Sharing Culture through Food...

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the east all one’s lifetime.
— Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain

When you travel, part of the experience is the food that you eat. Immersing yourself fully into a culture including the food allows you to get a better sense of that regional identity. And once you have traveled, or maybe are simply a person who likes to experience new things (flavours in this case) then you seek out these experiences even at home.

It's been a long hiatus since my last Foodie Friday post. I am building a new life (ASHORE!!) and things are moving slowly, but slowly progressing. Having patience and allowing things to build at an appropriate rate is difficult, I am trying. This week I want to talk about food as per usual, but more importantly, about sharing food and in this case, giving someone a glimpse into MY culture.

 Me with Mack, post curry extravaganza.

Me with Mack, post curry extravaganza.

Enter Mack Carrigan. A couple months ago I was at the gym and met him through a discussion with one of the coaches regarding food and nutritious choices. I admit that my first judgement of Mack went in my mind something like...[young, army, mid-western, into fitness, seems friendly]. All true. However, he whipped out his phone and absolutely flabbergasted me by showing me photos of some of the dishes he had been cooking and explaining that he had been trying out some of the recipes from Julia Childs and also knew who Jacques Pepin was. Holy crap. He was learning to cook following these masters. Talk about being pleasantly surprised. What proceeded from there was a discussion about food and cooking and styles of cooking and went on to sharing food photos back and forth, etc, etc. It came about that he wanted to branch out away from the French style of cooking and bring some new flavours and techniques into his repertoire, and after a couple of social media posts regarding Indian food, I threw the offer out to teach him some Guyanese dishes, as this is half of my family background- and I have met very few people who don't love a good Guyanese chicken curry and the sides that go along with it!

We divided up who was going to get what ingredients and set a time. Luckily, I managed to actually get my hands on some callaloo (also known as amaranth or bhaaji) which is a leafy vegetable that originated in West Africa. They sell it right now at Forsyth Farmer's Market, and I may be one of the few people who buys it and is massively excited that I can get it here for part of the year! Our menu was:

Guyanese Chicken Curry, Spinach (using callaloo), pumpkin (a dish made with butternut squash) and some roti (paratha roti) a flatbread kind of like naan, but for West Indians, waaaaayyyy better.

Quick background on Guyana- a British colony originally, it is a mix of various ethnic groups; mainly Indian, Black (African), Amerindian, Portuguese, Chinese, European and Mixed...There was slavery and also indentured labourers (I think this is how my family got there). Sugar cane is widely grown and it is also covered in some thick jungle. As a consequence of the various cultures that have been brought and/or settled this area, food is an interesting mix. The food really is quite fantastic!

When Mack came to my house, we set up 2 cutting boards in the tiny kitchen and got straight into chopping and prepping. We started the curry first, as with any stew, it needs to simmer for a while for everything to cook and for the flavours to meld. A Madras curry powder is what I like to use for my Guyanese curry with some Garam Masala and also some whole cardamon pods and cinnamon sticks thrown in for good measure. Is that exactly traditional? Probably not, but when my mother explains how to make the mix and she cannot give exact measurements (because I guess when you learned this as a kid you go by look and smell and colour), I cannot really replicate.

 The curry, right before we dished it up

The curry, right before we dished it up

Next up was the pumpkin (here in North America I have always made this using butternut squash). It is super easy to make, and is a balance of sweet and savoury.

 "Pumpkin", or in our case, butternut squash with onions, garlic, tomatoes, mini shrimp, some cumin, salt and pepper, a bit of sugar.

"Pumpkin", or in our case, butternut squash with onions, garlic, tomatoes, mini shrimp, some cumin, salt and pepper, a bit of sugar.

The other vegetable we made was "spinach" using the callaloo that I got at the market. 

 Spinach is cooked with onions, garlic, tomatoes, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper.

Spinach is cooked with onions, garlic, tomatoes, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper.

While I don't do particularly well consuming paratha rotis made from wheat flour (my digestive tract isn't a fan), Mack brought some flour and I made him a few roti, because honestly, to really enjoy this meal you HAVE to eat it with your hands and roti is one of those foods that makes everyone across the board very happy...I miss eating it, and I couldn't teach him curry and roti without the roti! And I made sure to pass on the sage advice of my Grandma, “Don’t leave fat edges on your roti…nobody wants to marry a person who makes fat roti.” Good to know. 

Guyanese Chicken Curry (Serves 3-4)

10 chicken thighs, skin off, preferably with bone-in, cut into chunks (you can crack a couple of the bones in 1/2 too, if you really want to get that marrow into the sauce)

1 large onion, chopped 

4-5 cloves of garlic chopped

coconut oil for cooking

5 tbsp madras curry powder

2 tbsp garam masala

1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

1 tsp cinnamon

2 cinnamon sticks

4-5 whole cardamon pods

3 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into largish chunks

juice of a lemon

3 roma tomatoes chopped

salt and pepper

2-3 green onions, green parts chopped for garnish

water

1. Sweat the onion and garlic in 1-2 tbsp coconut oil for several minutes until translucent.

2. Mix the curry powder and garam masala and other spices and add enough water to make into a paste. When the onions are translucent, turn the heat up to medium and add this spice paste and STIR!!! so it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan. When this gets fragrant, add the chicken and potatoes, stirring to mix evenly and preventing sticking to the pan. As you see the chicken starting to cook, add approximately 1 cup of water to start, stir this in and allow to come to the simmer. Turn the heat down to medium low and put a lid on the pot.

3. Check the pot every 5-10 minutes initially, stirring to prevent scorching and see if the chicken is producing it's own liquid *it should*, add more water if this isn't the case and then turn it down to a low simmer and put the lid on. This will need to cook for about an hour or so, with you stirring occasionally. Cook until the potatoes are done (poke a sharp knife through one). When the potato is done, take a spoon and mash one or two pieces against the side of the pot then stir it in. The starch from the potato will thicken the sauce. 

4. Add the lemon juice, salt to taste and the tomatoes. Simmer a bit further and check for flavour, if it seems as though it is "missing something" then first add more lemon juice before automatically reaching for the salt.

5. Put into a serving dish and sprinkle the top with the green onion to garnish!!

There you have it. Probably not totally traditional, tasty nonetheless. Mack and I sat down and enjoyed the fruits of our labours and he entertained me with stories of his travels (turns out we've been to some of the same places) and also Army Life. In turn, I was able to tell him a bit more about yachting and places I have been. It's nice to share stories and experiences over a good plate of food!