Monthly Archives: June 2018

Conch Fritters

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Ingredients

2 cups diced conch meat (see how to prepare below)

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon Cayenne pepper

1 egg

½ cup milk

¼ cup diced onion

½ cup diced green bell pepper

½ cup diced red bell pepper

2 cloves garlic, minced

Salt and pepper, to taste

Peanut oil for frying

Lime, quartered

Cocktail sauce

Directions

If you have purchased whole conch, place it on a cutting board and using the rough side of a meat mallet, pound the conch to about 1/4″ thickness.  Then use a very sharp chef’s knife to dice the conch meat into 1/4″ pieces.   Transfer the chopped conch to a large mixing bowl.

In a large pot or deep fryer, heat oil to 365°F. Mix the flour, baking powder, egg, and milk in a large bowl. Season with salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper. Mix in the chopped conch meat, onion, green and red bell pepper, and garlic until well blended. Drop rounded tablespoons of the mixture into the hot oil and fry until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Serve with a wedge of lime and cocktail sauce on the side.

 

Travel: Turks and Caicos

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New England winters are very vibrant – there is always a lot going on around the Seacoast! In addition, it’s a great time to work on a project (Craig does woodworking and I do stained glass) or just cozy up under an afghan and read a good book next to the woodstove. But winter this year stretched out a little longer than usual and we desperately needed a warm-weather break. Neither of us is enamored with glitzy resorts or all-inclusive destinations. We prefer exploring the culture and cuisine of a Caribbean island that offers great beaches, good hiking and excellent snorkeling. A direct flight is nice too, but not always possible. So, we decided to explore Turks and Caicos this year, which is rumored to have the most beautiful beaches in the world.

Turks and Caicos is an archipelago of 40 low-lying coral islands in the Atlantic Ocean, a British Overseas Territory southeast of the Bahamas. The gateway island of Providenciales, known as Provo, is home to expansive Grace Bay Beach, with luxury resorts, shops and restaurants. Scuba-diving sites include a 14-mile barrier reef on Provo’s north shore and a dramatic 7,000 foot underwater wall off Grand Turk Island. The official language is English and the currency is US dollars. But Providenciales (“Provo” to the locals) was too developed for our tastes (it had a Club Med and similar resorts, high end shopping and expensive restaurants), so we headed for North Caicos – accessible by ferry and very undeveloped.

Our Airbnb host arranged a taxi to meet us at the airport and deliver us to the Caribbean Cruisin’ ferry on the eastern end of the island. She asked if we wanted to stop at a grocery store on the way, but we assured her we would do provisioning on North Caicos. The IGA on Provo is huge with a spectacular selection of food products. (Note to self: Definitely stop and shop on the way to the ferry next time.) The ferry ride gave us our first glimpse of the beaches along the shore. We’ve traveled all over the world, but I must admit, they were most definitely the best we’d ever seen. In fact, the beaches stretch from six to 14 miles along the coast of the islands and are made of soft, white sand like talcum powder that come from the eroding limestone on the islands. The water is a neon aqua and was mesmerizing! When we arrived at the ferry landing on North Caicos, our rental car was waiting (also arranged by our Airbnb host). We followed our host’s Mom to the house and were pleasantly surprised by the location (in the middle of a village named Whitby), and amenities (short walk to the beach, coffee, fruit and bagels in the fridge). The warm, salt air was a delight. We quickly changed clothes and went for a tour of the island and a search for a grocery store.

North Caicos (and the next island over, Middle Caicos) are mostly undeveloped. North Caicos only boasts a population of 1,500. A recent hurricane had frightened the hundreds of flamingoes and they relocated elsewhere in the Caribbean. The huge land crabs roamed across the unpaved roads in the evenings and many of the cement block houses were abandoned. But, we were in a perfect location – within walking distance actually to a grocery store (that got fresh produce on Mondays) and both a great, casual restaurant, the Silver Palm, and the Pelican Beach Bar that served the most amazing pina coladas!

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We stocked up on basic essentials at the grocery store and a bottle of the local Bambarra dark rum at the liquor store and headed back to the house.

Our first full day was spent on the beach, just walking and swimming, and then back to the house to read on the patio. We dined that first night at the Silver Palm Restaurant where the owner/chef Karen and her husband, Poach, spoiled us with fresh seafood (conch fritters and whole fried snapper) and information about the island. Her rum punch is legendary!

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The highlight of our vacation came on Monday with a fishing trip. We had hired a local, Captain D, to take us out for inshore fishing. Trip Advisor reviews raved about him and said that he would clean all the fish you could catch and send it back to your Airbnb rental with you. We were excited about feasting on our own fresh-caught seafood all week. We chartered him from 9-2, spent most of the time fishing and then went snorkeling off the boat (waters were a little choppy) for about an hour before returning to the launch area where he cleaned our fish for us. We caught three good-sized barracuda (the largest one was 32 pounds!) We had seen barracuda with their scary teeth while snorkeling in the past and didn’t know they were edible. Apparently, predator fish at the top of the food chain can carry dangerous toxins, but these fish didn’t pose any problems for us. Captain D told us a few ways to cook the fish, but we opted for the charcoal grill at our rental house and a little lime juice. It was delicious!

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As for hiking, we mostly walked along the beach although we did hike the Middle Caicos Cross Island Trail which wound along the coastline and across pitted limestone cliffs.

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We saw only one other couple on the beach the entire week we were there It was heavenly and very, very relaxing for us. We definitely plan to return some day.

 

Bahraini Cuisine

Bahrain is an international port and, as such, imports goods from all over the Middle East, India, Pakistan and Africa. Each restaurant in Manama featured a different cuisine and the food markets offered a dazzling selection of bins filled with spice, shelves stocked with oils, dates, honey and staples from around the world.

Spices

But what did the average Bahraini eat? Every meal was served with flatbread, and various small plates of egg dishes, meat dishes (usually chicken or lamb), vegetables (I liked the white beans with cilantro which were very spicy), hummus, tahini, and curries. These dishes were shared among diners. The flatbread was torn into smaller pieces and a spoonful of one of the other items was placed on the flatbread and rolled up. Diners ate this morsel with their right hand, utensils being reserved for serving. The population is predominantly Muslim and alcohol is not served except in larger establishments and hotel restaurants. Thus, diners drink water or fruit juices with their meals and follow the meal with Arabic style (strong) coffee or chai tea.

The area is subject to dust storms of very fine, white silt, which was probably the reason there was not any “street food” per se as there is in other cities of the world. The famed “shwarma” was sold at many establishments along the sidewalk where doors could be slid open to reveal the juicy, marinated chicken and lamb roasting on a spit. This Middle Eastern variation of a wrap was available everywhere for the equivalent of $3 US.

The vast array of available spices is incorporated into most menus. The following recipe is for the Chicken Machboos that we made in our cooking class.

Bahraini Chicken Machboos

Ingredients

¼ c. rose water

¼ t. saffron threads

2 T. melted butter

¼ c. canola oil

Whole spices:

3 star anise

2 black lemons*

2 cinnamon sticks

5 whole cloves

2 bay leaves

5 whole cardamom

Vegetables:

2 medium onions, diced

2 or 3 garlic cloves, minced

½ t. ground ginger

½ c. fresh cilantro, chopped

½ c fresh dill, chopped

1 medium tomato, diced

Remaining spices:

1 T. salt

½ t. black pepper

½ t. cinnamon

½ t. ground cardamom

½ T. turmeric

½ T. paprika

1 T. curry powder

1 t. cumin

1 2-3 lb. chicken, quartered

2 c. basmati rice

4 c. water

Green chili (optional)

Directions

Pour rosewater into a measuring cup and add saffron threads. Cover with plastic wrap and soak for 4 hours or overnight.

In a heavy stock pot or Dutch oven, heat butter and oil over medium high heat. Add whole spices and sauté until you can smell the aroma. Then add onions, garlic and ginger. Fry for about 5 minutes or until golden brown. Add cilantro and dill and stir for one minute. Add the fresh tomato and mix until it softens. Add remaining spices and mix for 3-4 minutes.

Add the chicken and fry for 5 minutes on both sides to lightly brown. Add 4 c. water and bring to boil. Simmer for 40-45 minutes until chicken is cooked. Remove chicken from pan and set aside.

Rinse rice with cool water until it is clear. Drain. Add to stockpot. There should be 3 c. water in the stockpot for the 2 c. rice. If not, add more water. Bring to boil and then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the rose water and saffron. Place chicken on top of all other ingredients and continue cooking for 10-15 minutes or until rice is cooked. Garnish with lemon slices. Serves 4-6.