I’ve been to Jamaica and back, or in Jamaican patoisme circle! I’m more hungry than ever to share my adventures with you! My voyage, in the exquisite company of my darling friend and food-lover Shoshi, unfolded in the most merry of ways…

1

As we left the cloying glow of the terminal, squinting to spot my uncle amidst the crowd, I felt my beat slow to the easy, generous pace of the island. Kingston’s welcome was unprecedented and perfect.

Within forty-five minutes of touching down, we circled an impromptu campfire in my uncle’s garden, sheltered against the nape of Long Mountain and the neighboring University of the West Indies. For thirty years, this is where Andrew has donned his professor cap in biochemistry. In a British accent long forgotten, Andrew said “Can you feel it girls? The condensation is falling.” It was indeed! We tilted our heads to the sky, smiling at the stars. The tips of my ears and nose twitched at the cool air as my pasty, mosquito-nipped ankles begged the dew to land. The frogs mated with shameless abandon.

Left to right: Rick, Adit, Shoshi and Uncle Andrew
Left to right: Rick, Adit, Shoshi and Uncle Andrew

Andrew’s mates joined us: Rick (from Australia) and Adit (from Guyana). Both PhD students, their academic roots in Jamaica have grown with the surprising fury of tropical plants. For hours we gazed at the burning embers (void of glowing cell phone screens), swapping stories in five accents, three languages and varying twangs. Rick impersonated Reggie and Stumpy, endangered iguanas with which he has spent the better part of nine years sharing camp in the bush. Adit defended the trees that the government and landless peasants insist on “fixing” to the tragic detriment of the primary forests. Mostly, the conversation was light and freckled with fits of laughter and the simple joys of reuniting with family and making new friends.

My chilled Red Stripe barely had time to leave a puddle on the armrest. I sipped in Jamaica with utter glory, washing away the lists and details, calming the worries, and welcoming the repose.

3

On our first morning in Kingston, Adit volunteered to show us the city, with gusto! We borrowed my uncle’s car and hightailed into the hills, coiling up the switchbacks as we admired limbs of ripe ackee and mango (Check out our photos!). The swaths of floral mosaics and twittering birds inspired us to break out in harmony, crooning solos and taking turns on our knee drums:

Rise up this mornin’,
Smiled with the risin’ sun,
Three little birds
Pitch by my doorstep
Singin’ sweet songs
Of melodies pure and true,
Sayin’, (“This is my message to you-ou-ou:”) 

 

Don’t worry about a thing,
‘Cause every little thing gonna be all right… 

 

Not even the altitude sprinkle could dampen our spirits. Sprawled below, Kingston still lay in the beaming sun.

We descended back into town for lunch at an Ital restaurant. Shoshi, intrigued by Rastafari culture, took the reigns on teaching me about Ital. The word comes from “vital,” which embodies the celebrated diet of the Rastafari movement. Ital food is meant to increase livity, or life energy, by eating pure, natural, living foods from the earth.  No processed food, no meat and for many Rastafari, no animal products at all. (Check out our photos!)

Hidden inside a nondescript shack of corrugated metal and scavenged wood, this Kingston gem would have been impossible to find without Adit. We were greeted by the bursting, toothsome smile of Ista, bopping about his stove to Irie FM Radio. His passion for Ital is contagious. He cooks to “share the love,” starting with the shredded vegetable salad he showed us with pride. Our lunch was made to order, fresh! The way I like it! We took it to go, sharing the love with my uncle back at his garden. (Check out our photos!)

Shoshi and I digested the bountiful meal while picking (and chewing) tamarind off the sagging trees in the garden. Have you had tamarind before? This fruit is one of nature’s most curious and magnificent gifts: dried fruit in a protective pod. Incredible! (Check out our photos!)

After our adventures, we dropped into an afternoon slumber to escape the inexorable heat and dream of the feast we would cook for dinner! This, fellow eaters, is how our first meal began: with gratitude and a carefree attitude.

4

When we asked what we could cook our delightful hosts for dinner, all three said in near unison “the pumpkin!” Rick had brought over a monster squash from his garden that was in peril of rot if we didn’t attend to it. Our suggestion of grilled pumpkin was thwarted with a “hrumph!” and a “how about pumpkin curry.” So pumpkin curry it was! Adit offered to make fresh roti, a family recipe from Guyana:  just phenomenal! We were eager to try callaloo, a Jamaican green that tastes like a cross between spinach and collards. And because Shoshi and I thrive on cooking unexpected, original creations: a watermelon salsa. We danced about the kitchen to Bob, the bonfire vibe continued! When we plated the meal, we discovered Jamaica had already seeped into our culinary veins: a reggae dish of green, yellow and red galore! All five of us groaned with absolute pleasure over each bite.

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Jamaican Reggae Feast: Pumpkin Curry, Garlic Callaloo and Watermelon Salsa with Roti

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 45 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour

Yield: 8-10 servings

Ingredients

  • 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups yellow onion, diced
  • 3 tablespoons garlic, minced
  • 2 packets or 1 (12-ounce can) whole coconut milk
  • 2 tablespoons yellow curry powder
  • 2 teaspoons Jamaican Curry or Ginger Powder
  • 1 1/4 cup tomato, diced
  • 2 cups zucchini, sliced
  • 8 cups pumpkin or squash, cubed
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt

Instructions

  1. Heat the olive oil over medium-high in a large pot.
  2. Add the onions and saute until translucent.
  3. Add the garlic, spices and salt, and stir for about 1 minute until the spices become very aromatic.
  4. Add the coconut milk and stir the ingredients into a paste.
  5. Add the tomatoes and stir for about 5 minutes until they become tender and begin to break down into a sauce.
  6. Add the zucchini, pumpkin and water. Cover the pot with a lid.
  7. Simmer for about 40 minutes until the pumpkin is fork-tender.

Notes

Allergens: milk

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