curry goat, beef patties and jerk chicken), there's a whole host of other fantastic flavours on offer. Caribbean food has very humble beginnings, yet uses some super-simple yet effective flavour and ingredient combinations.

Fresh seafood is abundant on many of the islands and integral to many favourite dishes such as Crabes farcis (stuffed crab), a Creole (African and French) seafood classic from Martinique, but many dishes (for example, Grenada's national dish Oildown) also contain simple, local ingredients such as cassava, yams and breadfruit combined with salted meats or fish. Plantains, beans and sweet potatoes are all used in a variety of ways, differing from island to island and the scotch bonnet chilli pepper is also quite ubiquitous throughout Caribbean cookery, beautifully flavoured as much as it is packed with heat!

The recipes below are a perfect starting point if you're looking to explore the flavours and dishes found across the islands of the Caribbean. From rich, hearty stews to zingy fresh ceviches, there's something for everyone.

Curry goat with rice and peas (all islands)

Curry goat is a classic Caribbean dish, adopted by many islands of the former British West Indies, Jamaica, St Lucia and Dominica, to name a few. Goat was introduced to the islands by the Spanish and Portuguese in the fifteenth century during colonial times and then became a staple meat on the islands. Curry, as a spice form, travelled to the Caribbean from south India with the indentured workers who immigrated to the West Indies in the early 1900s. These two ingredients united when Indian immigrants sought a substitute for lamb in their recipes. As beef was sacred and could not be consumed, goat became the next best thing and remained a staple of the area ever since. Here it is served with rice and peas and coleslaw – however, due to the larger Indian populations in Trinidad and Guyana, curry goat is also eaten alongside dhal puri roti (a split pea-stuffed flatbread) or parathas.

Saltfish accra (all islands)

Saltfish accra are eaten on almost every island of the Caribbean. Each island's recipe differs slightly, as does the name – in Barbados and Grenada they're called fishcakes; they're known as fritters in Jamaica; Puerto Ricans refer to them as bacalaitos and the French Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique named them acras de morue.

They represent our African roots entirely and originate from the West African dish akara. These are fritters made from a dough of black eyed peas and other spices originating in West Africa, namely Ghana. They evolved in the islands to incorporate saltfish, as this became one of the main ingredients accessible to those on plantations. Serve with tamarind chutney or just as they are.

Griot with pikliz (Haiti)

Haiti was the first black republic to establish itself after it triumphed during the Haitian revolution in 1804. This nation created the blueprint for independence and sovereignty amongst the West Indies and many islands have followed since. Griot (or Griyo in Creole) pays homage to the ‘Griot’, a person of high standing such as a community leader, master of ceremony or tribal spokesperson across many West African cultures, namely Senegal and Burkina Faso as examples. West Africans formed the majority of the Haitian population in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and had a direct influence on food culture. Griot can be found all over Haiti as a street food snack and enjoyed as a dish cooked in many households simply served with pikliz; Haitian-style pickled coleslaw.

Conch ceviche (Bahamas)

Conch (or konk) are large molluscs found on the coasts of many Caribbean islands. The Bahamas in particular has a high yield of these and uses them in many recipes, conch ceviche being a favourite. Unfortunately, they are not easily sourced in the UK, so I've substituted them with scallops and prawns to replicate the firm and juicy texture of the conch. Either way, the seafood is just as good and will take you back to any beachside experience you’ve had with its beautiful fresh citrus vibes when combined with lime, scotch bonnet and fragrant coriander.

Curry crab (Tobago)

Tobago is the small sister island of Trinidad, fifty-two miles away. I went for a few days in 2018 after Trinidad Carnival and my favourite dish was curry crab served with cassava dumplings, so simple and delicious. After snorkelling in the crystal clear waters of the Buccoo Reef, this was the perfect lunch on a hot day with a cold beer.

Mackerel Rundown (Jamaica)

Almost every island in the Caribbean has a national dish which has a specific connection to its individual history. To some, Jamaica's ‘unofficial’ second to ackee and saltfish is Rundown, which pays homage to the island's colonial past.

Caribbean cooking is humble yet multi-dimensional and this one pot dish is rich and full of flavour from the salted, cured mackerel and vegetables cooked in coconut milk that’s been reduced (hence the name rundown) until thick, creamy and almost like a custard. In Jamaica, this dish is usually eaten for breakfast and served alongside ground provisions (such as breadfruit, yam and cassava) and fried or boiled dumplings. Here it is served with cassava dumplings.