Jamaica is full of goats- and I love them (they are cute)! Obviously, there are no goats involved in my kitchen or on my plate at any time whatsoever- but you see goats (almost) everywhere on the island and they chew on everything in sight (this cute goat, pictured above was chewing on my sweater as I was trying to take a selfie with him).
Anywhoo- as you might guess, this goat is indicative that I wasn’t cooking in my busy & bustling Kingston kitchen. Instead, I was out on a hill in an undisclosed location in St.Catherine 🙂 Just me, banana leaves, pimento wood & leaves… this goat…a few other ingredients I had brought along…and a LOT of improvisation.
But there was a specific purpose as to WHY I wanted to be out of the capital and in a more natural environment:
banana leaves, pimento wood & leaves.
It’s been a while that I’ve been fascinated by leaves, wood (and seeds) and their usages in the kitchen. But living in Kingston without a “yard” makes it a little trickier to have easy access to such natural ingredients.
Banana leaves are notoriously used in Asian cuisine with fish or rice (and in the local Jamaican specialty “dukunu“)– for their flavour – but also as decorative or plating items. Pimento (allspice), now on the other hand, is something I really became fixated on here in Jamaica. The infamous jerking of chicken is done on pimento wood, and if you crush some pimento leaves in your hand, a magical fragrance is exuded. Pimento is, without a doubt, a part of the local landscape. I’d go to jerk spots with my non-vegan friends and wonder how one could use pimento wood in a vegan context (when 95% of the time, you’re seeing chicken, pork or lobster on the pimento wood sticks).
So I set myself out on an improvised Nana’s Kitchen session and tried two things that would incorporate banana leaves and pimento leaves & wood.
The first experiment was cooking curried ackee in banana leaves. I approached this in two different ways. One, was cooking the curried ackee in banana leaf “parcels”- which required more precision & patience. The second was to cook the ackee in a pot lined with banana leaves on a slow flame, and let the banana leaf aroma make it’s way through the dish (see slideshow below!)
The other experiment was to cook a vegan “pizza” of some sorts on pimento wood & leaves! This has actually been an idea I’ve carried for months now- time being the thing holding me back. I dreamt of how the aroma of pimento wood & leaves would echo through the home-made pizza dough. And I finally got to test the idea- but with some big learning lessons (an experiment that is to be continued- so stay tuned!)
All in all, I was very pleased with this cooking session in nature- inspired by nature (and there is MORE to come!) Cooking is part science, part of improvisation. It’s important to always dream things up, go out there and do them. Even more so, it’s always fun to read up on nature and the many, many ways it spoils us with flavours and aromas. It’s a constant reminder of how real food comes from the earth. Real food comes from our soils- not from a drive-thru… and there’s flavour in every leaf, fruit, bark of wood and seed…
CURRIED ACKEE COOKED IN BANANA LEAVES (a Nana’s Kitchen Original Recipe)
- 3 dozen ackees- boiled
- 3 scallions, finely chopped
- 1.5 cup coconut milk
- 4 ripe tomatoes, diced
- 5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1/2 scotch bonnet
- Banana leaves
Mix all the above ingredients together (except the banana leaves). Cook on open flame in either banana leaf parcels OR line a pot with banana leaves (several layers), cover and cook for at least 20 minutes.
A BIG BIG THANK YOU to the Murphy family for allowing me to use their space & yard to experiment with all the above!