Caribbean Food Guide for the Curious Cook

Caribbean food inspires us to take island vacations, soak up the sun  . . . and eat like there’s no tomorrow. In short, Caribbean food is some of the yummiest cuisine out there. It’s also a shining example of just how flavorful basic cheap food can be. This guide will point you in the right direction, show you the resources that are out there, and cover the basic equipment and ingredients you’ll need to stock a proper Caribbean food pantry.

Bonus? As it turns out, Caribbean food uses a TON of cheap ingredients, making it an affordable cuisine with which to test your culinary wings. So how do you get started?

CARIBBEAN COOKBOOK TITLES

Searching for the perfect Caribbean cookbook is like searching for the perfect pair of shoes. One style doesn’t necessarily fit all. Here are several Caribbean cookbook titles of note to point you in the right direction.

Modern Caribbean Cuisine

If you’re looking for a Caribbean cookbook to put a fresh, sophisticated spin on traditional Caribbean cuisine ingredients, then Modern Caribbean Cuisine is likely the book you’re looking for. Sauces, condiments, soups and snacks are all given a fresh face with this Caribbean cookbook title.

Sugar Mill Caribbean Cookbook

A Caribbean cuisine celebration developed by the owners of the famed Sugar Mill restaurant and resort, the Sugar Mill Caribbean Cookbook will bring diversity and depth to your Caribbean food repertoire.  From casual Caribbean recipes such as Rasta Pasta and Rum-Glazed Chicken Wings, to the scrumptiously-chic Ginger-Lime Scallops, this is one of those Caribbean cookbooks you’ll want to keep on hand for entertaining.

Eat Caribbean

From the expected jerk recipes to a decadent Pumpkin Lobster Bisque, Eat Caribbean brings fun and flavor to your Caribbean food quest before you even open the cover.  The Quick-Time Pepperpot Soup and Salt Fish Fritters also sound like fun recipes to try. With the positive response this book has received, it’s a safe bet for those looking to explore Caribbean cuisine.

Jerk from Jamaica

Where would Caribbean cuisine be without Jamaican jerk? The Caribbean cookbook Jerk from Jamaica breaks down the ingredients necessary, provides suggestions for dry jerk seasoning rubs and marinades to try at home, and breaks down jerk recipes by chapters covering pork, chicken as well as seafood and goat.

Caribbean Vegan

Taymer Mason takes a plant-based diet approach to Caribbean cuisine with her colorful cookbook Caribbean Vegan. With more creative (and flavorful) uses for brown lentils than I’ve ever seen, and directions to make vegan versions of everything from chick pea stuffed Trinidadian doubles and coconut bread to plantain balls and rum punch, Mason makes plant-based Caribbean food sexy as well as healthy.

Tropical Vegan Kitchen

Caribbean cuisine is just one of the types covered in the Tropical Vegan Kitchen, but it is definitely represented. The tropical fruits popular with Caribbean food enthusiasts are all present here, as is one of the staple Caribbean food ingredients, black beans. Here is a review of the Tropical Vegan Kitchen I wrote some time ago, over on Wanderlust and Lipstick.

CARIBBEAN COOKING EQUIPMENT

While some items are used to prepare any sort of cuisine, there are several pieces of Caribbean cooking equipment helpful to getting the job done easily and efficiently.  While a few of them are pricey, they can be used for many other types of cuisines as well, making them an investment that can go the distance in your kitchen.

Rice cooker

Caribbean food recipes are often served with rice, and one of the most convenient ways to prepare it is with a rice cooker. It automates the process, and keeps the rice warm after the cooking process is complete. If you are able to afford a larger-batch rice cooker, you will have an easier time hosting large gatherings, or making enough in advance to get through the week when things get busy between work and family schedules.

Mortar and pestle

With the amount of herb blending Caribbean cooking requires, a high-quality mortar and pestle are a definite must. You can use this fundamental kitchen tool to muddle cocktail ingredients, blend spices and more.

Crock pot

For many of the slow-cooking soups and other dishes popular with Caribbean food enthusiasts, a sturdy crock pot is a must have. Put the ingredients for your desired dinner dish in to cook before you head to work, and come back to scrumptious home Caribbean cooking at the end of the day.

Deep fryer

From cracked conch to plantain fritters, a number of Caribbean food recipes require deep frying. And dealing with a stock pot full of grease every time you decide to whip up a batch of your favorite fried Caribbean recipe is a colossal pain in the neck. Investing in a deep fryer as soon as you are able you will enable you to whip up these types of tasty treats whenever you want, and also be able to pull off other restaurant-quality snacks on game day.

Blender

From sweet potato purees to a variety of Caribbean cocktails, you’ll definitely want to own a sturdy blender to explore Caribbean food on your own. I prefer one with a glass container as opposed to plastic personally, but whatever blender you choose, make sure it is hearty enough to stand up to the job. Not only will you be able to tackle Caribbean cooking with this utensil, but a variety of other cuisines and smoothies  as well.

Immersion blender

If you are living in a tiny apartment, and counter space is at a premium, then an immersion blender is perhaps a piece of Caribbean cooking equipment you will want to try. You can tackle smaller batches of certain Caribbean food recipes directly in a small container, and use less cupboard space to store your device when you are finished using it.

Caldero

If you want to kick it old school when it comes to Caribbean cuisine, then you’ll want to purchase a caldero. Otherwise known as a Dutch oven or basic covered cooking pot, the caldero is traditionally used to braise meats, cook rice and prepare a number of traditional Caribbean food recipes.

Tostonera

If you want to make your Caribbean cooking adventures completely authentic, then having a tostonera, otherwise known as a plantain press, should be part of your plan when it comes to collecting the proper Caribbean cooking equipment. Used to press plantains into patties for frying, the tostonera is a standard utensil in the traditional Caribbean food kitchen.

Flan mold

When it comes to planning desert, anyone who’s been exploring Caribbean cuisine for any amount of time knows that flan is one of the most popular choices for sweets in the region. So it stands to reason that having at least one flan mold is critical to properly take on Caribbean cooking. There are many shapes out there, but I prefer a flan mold that can be used for other types of deserts. That way, I feel like I’m getting the most for my money.

Sandwich press or countertop electric grill

Anyone who’s ever had a proper Cubano can tell you that the pressing of sandwiches in Caribbean cuisine is quite commonplace. You could certainly buy a sandwich press to add to your small kitchen appliance collection, but I prefer an actual countertop grill press that serves the same function. That way, I can grill meats, press sandwiches or toast up some pineapple steaks when the mood suits me and know that I am once again getting a piece of Caribbean cooking equipment that I’ll be able to use for other things.

Grill charms Great for grilling meats for family dinners or other events where everyone wants theirs prepared or spiced differently, Grill Charms are an affordable accessory for the preparation of Caribbean food and other ethnic cuisines as well. So if you’re planning on hosting a barbecue with jerk beef or chicken, consider ordering a set of Grill Charms to keep everyone’s order straight.

CARIBBEAN PRODUCE AND PANTRY SUPPLIES

Produce

Caribbean produce is varied, but there are a number of items you can find at grocery stores even when you don’t happen to be in the Caribbean. Limes, sweet potatoes, green onions, yams, plantains and Scotch bonnet peppers are all quite common in mainstream stores, but you will likely have to hit your nearest ethnic grocery store when it comes to Caribbean produce items like breadfruit or cassava. If you’ve ever spent time searching for Caribbean recipes, then these produce items will already be familiar to you.

Herbs and spices

Full-bodied island flavor is what Caribbean food is known for, and there are a number of herbs and spices responsible for that unique tastebud experience. Keep cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and cayenne in your spice pantry, and cilantro, garlic and ginger in your refrigerator. This flavor collection will keep you prepared to tackle a wide range of Caribbean cooking at a moment’s notice. If you want to take things to the next level, then implement the step of stocking sofrito and Bajan seasoning as well. Sofrito is a seasoned vegetable sauce that is frequently added to soup and used as a marinade for chicken or fish. Bajan seasoning is a popular ingredient for many Caribbean cuisine dishes as well.

Beans and legumes

While beef, chicken, pork and seafood may need to be purchased at the last minute for your backyard Caribbean food fest, there a number of beans and legumes popular in Caribbean cuisine that you can store in your cupboard as pantry staples. Black beans, pigeon peas, black-eyed peas and kidney beans are all prevalent in Caribbean cooking.

Liquids

Rum, coconut milk and lime juice are three of the most common liquids you’ll notice when you begin to explore Caribbean cooking. When fresh limes and coconuts aren’t available, you’ll want to stock bottled lime juice and canned coconut milk in your pantry to pull off your favorite Caribbean food recipes with ease.

* This cheap food article with Caribbean flair was submitted to the June 1, 2011 edition of the Wanderfood Wednesday online food carnival.

Photo Credit: iStockphoto

Disclosure statement: This article contains affiliate links, through which I will earn a small commission on any items purchased through those links.

Comments

  1. Wanderluster says:

    Yay for the Caribbean vegan cookbooks! Yum.

  2. Kymri says:

    Thank you for the veggie options! I’d do anything for a good jerk tofu recipe if you’ve got one ;)

  3. Thanks, Ladies!

    Kymri, I am in the process of developing a Caribbean recipes roundup. So, stay tuned. Glad you liked the post. I was psyched to find veggie options as well. I figured it would be all barbecue beef and chicken recipes. Not that I don’t still love a good steak once in a while, but we are really trying to lean towards plant-based eating most of the time so it’s nice when the veg options are plentiful.

  4. Nancie says:

    Great post. Now I need to go to the Caribbean to try out the food!

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