Caribbean Cooking Class at Patrick’s, St. George’s, Grenada

How do you cook these strange Caribbean vegetables?

A great way to begin introducing yourself to edible Caribbean plants is to sample each wonderful fruit in season.  You still may need to make inquiries about what constitutes “ripe” and what part of the fruit is edible, but for this you need only inquire of the vendor.  You taste it in all its glory and you either like it or not.  We have been living on bananas, guavas, mangoes, jackfruit, sour sop, passion fruit, papaya, paw paw, starfruit, citrus, et al.  We have fresh fruit with nearly every meal and we enjoy rum smoothies with fruit we freeze in season.

But what of the many “strange” vegetables?  Cook them wrong and you may conclude that they are terrible and you will never try them again.  A case in point – at my dining table as a child, there was a rule that we would eat what was put in front of us until our plates were empty.  My siblings and I remember a single big exception.  At one dinner, for the first time, my mother prepared okra.  We had all had okra in Campbell’s gumbo soup and liked those little wagon wheels.  As dinner began, our father tried his first mouthful of okra and immediately conceded that no one needed to eat it.  From that day forward, okra was only ingested by members of my family in a gumbo.

Patrick’s Restaurant

We have had some success preparing several new vegetables after we have enjoyed them in a restaurant, but this has hardly made a dent in those we have seen.  Most recently, we enjoyed a sampling of 20 to 30 (we lost count) small portions of a wide variety of vegetable and meat preparations at Patrick’s Restaurant in St. George’s, Grenada.  After finishing our last course, we commented to our server, Milton, that we needed to take some cooking lessons.  Much to our surprise, he said, “We can arrange that.”

Photo from Patrick’s website http://patrickslocalgrenada.wix.com/eat#!
Photo from Patrick’s website http://patrickslocalgrenada.wix.com/eat#!
  
The following day, we set up a 2 hour lesson.
Karen, a longstanding friend of Patrick’s, who now owns the restaurant, greeted us when we arrived.  I had a great cup of coffee while we waited for our lessons to begin.  Our teachers were Sandra and Lisa. 
Sandra
Lisa
Karen speaking with patrons on a local cuisine tasting tour
We would prepare a green banana salad, pumpkin, christophine (aka chayote) in a cheese sauce, and okra and tomatoes.  I thought “okra?” remembering my childhood experience, but with little concern as we had eaten it in the restaurant and it was delicious.  I asked Lisa and Sandra why the okra my mother prepared was so horribly slimy.  We learned that it must be cooked in the barest minimum of water (or battered and fried) to prevent this.  In addition, Sandra and Lisa answered questions about other vegetables and offered additional seasonings we should consider.

The preparation space was limited and we could only imagine what a challenge this would be when the restaurant was full.  Sandra and Lisa laughed and admitted it could get pretty chaotic.  They have two huge, many burner, stoves, but each dish we prepared was cooked in one pot.  This type of cooking is ideally suited to cooking on an average-sized sailing vessel.

All four dishes were cooked from scratch in not much more than an hour – just in time for lunch.  Included in the modest cost of our lesson ($25 US) were all the ingredients AND the four dishes we prepared.  We were also sent on our way with a bunch of green bananas to practice what we learned.

Left to right:  green banana salad, okra and tomatoes, christophine in a creamy cheese sauce, and pumpkin
We greatly enjoyed our time at Patrick’s having a wonderful dinner, taking cooking lessons, and meeting Milton, Karen, Sandra, and Lisa.  There will be a much greater variety of traditional Caribbean vegetables, prepared efficiently in our tiny boat kitchen, going forward.

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