Curry gives Christmas a Caribbean flavor


The Philadelphia Tribune’s “Caribbean Currents” column waxes poetic on curry and all the delights it brings. Read the original at The Philadelphia Tribune for the full article, including a mouth-watering recipe for chicken curry.

It’s Christmas time again! For most people of Caribbean descent, this season represents not only a time of religion and worship but also a time when we celebrate our culture through traditional Caribbean cuisine.

One spice, curry, is very common in dishes throughout the islands. One variety is made by mixing together several ground spices — cumin, coriander, turmeric, crushed pepper flakes, mustard flakes and ginger. It has a flavor like no other seasoning. You can choose from Jamaican curry, Indian curry, red curry and green curry, but the one we use most is the yellow curry (same as Jamaican curry).

When curry is added to a variety of Caribbean dishes the aroma activates the taste buds in such a way that for those smelling the flavors, there is only one path to satiating the appetite and that is to eat as much as possible, as soon as possible. When we speak about curry and its spicy flavor, some may conclude that we are only referring to marinating meats; however, curry is also used to marinate and flavor vegetarian meals.

Morgan James hails from the Caribbean and happily shares his expertise in the art of curry. “My grandmother had a cheese cloth in which she placed a handful of curry,” he said. “She made a knot and used this bundle for dipping into dishes while simmering on the fire. Um Um Umm.”

“My mouth waters every time I recall the days when she made fritters without an ounce of codfish. … Why? She couldn’t afford it, so she mixed the flour into a paste and added chopped scallions, thyme, black pepper, coconut milk and some curry,” he said. “Gran put some coconut oil in the frying pan and reached for her curry flavor cheese cloth and as the oil got hotter, she dipped it for a few seconds. When she removed it, that oil was seasoned with curry flavor. Then she dropped the fritter mix spoonfuls at a time until they were flat brown and crispy. That taste is still at the forefront of my memory and especially around Christmas time even though many years have passed and my Gran is no longer alive.”

James is no different from most of our Caribbean brothers and sisters who also have a favorite curry dish. It is a key ingredient in many other Caribbean dishes that are prepared for celebrations including Christmas. It enhances the flavor of all kinds of dishes. Shrimp, various types of fish, chicken and goat are the main dishes that curry is used in to bring out flavors that some have never experienced before visiting the islands. Goat meat, for instance, is a delicacy and when it comes to Christmas and other celebrations, it plays a major part.

I laugh at the thought that back in the 1970s, when Caribbean food was not so popular, many African Americans would cringe at the thought of eating some curry goat. Nowadays, the very same people are salivating and can’t wait to get their hands on a plateful of the stuff.

Goat meat is marinated overnight, mostly with curry powder. Onions, garlic, scallions, seasoned salts and thyme are added and then sautéed until the meat is tender. Curried goat is served with rice and peas or white rice on most of the islands. However, in Trinidad and Tobago it is also served stuffed in roti, an Indian dish.

How did curry come to play such an important role in the Caribbean diet? Online articles suggest that this spice was brought to the Caribbean in the 1800s. After slavery was abolished, people from many cultures migrated to the islands in search of work and were hired as indentured servants. Included in this migration were East Indians who brought spices and their methods of cooking, and curry was one of them.

The ingredients of turmeric and cumin contain anti-inflammatory antioxidants. So you can kill two birds with one stone and satisfy your hunger with some curry chicken, curry goat or curry shrimp and at the same time make a big difference health-wise. [. . .]

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