Spring is here! Which means its time to climb out of our winter slumps and make the transition from heavy winter warmers to lighter, fresher meals full of new-season spring produce. When thinking of lighter-seasoned, zesty flavours, Caribbean cuisine always comes to mind. The wonderful combination of fruity flavours like their Allspice Berries to offset the heat of the chillies, tangy fruits like pineapple and mango to add a fruity kick, and the sweet, creamy coconut milk to bring it all together, just screams spring cooking to me!
Our Jamaican Jerk Seasoning is quintessentially Jamaican and incorporates all the sweet, spicy and savoury notes of Caribbean cooking. It combines allspice, nutmeg and cinnamon for aromatic sweetness, thyme and sage for fragrance, paprika, garlic and salt for a sweet-savouriness and cayenne and black pepper for a little hum of heat and warmth. This complex blend only packs a medium heat, so is suitable for so many dishes and people – if you like things a little hotter, however, you can easily add a fresh chilli or two, or some added cayenne pepper or dried chilli flakes; as with all of our blends, the cooking pot is your oyster and you’re in control of your flavours.
When creating this blend many years ago, I came up with my Jamaican Jerk Chicken Stew which has been a family favourite ever since. It combines the fragrant blend of Jerk Seasoning with the saltiness of soy sauce, the fruity sweetness of orange juice and the heat of a Habanero Chilli plus a few added extras, to create a most flavourful one-pot dish showcasing its culinary heritage perfectly!
Another one of my favourite dishes using this blend is the Jerk Chicken with Jamaican Slaw recipe Masterchef contestant Lynton Tapp created on My Market Kitchen when we featured in their series a couple of years ago. He created a classic crispy-on-the-outside Jerk Chicken by using our seasoning as a rub before grilling and the flavour it creates simply used on its own this way is out of this world! Served alongside a fresh slaw with the very-Caribbean inclusion of pineapple and our Ground Allspice Berries, this dish was such a winner!
When delving back into this cuisine this time around, I wanted to make a little departure from the classic Jerk Chicken and explore some more vegetarian dishes Caribbean cooking had to offer and considering all the wonderful new-season veg and herbs that are around this time of year, it fit the bill perfectly. So here are a couple of newbies I’ve been working on:
Grilled Jamaican Jerk Eggplant
This dish makes the perfect side dish or starter at a BBQ and showcases those quintessential sweet/spicy flavours of the Caribbean that I just love. You can do this on a griddle pan inside or on the BBQ if you have it fired up! Eggplant makes the best flavour carrier as the flesh acts like a little sponge soaking up those delicious flavours in the marinade. Also, by charring the slices on a grill surface, it adds an extra level of smokiness that offsets the sweet, spicy flavours in the marinade perfectly. Served with the zesty sauce that echoes the flavours of the marinade and loads of fresh, fragrant mint, this flavourful veg side dish will have you transported to the Caribbean.
Many cuisines have their take on a ‘salsa verde’ or ‘green sauce’ and this Argentinian take has to be one of my favourites! This zesty, fresh and a little-spicy salsa did originate in Argentina but, like African, Spanish and Asian cuisines before it, Jamaica adopted his tangy side sauce and put their own fresh spin on it. Amazing with grilled steak, chicken or pork; use to marinate fish or seafood before cooking, or even use to dress a potato salad.
This version is my basic recipe using some dried and fresh herbs as that’s usually what I have on-hand, but you can use all dried or all fresh. I also tend to use red wine vinegar but you can replace that with a white wine one or even lemon or lime juice. If you want to add an extra Jamaican touch, you could also include some Ground Allspice Berries that would add a subtle fragrant sweetness.
Jamaican Vegetable Coconut Soup
Believe it or not, this hearty, spicy, veg-loaded soup is actually traditionally served at breakfast time in Jamaica. With its abundance of veggies, invigorating spices and carbo-loaded refuelling qualities, I can see why the Jamaicans consider this a hearty start to the day, however, I personally like to enjoy a big bowl of this on a winter’s eve, and with any luck, a leftover serve for the lunch the next day.
This recipe is a great way of using our zesty, sweet and spicy Jamaican Jerk Seasoning and is a unique way of jazzing up a classic vegetable soup. I like to serve it with some cooked rice or quinoa and fresh coriander and lime juice for an added fresh zing.
You can keep this dish entirely vegetarian or, for a little added protein and flavour, could add a firm white fish, prawns or even chicken to it.
I hope you enjoyed exploring this wonderful cuisine a little more as much as I did and it’s encouraged you to try some new, exotic flavours. It’s always been my mission to shed light on less-known cuisines and flavours, and Caribbean cooking is certainly one that I think Australia needs to embrace with arms wide open. So join me and get Caribbean cooking today to welcome this new season!