Once June rolls around in the tropics, the sun shifts its axis in the sky, the days get longer and the heat index soars. I love the sun, but I hate the heat. In fact, summer in the Caribbean is my least favorite time of the year. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the year long warmth; I just don’t handle the heat so well. As a consequence, I look for foods that are lighter and fresher.
I am a salad person. I am by no means a vegetarian, but I love all types of vegetables and greens. Typically at my table, we have 2 vegetables everyday with our dinner. I have always tried with the greatest diligence, to encourage my family to eat their vegetables. It does not always work, but I must admit that in recent years, I have seen my grown children warm up to vegetables and it makes me smile. Isn’t it amazing how the first solid foods we give a baby are vegetables? They wrinkle their little noses up at first and spit them out, but with some coaxing, they usually adapt quickly to the taste of the mushed carrots or peas. The revolt against vegetables usually comes at about kindergarten age, when they become social creatures and start to exchange ideas and opinions. Suddenly, our babies become grown up enough to tell us that they no longer want the vegetables! But I digress!
As we are right smack in the height of summer, I have been adapting my menus to compensate for the heaviness of the day temperature wise. I have begun to make more light salads and less heavy starches to accompany meals. At least then we can get up from the table feeling satisfied and not over stuffed; instead of being rolled off after a heavy meal. The typical Haitian meal usually consist of rice and beans in one of two forms: white rice and pea sauce/ soup ( Riz blanc et sauce pois) or rice and beans cooked together (Riz colleé) served with meat and vegetables or salad. Salads and vegetables are never the main dish, but are rather the accompanying dishes. With the heat already in the mid 90’s everyday and falling to the high 80’s overnight, it’s definitely a good thing to eat more salads and lighter foods during these next few months.Shrimp Cocktail with orange segments
I love to mix fresh fruit into my green salads. The marriage of fresh sweet orange or grapefruit segments in a seafood salad or shrimp cocktail is divine. Watemelon pairs well with a balsamic vinaigrette, feta and arugula. Crunchy apples added to a tossed salad with mixed greens, cucumbers, red onions and tomatoes is delicious. Strawberries are also a great addition to a green salad. Serve with a citrus based vinaigrette or a balsamic and Dijon vinaigrette and you have a winner.
I also like to make salads with bulger wheat, sorghum or quinoa. These ancient grains are great nutritional sources and are perfect for vegetarians or vegans. They are packed with protein and are power foods. Quinoa has become especially popular in recent years, and is seen as an alternative to bulgur, couscous and rice. It is a good source of calcium, magnesium and has high levels of vitamin B and E. Quinoa is said to be among the least allergic of the grains. Sorghum is a very popular grain in Haiti and has been grown for many years here. It is seen as a cheap and healthy source of protein. It is used in the place of rice at a meal and is called “Petit Mil”. This grain is known to grow in difficult weather conditions and is drought and heat tolerant. I have found it a delightful substitute for bulgur wheat when I make a taboulé salad.Taboulé salad made with quinoa and also be made with sorghum instead of bulgur wheat
Cucumbers are also a great salad addition, or try them as we do in Guyana, soused. Peel and slice cucumbers, add some sugar, salt, hot pepper, white vinegar or lime juice. Leave to marinate in the refrigerator at least half an hour before serving. They are the prefect addition with grilled or stewed meats, rice and beans. Haitian pickliz is an excellent way to make a slaw. Every self respecting Haitian has a bottle of this delicious condiment in their refrigerator. Unlike the typical mayonnaise laced coleslaw, ours is made with lime juice, hot peppers, cabbage, carrots and sliced onions. You can also add sliced radishes, sweet peppers or crunchy green bean slices. Try this method and you will never go back to plain old coleslaw ever!!Haitian Pickliz
Avocados are in season… Alleluia!! The addition of avocados to meal always makes things better. I think it’s the rich, creamy texture and the slightly sweet overtone that does it for me. A quick avocado salad can be made by making a vinaigrette of red wine vinegar, lime juice, oil, honey and mustard. Add some chopped cilantro if you’d like as well as some thinly sliced red onion and toss lightly. This goes well with grilled meats, rice dishes and Latin flavors.
Try my mango salad, Israeli couscous with grilled chicken, guacamole and shrimp cocktail (recipes in previous blog posts on Guyanese Girl Haitian Soul). You can enjoy summer and the bounty of summer fruit and vegetables without feeling heavy and lethargic after a meal on a hot day.
Papayas are in season now as well. They are the prefect breakfast food. A cool slice of papaya with a squeeze of lime is so refreshing. Papaya juice is also a great way to use ripe fruit. Blend with ice and add either milk for a delicious fresh shake or a squeeze of lime for a smoothie. A shaving of fresh nutmeg adds a delicious flavor to this juice.
Fruit salads can be made with your choice of fruit. You can make a Caribbean fruit salad with watermelon, mango, passion fruit, pineapple, orange and banana. Combine them all in a large bowl and add a dressing made of honey, lime or lemon zest, lime juice, grated nutmeg, and a dash of angustora bitters. Add the banana pieces just before serving as they can get mushed and brown. This is the prefect dessert on a summer day.
I hope that wherever you are that you are enjoying the summer, except those in the Tropic of Capricorn! I hope that you can find some inspiration from these hints and recipes. Do not be afraid to try something new or even tweek a recipe if you cannot find all of the ingredients. You might come up with something new that you really love. Use the time that the kids are on vacation and the pace is slower than usual to try new recipes. It’s such a good thing when you make a great home cooked meal.
Have a wonderful summer! I’ll be trying lots of new things to share.