In the words of Dorothy, there’s no place like Cayman………
When I first saw the title for the competition, I thought “Nah. That’s not for me. I don’t blog about restaurants.” I mean, that’s what the competition is about, right? But then I thought, no it isn’t and off I went to google the word “culinary” and what did I find? I found “connected with cooking or kitchens”. Well, you know, I’m all about cooking and kitchens and I’m all about supporting our Island and businesses and eating as much local produce as I can get; so here goes. I’m Virginia aka Mrs Moozlers, aka Coach V, aka mum and warrior woman and author of Moozlers health and wellness blog. I’m a woman on a mission to change the way we eat and think about food: to change the way we live our lives and to create a tribe of super well, healthy, fit and happy people and I’m doing pretty well at achieving my goals.
So what do I have to share about the culinary capital of the Caribbean? Quite a lot actually. I’ve learnt from the ground up, haha excuse the pun! I remember when I first arrived in the Cayman Islands 12 years ago. I left behind my local fisherman and butcher and my weekly delivery of local (Scottish) produce. I loved that box. I remember my very first purple sprouting broccoli tart. I then arrived here just after Hurricane Ivan and oh my goodness. Here I was on this Caribbean Island and I had no idea what to eat………..Ivan had had a good go at the Island and you basically took whatever you got from the grocery store. Supplies were not in abundance and that time, there was no such thing as the farmer’s market that we’ve grown to love. The stores here were not loaded with the local produce I was used to. My worst fears were being realised. I thought that I was now faced with shipped in GMO produce and cans and packages……but was I? I had no idea about the vast quantity of culinary delights that I would embark upon. My trained legal mind told me to investigate.
When you are in Cayman, go find local and that’s exactly what I did and wow, how many amazing foods. If I ever leave Cayman (which I sincerely hope only happens for trips as I love this place), I will definitely miss my local finds.
So let’s explore all the produce that I think makes Cayman the culinary capital of the Caribbean and let me tell you how to enjoy it.
How it all began.
I came home from work one day to find this large, slightly spiky green honeydew melon shaped thing on my doorstop and I thought, what is that. Well it was a gift from my neighbour and it was a breadfruit. I had no idea what to do with it. In comes my Jamaican child minder who shows me to how to bake and boil it and the rest is history. Now I teach others how to perfect this local delicacy. These are amazing fruits, starchy and fluffy like potato but so much more flavoursome. I like to bake them, slice them, fry them in local coconut oil and then add salt or cinnamon. (PS. You can buy local salt). You can add them to salads or just eat them as they are (cooked of course).
My 7 year old daughter (she reminded me that she’s not a dog and doesn’t smile to command so excuse the cute but po face) taught us to eat the fried slices with apple cider vinegar. So very delicious. The fluffy centre of the breadfruit absorbs the vinegar and for that little added extra, add hot sauce or pepper jelly to the vinegar. There are a whole slew of health benefits associated with breadfruit but that’s for another post; suffice to say that I love them so much, I planted my own tree (acquired at the annual Agricultural show). Fingers crossed that I’ll have my first crop within the next 12 months.
Being she of healthy living, I am very conscious of gut health and very much feel when things aren’t right. I was an avid oatmeal eater but I found it was making me bloat. So what does a Scot who grew up on Scot’s porridge oats eat when she doesn’t want oatmeal anymore? Enter the humble green banana.
Back in Scotland, we would have left them to ripen but not here. Bring on green banana porridge. Oh goodness! It’s thick and filling and super tasty. I’m sharing my recipe with you. These are also fab fried but we can’t fry all of our foods. So for all of you healthy bods out there, switch up your morning oatmeal for green banana porridge and guess what, it’s gluten free. Winner, winner, chicken dinner! Yes, I will tell you about jerk chicken, but not yet.
As I write about the local produce, my mouth waters as I don’t know where to go next. How about the amazing guava, or papaya (which my youngest child loves) or the rose apples. It’s funny how we try something and when it’s delicious, you never quite forget the first taste. I remember talking to one of my colleagues and he was eating an odd looking fruit that resembled an apple. He gave me one and that was it. I was hooked. I search down rose apples when they are in season. I will get myself to the farmer’s market and I will buy them all up and savour them. A bit like local guava. I keep meaning to juice them but no. I can’t. I love everything about them from the unusual smell, to the crunchiness of the flesh to the grittiness of the seeds and BTW, the seeds are an amazing colon cleanser! If you must cook them up though, how about some guava duff? What? I hear you ask. Yes. Guava duff…….think stodgy pudding tasting of guava. So delicious and another local find!
For those of you who follow my Moozlers site, you’ll know that I love to experiment with food. I’m that kid who nearly set the house on fire as a 4 year old. My parents found me trying to fry what I told them was pancake batter. I’ve since discovered that frying up your pancake batter is known here as Johnny cakes. Dip them in butter and you’ll be smitten.
I’ve taken a whole slew of my favourite Scottish foods and I’ve Caymanised them. I love Scotch broth soup. Who needs nutrition-less white potatoes in your soup when you have yellow yams and local sweet potatoes. My kids love them and try roasting up those sweet potatoes with coconut oil and thyme. Think heaven on a plate.
I mentioned Scotch bonnets. You can find all sorts of peppers at the farmer’s market. Did I tell you that I regularly make my very own sriracha…..Nooooo……yes!!!
And another noooooo……yes…….is lion fish. I had the most amazing lionfish at Vevo café a few weeks back when I went to a function. Did you know that many vegetarians eat lion fish. I was surprised to learn that but it’s due to the fact that the fish is a predator. So keep cooking and eating it but whatever you do, if you see one, don’t touch it. You must experience the waters here though. We have the best diving even if I do have a problem staying down. I remember going diving with my husband. He had to keep pulling me down. I ended up holding on to his finger and I pulled off his wedding ring. All I saw (as I was floating back up) was him heading down to grab his wedding ring (yes, I had pulled it off) as a fish was swimming to get it. Shame he subsequently lost it in the grass at Camana Bay when he was doing Crossfit.
Talking about grass brings me onto greens
We have the most amazing greens here. You can find collard greens, kale, salad greens and my very favourite callalloo.
I first tasted callalloo in Michaels at Camana Bay. They had braised it. Me being me set about making my own and it’s become a firm family favourite. I like to braise it with bacon and when I’m not feeling like eating meat, I add my facon to it (that’s fake bacon) which I make using my own dehydrated coconut which I toast with coconut aminos and smoked paprika. You can find these recipes on my Moozlers page at www.moozlers.com.
Now when I think about braised callalloo, I think about jerk chicken and pork and rice and beans (or peas). I swear I could live on rice and beans. I make it with my own coconut milk, local thyme, local scallions and garlic. I patiently await a more abundant supply of local garlic. I know that it’s on its way via Charlito’s greenhouse. Andre at Charlito’s greenhouse is one of our many young local farmers. A true inspiration helping us all become more self sufficient without the need to eat mass produced fruit and vegetables.
I’ve learnt to jerk my own meat; plenty of thyme and scotch bonnets. There’s nothing like a jerked spatch-cocked chicken.
It’s amazing how it all rolls together. When I think about jerk chicken, I also find myself thinking of plantains. When I was first introduced to plantains, I just kind of looked at them and thought “guess I better fry them”. I mean, what else do you do with a tasteless banana: never confuse them with bananas and eat them uncooked. Gut ache extraordinaire. You need to fry or boil them. Did you know that if you boil them, you can add coconut flour to them and some seasoning and make then them into nachos, tacos shells and pizza bases.
Oh yes you can. You can also do that with boiled breadfruit and I’ll tell you, they taste way, way better than any shop bought pizza base and so much cheaper!
Considering jerk chicken and pork takes me to limes. I love my limes so much that my kids bought me my very own lime tree for Mother’s Day. I patiently await the fruit but I hear you asking, what do you do with your limes Virginia. I make juice hahaha. No………I squeeze them into mashed local avocados to make guacamole and I squeeze them over my jerk chicken and pork to season the meat and tenderize it. Cook those pork chops in the sous vide, pop them on the grill and them squeeze lime juice on top. Amazing!!!!
What else can you do with limes………why ceviche! The lime essentially cooks your raw fish. You want to use plenty of juice and allow the fish to turn an opaque colour. This is a great place to add more local avocado, mango, scallions and peppers. I love my ceviche made with conch (make sure it’s in season), mahi, wahoo, swordfish, snapper, tuna…..get the drift?
You regularly find me adding my favourite fish to curry sauce and over arrabiata sauce which I make with delicious local tomatoes, basil and scotch bonnets. My mouth is watering especially given that right now is tomato season.
The local farmers are producing all varieties of tomatoes and they are delicious. Some are so sweet and juicy you would easily chose them over candy. I buy big bags and make my own salsa (which I love with fried breadfruit. I feel a snack coming on!), tomato and basil sauce and arrabiata sauce, pulping up those tomatoes in the blender. I like to make my arrabiata sauce a little funky and add okra to it.
Okra (aka “ladies fingers”) is one of those misunderstood vegetables; misunderstood because people don’t know what to do with it. I was one of those people. I’d never heard of it until I came here. I say buy it and cook it boys and girls. It grows here and it’s nearly always in the grocery store. I love the texture. It’s chunky and filling and did you know that recent research is suggesting that okra could help manage blood sugar in cases of type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes. Wow and we have it on Island. I’m having one of those “duh” moments as if, why wouldn’t you. You can grill it with a little oil and garlic or chop it and add it to stir fried veggies. It is so yummy in gumbo which incidentally, I like to make with local tomatoes and fish and I often replace the actual rice with riced cauliflower. Yes, seriously!
There’s so much produce here that I could be writing for ever but I’m going to stop now. However, I can’t stop before mentioning the humble mango. You haven’t tasted mangos until you’ve eaten a nam doc . There are no words to describe the taste. I buy them in bulk and stand over the sink as the juice runs down my face. If there’s any left, I chop them up and freeze them and make mango chia pudding and mango lassi. To make the mango lassi, you blend up those mangos with fresh coconut milk and a pinch of grated nutmeg or turmeric. You have to try it to understand how totally amazing it is.
I always fill 2 drawers of my freezer with chopped mango to keep me going in between seasons and if I ever let any get too ripe (which doesn’t happen that often), I make this utterly delicious mango bread http://www.moozlers.com/yes-you-its-okay-to-be-fed-up-sometimes/
As you all finish up reading this, I hope you are salivating and ready to get yourself out to experience everything the culinary capital of the Caribbean has to offer. You’ll need to fight me for the nam docs though!