Cooking in the moment with greens

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 9, 2011

Haiti has been much in the news this past year. Even as I write this I hear on the radio that Haiti has elected a new president, the carnival singer, ‘Sweet Micky’ Michel Martelly. We have had a connection to Haiti for many years. My husband lived in Port au Prince with a Haitian ophthalmologist and in Aux Cayes with American missionaries back when Papa Doc Duvalier was President à vie. He could never forget the place and we went back as a family a couple of times. The boys didn’t like the place, the dirt, the poverty. But our daughter became enamored. She visited several times on her own going to Leogane, the epicenter of last year’s earthquake, with a medical mission group from Wilmington, NC. We think the trips helped establish her desire to study medicine. (She graduates from Wake Forest Medical School this coming May.)

We have enjoyed the beaches, we have collected the art, we have toured the country but good food is not the thing one thinks about with Haiti—-lack of food altogether is more likely, Haiti being one of the poorest countries in the world. But I found these recipes recently in a magazine and liked them. Why should this country of French and Africans not have good food?

The recipes are from the Ideal Restaurant in Haiti. One must remember this restaurant has had no electricity or running water since 1986! I thought about that a lot when doing the chicken recipe. It would be so much harder to do the dish —- or any dish for that matter with what we consider to be basic necessities of cooking. But such is the hard life for these people. The chicken was delicious and simple and had a nice kick to it from the Scotch bonnet pepper. I have not had time to do the snapper recipe so cannot comment on it. But I think it should be as good as the chicken since it has some of the same ingredients. It is topped with a salad of fresh and boiled vegetables to balance the flavor of the broth. These dishes would cost you $5.00 each at the restaurant.

From the March 2011 issue of Saveur.

Poisson Rouge

(Spicy Poached Snapper)

Serves 2-4

1 1-lb. red snappers, scaled

1 cup thinly sliced shallots

½ cup lime juice

1 tbsp. finely chopped scallions

½ tsp. mustard powder

1 spring thyme

1 Scotch bonnet, chili split

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

¼ cup canola oil

6 cloves garlic, chopped

1 tbsp. tomato paste

1 tbsp. sugar

Boiled sliced carrots and beets

Sliced tomatoes

Score sides of fish; place in a shallow dish. Whisk together half the shallots, lime juice, scallion, mustard, thyme, chili, salt, and pepper in a bowl and pour over fish; marinate for 30 minutes.

Heat oil in a 12’ skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic, and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add tomato paste and cook until it begins to caramelize, about 2 minutes. Add 1 cup water and bring to a boil, stirring until almost evaporated, about 8-10 minutes. Remove fish from marinade and set aside; add marinade and sugar to skillet and cook, stirring, until shallots are soft, 4-5 minutes. Add fish and ¾ cup water and cover skillet; cook, turning once, until fish is cooked through, 8-12 minutes. Transfer fish to a large serving platter. Season cooking liquid with salt and pepper and pour through a fine strainer over fish. Garnish with remaining shallots; serve with carrots, beets, and tomatoes.

Poulet Creole

(Haitian Stewed Chicken)

We used this amount of chicken for 3 meals.

(Serves 6-8)

1 3-4-lb. chicken, cut into 8 pieces

1 tsp. kosher salt, plus more to taste

3 cloves garlic

2 scallions, roughly chopped

2 sprigs parsley

1 sprig thyme, stemmed

1 Scotch bonnet chili, split

Juice of 2 limes

1 green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and thinly sliced

2 tbsp. canola oil

1 large yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced

½ red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and thinly sliced

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 tbsp. tomato paste

Place chicken in a shallow baking dish. Purée salt, garlic, scallions, parsley, thyme, Scotch bonnet chili, lime juice, half the green bell peppers, and ½ cup water in a food processor and pour over chicken. Chill 4 hours.

Heat oil in a 6-qt. Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Scrape marinade from chicken, reserve marinade. Add the chicken to pot and cook, turning once, until browned, about 10 minutes. Transfer chicken to a plate and set aside. Add remaining green bell peppers, onions, and red bell peppers to pot, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, until soft, 8-10 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Return chicken to pot, along with reserved marinade and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and cover pot slightly; cook, stirring occasionally, until chicken is tender, 25-30 minutes. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper.

You could use another kind of chili if the Scotch bonnet is to hot for you. The Scotch bonnet is so closely related to the habanero that the two are often confused. Typically red, orange, or yellow when ripe, the Scotch bonnet is shorter and rounder than the habanero.

It is 60 times hotter than the jalapeño, but it has flavor and also the heat. It is widely used in Haiti and Jamaica, because of its distinctive floral and fruity character, which goes well with the spicy-sweet curries of the Caribbean.