This is an official Caribbean Books Foundation review http://www.caribbeanbooks.org/
Let me just say in advance, Happy Divali!! Every blessing to you and yours during this wonderful time of year!
Now I had planned to do another review today but due to the relevance of this one to the upcoming holiday, I’ll save the other book for November’s review.
This month I will be reviewing the new Sweet TNT cookbook ‘100 West Indian Recipes’ put together by Joyanne James and Jevan Soyer.
First, let me just say how quaint the introduction was. Reliving the childhood memories Caribbean cooking can bring. Food is like that, it engages memory and all the senses. Of course, the setting is much different now for today’s children, but I’m sure ten years from now the smell and taste of certain foods will take them down memory lane as well.
There are eleven sections in this book; Breads, Breakfast, Fillings, Chutney and Sauces, Soups, Main Dishes, Salads, Drinks, Desserts, Sweet Snacks, and Savoury Snacks. The recipes, which were mainly Creole and Indian influenced, were not native to any one Caribbean island.
There are exceptions, like Doubles, which is clearly Trinbagonian, but most of these are general Caribbean recipes that several islands use in their daily cooking or during festivals and holidays. So, if you expected to see something like joumou, which is native to Haiti or jerk chicken which is native to Jamaica, there was none of that.
I tried three of the recipes myself and as the non-foodie expert that I am, will give my best novice opinion. I also tried my best to follow the recipes to the letter, but where I couldn’t I explained why. Things didn’t go as planned at times, but let’s get into it.
This recipe was in the Breakfast Section. I choose it because I love corn and the picture looked yummy. And I’ve never tried corn in fritters before! Go figure!
The first problem I encountered was that the general description was not matching what I was seeing. I mean, does this look like ‘a smooth, airy batter’ to you?
Smooth, airy, what? This is not cake and this is not a drill!
I need to eat this. It needs to look the way the recipe says it should! How in the world can you get a ‘smooth, airy batter’ with a boatload of chunky corn goodness dumped into the mix is beyond me. Is that even possible? But at this point, I realised that extra pictures of the process in the book would have been a great help.
However, none of this impacted the actual taste of the fritters. This had a lot of corn in it. A lot! For corn lovers like myself, I was in heaven. For others, you might want to adjust the recipe to at least half the amount of recommended kernels because you will get a mouthful of corn and little else. But otherwise, I loved this recipe. It went well with a slice of cheese. I left the optional egg out and it was still nice and moist. I will definitely be making it again for breakfast, just not with regular flour.
This recipe was in the Drinks Section. Now, if you’re reading from the Amazon Kindle app you will not be able to find any recipes in the navigator after ‘Fish Broth’. ‘SOUPS’ is the last section you can jump to. Even the Table of Contents stops there. So even though the other recipes and sections are in the book, you will have to scroll through the remaining sections to find what you are looking for. You can still bookmark the recipes you like to come back to them, I just thought it was weird that the navigator didn’t go all the way to the end. Hopefully, it was just a glitch on my end.
How can you make soursop punch when soursops aren’t in season, you ask? It’s called a freezer, baby! Stach it away for a rainy day! This recipe was very close to what I am used to. I expected them to add granola and other random ingredients to this, but they kept this recipe really simple.
It still had a few small pieces of pulp in it after blending. Maybe I could have blended it longer… the instructions didn’t give me a time. It just said puree! But I kind of like the little pulpiness. This was a win for me.
My only adjustments: I used mixed essence because I had no vanilla essence. I also added a little more condensed milk after I tasted it. Just to make it a little bit sweeter which is probably good to hear for people who have to watch their sugar levels. The recipe by itself wasn’t very sweet and had a nice, refreshing soursop taste.
This recipe was in the Sweet Snacks Section, and well, there had to be one… to give all the trouble!
You know, I love gulab jamoon. And it’s Divali on Sunday, so I wanted to do an Indian styled snack! If only I had known these ‘gulabs’ would have given me so much trouble, I would have just put in the extra work and made something savoury like a main dish or something because it ended up taking a lot longer than expected. Way past the estimated times!
Let’s go through this, step by step.
First of all, I have no frying pan. It’s just not something I use. But I was not about to bake these either. So I took a small pot, put in two cups of oil and made the gulabs small enough so they could float in it. So instead of yielding 12, I yielded about 30 and spent a ridiculous amount of time over the stove just frying these little blobs.
I had no ginger powder so I substituted it with spice. And I used cinnamon essence instead of cinnamon powder. This recipe is 70% milk, so take note.
Opening the condensed milk can with a knife like a boss because that’s how I roll.
Mixing, not kneading is my style, so I used a spoon instead of my hand. If the butter looks like egg below it’s because I microwaved it. Who has time to wait for butter to thaw anyway?
At this point, I was feeling really excited over how accurate my ‘fine bread crumbs’ consistency looked. But that excitement soon deflated when I added the liquid part!
If a cup of evaporated milk is listed in the ingredients then I will think that I need a whole cup of evaporated milk. I am a novice! Recipe is boss, and if ‘Recipe’ says get a cup of evaporated milk ready and doesn’t say, ‘don’t use all of it’, I’m going to think that I need all that milk! Otherwise, why have it ready?
I put all of it in. It was too much milk. As you can see.
screams into the bowl
But because I’m not a complete novice (chuckles shamelessly), I realised immediately that I would have to add more dry ingredients to get the ‘soft, sticky dough’ I needed which would then throw off the proportions of everything!!!
Not impossible to fix, but still frustrating. So I separated the mixture in half and experimented.
To make a long story short, I managed to get something close to the soft, sticky dough without completely compromising the taste of the snack.
Close, I said, not perfect!
Again, since I dare not touch dough with my bare hands’ cause… it’s just a finicky thing about me! It’s messy, I don’t want to!
So I know it said ”roll’ into ovals (what happened to Recipe is boss?) but after mixing it all with a spoon I ladled it into the heated oil WITH A SPOON (gives Recipe the finger)… and they burned immediately! (Recipe gets revenge!)
Just… this recipe hates me, I swear!
The oil was too hot. Was it on medium fire? Medium according to my stove! So it became a process of; stand over a hot pot, drop in very un-sexy lumps of milky gulabby goodness into hot oil, roll them over as fast as I could, and hope they cooked all the way through before I had to ladle them out because they were turning anything but ‘lightly golden brown’, and repeat.
I just ended up with far too much mixture. If I had known it would have been so much I would have cut the recipe down to half. I did have the sense to cut the syrup recipe down to half. I didn’t even use half of that half. It was also way too much. And I went much lighter on the confectioner’s sugar than traditional recipes, but that’s just my preference.
Things I wish the ‘Recipe’ had told me (The recipe by the way, refuses to take responsibility for this):
Lower the stove after the oil gets hot cause, sense!
Stir the sugar at the bottom of the pot when you are making the syrup because it will stick to the bottom of the pot (well this might depend on the pot you use but watch it anyway)
Do NOT use all the evaporated milk! Some at a time until you get the consistency you want. (My measuring cup is over three decades old so I’m considering now that it may have been a little off)
Don’t forget you started off with half powdered milk and half flour in the beginning so if you add more flour you also need to add more milk otherwise you will lose that milky gulab jamoon taste. (Good thing I separated the mixture. I fixed this the second time around)
I must admit, it still tasted very similar to gulab jamoon when I was done, but like I feared, some of them did not cook all the way through because they were burning so fast on the outside and I had to take them out. I just put them in the toaster oven for 5-10 minutes and it finished cooking. The texture was also spot on. That was a win! I thought for a moment because I didn’t add more butter that it would be stiff, but it was still nice and soft. Still couldn’t get them to look pretty though but I take full responsibility for that as I refused to ‘roll’ them into ovals.
Most were fit for consumption, these were the only ones fit for picture taking! Barely! Boo hoo!
Look at this perfection! Is this even possible? I’m done.
My overall thoughts…
This book could have benefitted from having more pictures of the process while making the recipes. With some of the directions, I just needed to see what they were doing, e.g. folding buss up shut. Sure I can Google it, but then what’s the point of the cookbook if I have to do that?
Also, will foreigners know what a tawa is or have access to one? Recipes always forget to list what equipment you need as well, or what you can use as a substitute. I live in the second land of roti and I’ve never actually used or owned a tawa in my life. Point being, be prepared to pull out your smartphone with your flour-hand and Google some things.
Speaking of flour, if you are avoiding it, or milk, there are several non-flour and non-milk recipes in here, like the fillings, chutney and sauces, soups and most of the main dishes, salads, and chows. I honestly don’t eat much of either. I choose these recipes because they seemed fairly simple to do, I already had most of the ingredients at home, and I had an idea of how they would taste so I knew I could judge them properly.
The recipes are simple enough that you can make your own substitutions. I liked that the book didn’t do that for the reader though. If it’s going to feel authentic you need to make it like it is known to be made! Otherwise, the authentic taste created here, which is unique to the Caribbean, is lost. You need to feel like you’ve been dropped into a David Moore painting when you eat it. That kind of nostalgia!
David Moore – Tapia House
The soursop punch would have still tasted good with almond milk, but it wouldn’t have tasted the way Mummy used to make it. You wouldn’t get the taste that brings back those good old memories.
There were a few recipes that I was disappointed weren’t in there. Because I’m going to actually use this book! Trust me! That whole Breakfast section getting handle first!
But for instance, they had bodi, but no recipe with saime? Saime is just as quaint to Caribbean cooking as bodi. But I guess you can substitute it in the Curried Bodi recipe and get something similar. And no cow heel soup recipe!!! For real? But what really surprised me was that none of the savoury/main dish recipes had ketchup in it! I, just, what blasphemy is this?
For those who don’t know, ketchup from Trinidad and Tobago is unique in that it isn’t actually largely made from tomatoes. It’s more of a sweet pumpkin sauce with a dash of tomato flavouring, a 3-1 ratio. At least that’s what I learned in school. It is unique to our taste. Not only is it used as a condiment in fast food places and street food everywhere, but it is also used heavily in cooking, especially in creole food. I didn’t see it in any of these recipes, but several ingredient lists had scotch bonnet pepper in it, something I have never used in my savoury dishes! Just goes to show how the palate differs from house to house even within the islands as well.
But let me wrap up. I would recommend this book for anyone who has been eating Caribbean food all their life and wants to start making it for themselves. If it’s already in your palate, when you encounter trouble like I did, fixing it is just a matter of following your nose… or your taste buds in this case.
Buy the hardcover or download it in time to make some treats for Divali this Sunday, if, like me, you currently have no Hindu friends houses to visit for the occasion. And then try the Sorrel chicken for Christmas as well! Hopefully, Caribbean food will always evoke good memories of family and friends and laughter around food, and the recipes will continue to be passed down for future generations.
Visit the Sweet TNT cookbook 100 West Indian Recipes book page on Caribbean Books where you can find purchase links. Thanks for reading and see you next month for another review!
– N. Gomes, Caribbean Books Foundation
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