Meal 50: Dominica

Dominica is a tiny little island country, in the middle of that north-south string of Caribbean islands. You'd be forgiven for thinking it's the Spanish-speaking half of Hispaniola, but no, that's the Dominican Republic. They both use the adjective Dominican; to assert that you mean this beautiful, actively volcanic, lush-in-parts island, place the stress on the third syllable, domiNIcan.

The national Dominican dish is the so-called Mountain Chicken, which is actually a species of giant frog, so tasty and easy to catch that it's now critically endangered. Since expensive, farmed, previously-frozen frog legs didn't seem like they'd cut it. Plus, this was a hastily cobbled-together brunch in the aftermath of Sandy, and that just seemed out of place. So, regular chicken it was!

We're glad to have gotten a full table together on short notice for this rare daytime meal: Wei, Natalie, Diana, Gino, Bettina, Marshall, and Jeremy. (That's Emmylou in the front!) In acknowledgment of our good fortune, and as a bit of a preview for Thanksgiving in a few weeks, we went around the table discussing what we were thankful for in the aftermath of the storm. Turns out there's a lot that's right, everything from community to far-flung family to our hard-working civil servants.

Banana-mango bread | Recipe

Fortunately, with an emphasis on fruits and sweet flavors, Dominica's cuisine is quite amenable to brunching. This rich bread, kept moist by banana and mango, and enriched with plenty of walnuts, raisins, and brown sugar, made for a great start. (I can also say from experience that it stays really tasty several days later!)

Caribbean reef chicken | Recipes: ChickenMango chutney

Where the "reef" in the name comes from, I do not know, but I don't much care because it's quite tasty. A sauce of rum, sugar, citrus juices and spices makes for a tangy and sweet marinade. Just when all the juices from the chicken start to run out from the baking, then you slather it with a generous helping of mango chutney.

Oh, the chutney! Have you ever made it before? It sure lent a heady smell to the house, with this vinegar-based slurry of under-ripe mangoes, lots of sugar, and generous helpings of spices cooking down for hours, but the result was well worth it. Spicy but not too much so, tangy but not overwhelmingly, it's a really great condiment to go with grilled meats and the like. (Note that the recipe makes for about four to five cups of chutney, which is a lot, so either reduce it or plan to give a bunch away.)

Seasoned fig flats | Green banana fritters | Recipe

In this part of the world, a "fig" is an unripe banana. Like green plantains, green bananas are treated more like potatoes than fruit. For this dish, you peel the green bananas (which requires a knife to score the peel first, otherwise you're ripping off little bits of skin all over the place), boil them, mash them, and then add in the other ingredients. I was really surprised to be able to find the "seasoning peppers" at the Latino market I went to in Sunset Park; also known as "ajicitos," these look a whole lot like the ultra-spicy habaneros or almost-as-hot Scotch bonnets, but have a lot less spice and a lot more flavor.

Anyway, these little fritters were fine, not terribly flavorful but pleasant enough for breakfast. Maybe if I'd used real Goya seasoning, what with its MSG, rather than throwing in a few spices like cumin and coriander, it mighta been tastier.

Sorrel drink | Recipe

Avid readers will know we've enjoyed this sort of drink before, but why should that stop us? It's delightfully simple to make, just boil dried hibiscus/sorrel flowers with water, ginger, and spices, let cool, strain, add sugar, and enjoy the tangy, spiced, sweet flavor of Christmas in a glass. Yum!

The meal made for a nice opportunity to unplug from the Sandy craziness for a little while, enjoy the sunshine streaming through the window (it was cold out!), and enjoy the carefre sounds of calypso music.

We're off for a few weeks, our next meal is in San Francisco the weekend following Thanksgiving for Dominican Republic — and we'll be done with the D's!