Aubergine curry, jerk pork, roti, coleslaw, lime and ginger cheesecake: chef Marie Mitchell on cooking through a Caribbean lens
A report by Marie Mitchell for London’s Guardian.
Icook because I love to host and I love to host because I’m a pleaser by nature. I take a lot of pleasure in seeing those I love, and now by extension those who come to my restaurant, having a bloody good time.
My journey into food was an opportunity to explore my cultural heritage in greater depth. Food became my vehicle of discovery. After initially exploring Caribbean cuisine and culture via my supper club series, Pop’s Kitchen, I co-founded the cultural space, restaurant and bar Island Social Club; a project aimed at filling the void of what we felt was an erosion of London’s once-thriving Caribbean social scene. It’s been incredibly special witnessing the scene grow, evolve and reaffirm itself, while being a part of that change and watching black British creatives across multiple disciplines carve their own spaces within industries.
My aim is to create conscious spaces that allow me to explore my own British-Caribbean identity, alongside the many nuances that exist in the culture and many, often unexplored, cuisines of the Islands. I cook through a Caribbean lens with British seasonality in mind. I’m able to marry my love of Caribbean foods – depth, variety, vibrancy and exquisite flavours – with being mindful of my locale. In doing so, I get to create food that draws from all the cultures that have influenced Caribbean food, with the mix of indigenous, African, European, Indian and Chinese food all playing its part.
September is about leaning into the comforts of the coming autumn, while holding on to the last remnants of summer. I chose these recipes as I adore them, and they’re big favourites of people close to me. Enter a curry that woke me up at night, a sweet-and-sour coleslaw and roti. Framed with a starter that transports me to the spice isle of Grenada, and closing with an easy dessert that’s not too sweet. Though not always beholden to seasonality, a challenge when sourcing more far-flung ingredients, I do try to stick with it as often as I can for the quality of the produce alone.
Jerk pork bites
A starter or nibble to introduce any meal, you can swap the pork out for chicken wings or marinate vegetables to create the same moreishness of these bites. I wanted to share one of my jerk seasonings that celebrates its individual stars, as well as my cultural heritage of Jamaica. Showcasing scotch bonnet’s sweetness and spice, thyme’s earthy notes and nutmeg’s distinct fragrance that transports me to Grenada, a place so stunning and majestic I am always fantasising about relocating.
pork shoulder 500g, cut into bite-sized cubes, roughly 2cm in size
honey to taste
lime to taste
fresh thyme 1 large bunch, leaves picked and washed (or 1 tbsp dried thyme)
coriander 1 large bunch, washed, plus extra to serve
onions 6 medium, peeled and quartered
garlic 2 bulbs, peeled
allspice 1 tbsp
cinnamon 1 tbsp
nutmeg 2 tsp
soy sauce 4 tbsp (or 6 tbsp tamari to make it gluten-free)
scotch bonnets 6, deseeded
sea salt to serve
Blend all of the ingredients except the pork, honey and lime in a food processor until very finely chopped and smooth – this will make the jerk seasoning. This can be stored in the fridge for 2-3 weeks and yields around 1-1½ litres of wet jerk seasoning. Alternatively, freeze it in ice-cube trays, then store it in a plastic container and defrost as needed. Each cube is around 30ml in an average ice-cube tray.
I like to marinate my meat overnight in the fridge or, ideally, for 24 hours. Season the pork with around 1 tbsp of kosher salt or fine sea salt and mix well to tenderise. Add enough of the jerk seasoning to give all the meat a lovely coating.
When ready to cook, remove the meat from the fridge for around half an hour to bring it up to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 160C fan/gas mark 4.
Grease an oven tray with a little oil to avoid the pork sticking and then spread the meat out evenly; cover with foil for the first hour or two of cooking.
Cook the pork for 1½ hours, checking occasionally that the meat isn’t sticking.
Mix 2-3 tablespoons of jerk seasoning with 1-2 tbsp of honey; this can be adjusted to taste depending on whether you want the pork bites sweeter and stickier. Set aside.
After 1½ hours, remove the foil and coat the pork with the honey-jerk mix, making sure all the meat is evenly coated.
Return to the oven and cook for another half an hour or so, keeping an eye to make sure the sauce doesn’t burn. The pork is ready when nicely tender and sticky.
Squeeze over a little lime and sprinkle with finely chopped coriander and sea salt crystals.
Aubergine curry, coleslaw and roti
This is a curry that woke me up at night as I finally figured out the missing ingredient – dark chocolate! It lacked a little something and this gave it that additional depth I was yearning for. Enjoy as the aubergine season draws to a close and don’t be tempted to swap the fresh tomatoes for tinned as this is all about showcasing these seasonal stars. Serve with my sweet-and-sour coleslaw, specifically crafted for those who are not fans of mayonnaise (I am one of those people – I’m sorry, I just can’t) and, of course, roti – a staple in my home and, in my dream world, all homes. It’s perfect for mopping up any curry juices.
Serves 4 generously
aubergines 3, washed, halved and cut into large chunks – approximately 2-3cm thick
garam masala 4 tsp
ground coriander 2 tsp
turmeric 2 tsp
dried chilli flakes 2 tsp
sunflower or rapeseed oil to fry
yellow mustard seeds 1 tbsp
ginger 40g, peeled and finely chopped
limes 1½, zested
onions 2 medium, finely chopped
coconut milk 1 good quality tin
tomatoes 6 medium, washed and quartered
70% dark chocolate 30g
chickpeas 1 tin, drained and rinsed
Salt the aubergines and leave for half an hour. In the meantime, toast the spices until fragrant – this shouldn’t take more than a minute or so, so be careful not to burn them.
Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a heavy-bottomed pan, add the mustard seeds and fry for 1 minute, add the ginger and lime zest and fry for a minute or two more, or until the mustard seeds start to pop. Stir in the onions and cook until softened, adding a little extra oil if necessary.
Add the toasted spices and a spoonful of the thick coconut milk from the top of the can and fry for 1 minute. Add the remaining coconut milk, tomatoes, dark chocolate and a can of water – I use this as an opportunity to get out any remnants of coconut milk. Season, then simmer for 30-40 minutes.
In a large frying pan, heat around 1cm of oil over a medium-to-high heat. Pat the aubergines dry, ready to fry.
Fry the aubergines in batches and place on a wire rack over a tray to drain any excess oil.
Once all the aubergines are cooked, add them to the other pan after it’s simmered for 40 minutes as you’ll want to make sure the tomatoes are breaking down. Cook for another 15-20 minutes, so the aubergines can absorb the flavours without breaking apart. Serve with roti and coleslaw (see below).
Photograph: Romas Foord/The Observer
For the coleslaw
spring onions 2, finely chopped
carrots 2 medium, washed and grated
apple 1, washed, cored and grated
cucumber ½, washed and grated
white wine vinegar 1 tbsp
lime ½, juiced
extra virgin olive oil 2 tbsp
honey 1 tbsp
salt and pepper to taste
Mix the spring onion, carrot, apple and cucumber in a medium bowl. Add the vinegar, lime juice, olive oil and honey, then stir and taste. It should be both tart and sweet, so if the balance is off, add a little more honey, but fresh is key here. Season to taste.
Photograph: Romas Foord/The Observer
For the roti
Makes six cones
plain flour 300g, preferably a high-protein one such as bread flour
self-raising flour 150g
sea salt 1½ tsp
demerara sugar 1½ tsp
warm water about 300ml
sunflower oil about 100ml, or 100g ghee or vegan ghee, mixed
sunflower oil for oiling
Place all the dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix through.
Make a well in the centre of the flour mix and pour around half of the water in, combining slowly. Keep adding water to bring the flour together to form a dough, aiming for a slightly wet, rather than dry, consistency.
Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for around 10 minutes or until you have a nice soft, springy ball – you should be able to lightly press your finger in and have it bounce back.
Oil the dough and place in your mixing bowl , then cover with a dry tea towel; let it rest for half an hour.
Divide into 6 equal balls. I advise weighing the dough, so you can then divide it more evenly.
Do a gentle knead in your hand to reshape each round, holding the ball in the palm and gently pinching the outer edge of the dough with the opposite hand bringing it into the centre of the ball; repeat this to seal the dough. Use the thumb on your opposite hand to seal all the pinches together. Repeat for each ball, oil them again and rest in the mixing bowl for another half an hour.
After they’ve had a second proof, gently flatten each ball, using your hand to lightly twist the dough into a circle.
Roll each portion in an up-and-down motion with a rolling pin, rotating it 180 degrees and repeating to make a round, flat dough. Slice at 12 o’clock to the centre, not all the way through, brush with the oil/ghee mix and then roll in a clockwise direction until it forms a cone.
Lift and hold the dough in one hand, pushing all the sides into the middle with your opposite thumb, turn it upside down on the surface and press the opposite side in to seal it. Repeat for each ball.
Now prove for another half an hour or, alternatively, place the cones in an airtight container and let them rest overnight, ready to cook the following day. They can also be frozen for up to three months. If placing them in a container, make sure not to stack them as this will deform the shape – they can be squeezed next to one another but never on top.
When ready to cook, gently flatten the dough balls into a round and roll them out in the same up-and-down direction, rotating 180 degrees again and repeating to get a circular, flat roti. Don’t roll too hard or too thin as you will lose the lovely layers.
Warm a tawa or frying pan on a medium heat and, when hot, brush with the oil/ghee mixture and place the roti on the pan. Oil the roti again before turning and cook for no more than 30 seconds to 1 minute on each side to get a nice colour.
Lime and ginger cheesecake
I am known for having a sweet tooth but I prefer fruit flavours over chocolate – and never too sweet. I love this cheesecake as it’s (mostly) fuss-free; if making stem ginger and ginger syrup is too time consuming you can always buy it from your local supermarket and skip that part. I can always eat anything with ginger and, while hot, I love mixing the syrup in drinks, which can easily convert to winter warmers. In keeping with the end-of-summer theme, this is a great dessert to finish a meal without opting for something too heavy – you also don’t have to share as it’s in individual pots. My perfect kind of eating!
digestive biscuits 130g, crushed or blended in a food processor
butter 40g, melted
ginger syrup 8 tbsp
double cream 100ml
lime 1, zested and juiced
cream cheese 200g
stem ginger 4 pieces, roughly chopped
Mix the digestive biscuits in a food processor to a fine consistency, while melting the butter in a pan. Add half the ginger syrup to the melted butter and mix well; mix in the digestives well. Divide the mixture between 4 ramekins equally, gently shake to even out the biscuit mix. Place in the fridge to set for 1 hour.
Place the double cream, the remaining ginger syrup and the lime juice in a bowl and whisk until thickened; you’re looking for stiff peaks. Fold in the cream cheese, lime zest and stem ginger.
Distribute the cream cheese mixture between the chilled ramekins and smooth gently with a spoon to even out the mix. Carefully remove any excess cream cheese from the sides of the ramekins and place back in the fridge to set. This should take 2-4 hours.
Remove from the fridge for 10 minutes before serving.