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Posted by on Sep 29, 2014 | 0 comments

Lessons from Cooking on an Island

Lessons from Cooking on an Island

Former Del Ray resident Sarah is our guest blogger who currently lives on the island of Dominica in the West Indies. In her last guest post, she shared how she creates art on whatever canvas she can find, including rocks, seeds and shells. When Sarah lived in Del Ray in 2013, we featured her work as artist (potter, illustrator), student of arts management and all around DIYer running The Empty House Studio (TEHS) art space. Today, her musings about shopping for local ingredients on a small island reminds us a lot of shopping at our local Del Ray area farmers markets — sometimes you find what you want and other times adaptability, as Sarah puts it, is the key to happiness.

Have you gone to the grocery store with a shopping list and they seem to be out of exactly what you want? What do you do? Go to another grocery store a few minutes away or even all the way across town? So frustrating. But is it really? In Dominica, a tiny island in the Lesser Antilles island chain, we rely heavily on local foods. Shipments come but they are expensive and often irregular.

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If I go to the store looking for something specific and pout my way out of the store empty handed, a cycle of defeat begins. Adaptability becomes the golden key to happiness. Maybe it’s a little like modern colonial days. Actually, I don’t know if it’s like that at all, but it is in my imagination of the colonials; they’d learn the local land and occasionally be surprised by a ship full of goodies from a more developed place. It makes me wonder if we would be more adaptable and perhaps happier if we didn’t always get whatever we were looking for.

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Musings aside, lets get down to the food! The young volcanic island of Dominica produces some amazing things and very few of them are familiar to my husband and I. Portly, tough-skinned cucumbers are sold all over the place and we eat them all the time; they are sometimes the only “green” we can find.

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I snack on kanips (or quenepas) like I would’ve done with grapes in the states.

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Even things like spinach and sweet potatoes are quite different than what we would call spinach and sweet potatoes in the states.

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We’ve been introduced to at least 5 types of mangos, but a local told me that the island has 42 different kinds. Pictured her is a similar-looking, but different fruit altogether called the christophene.

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We regularly eat breadfruit now, something I’d never eaten before moving here in January.

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I am so stoked to find a new variety of banana and am quick to get one and try it.

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Papaya, sugarcane, coconuts, sweetsop, curly parsley, dasheen, carrots, custard apples, string beans, pumpkin, christophine, avocados, starfruit, pineapple, rose apples, breadnuts, season peppers; I am not exaggerating when I say that this entire page could be filled with the list of treats (or at least semi-edible items) that Dominica offers naturally.

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And since I never really know what will be available, trying things is essential! Especially when our American “staples” like bell peppers, apples, and asparagus are shipped in at an exorbitant price; you can dole out $9.20 U.S. dollars for two red peppers. We eat a lot of lentils and beans and a lot of plantains and bananas, but I’ll leave you today with a delightful mango chutney recipe that uses all local ingredients, We eat it by the spoonful!

Mango Chutney
The ingredients list might seem long but really its all just thrown into a pot.

  • 3 (bell) peppers, diced (I used lots of tiny local ones here in Dominica)
  • 1 yellow onion, diced (I had to use two because the local ones are quite small)
  • (red pepper flakes – optional spice depending on your spicy tolerance)
  • 2 local mangos, diced (I also squeezed the heck out of the flesh left on the seed to add more flavor!)
  • 2 ripe bananas, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
  • 1/4 cup sugar (I used a little less)
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger (I love ginger, Dominica is abounding with ginger and so I put a bit more…)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons crushed garlic
  • 1/2 cup mango or orange juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Throw it all in a pan on the stove and cook, stirring, until it simmers (little bubbles). Then turn it down and cook, stirring and tossing occasionally, for 20-30 minutes or until its a nice, thick (non liquid) consistency.

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Then eat it by the spoonful until its gone and sit there and wonder where it went.

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