Until Hurricane Ivan wiped out most of the nutmeg trees, this little speck of a 133-square-mile Caribbean island country was the world's number two producer of the spice. It's become so important to the culture and economy of Grenada that there's a nutmeg on the flag. Beyond the focus on this spice, Grenadian food is closely related to that of its neighbors, with a strong focus on root vegetables and the greens that they produce. Our guests were Rachna, Lisa, Patrick, Linda, Sarah, and Megan. Thanks to the inevitable fall weather, it was our first indoor Nosh at this apartment. I'm glad I got all the cooking done before guests showed up, because the dining table is in the kitchen!
Like the rest of the Caribbean, rum is the main drink of Grenada. They make nutmeg syrup and even a nutmeg liqueur, but I couldn't find those, so I made some nutmeg-infused rum by smashing a few whole nutmegs and letting them sit in white rum for a few days. I threw together some ginger juice (blend ginger with lemon or lime and a bit of water, strain, add simple syrup and more water); the sorrel (aka hibiscus) juice was a bit more complex. That's all we'd had planned for mixers, but while taking our dog on a walk we ran into a sweet potato punch stand run by a Jamaican woman, who agreed that her drink would go well with what she termed "adult beverages." My favorite was half-ginger and half-sorrel, with dark rum plus a splash of the nutmeg rum.
Callaloo soup | Recipe
Various spinach-like greens are used for this soup, the Grenadian version of which involves okra and some coconut cream. When I'd shopped for the DR Congo meal exactly a year prior, I'd found a green called "callaloo" at a market in Harlem. I looked for the same thing this time in Crown Heights, and couldn't. On further research, what I'd found before was probably amaranth, and that I could have used the dasheen leaves I saw everywhere and ended up using in the next recipe.
Not having seen anything called "callaloo" fresh, I bought two cans with that label -- which on further reflection were probably just canned dasheen! Be that as it may, this soup was actually, surprisingly, really tasty. The coconut cream and okra, though in small enough quantities to not overpower with flavor, made it so thick that, even after the addition of extra water, that it held a shape after being ladled out. But it was soft and had a lovely flavor of thyme and these intriguing canned greens. Though let's admit it, the salt in the cans probably helped a lot too.
Oil down | Recipe
This is so indisputably the national dish that the official government website unhesitatingly declares it such. There's a logic to the weird name: throw starchy vegetables, salted meats, and dasheen leaves in a pot with coconut milk until all the oil from the milk goes down into the vegetables, i.e., there's no liquid left. It's traditionally made with breadfruit, which I've seen before in the markets but simply wasn't to be found in Crown Heights this time around, so I substituted eddoes, a root vegetable closely related to taro. That said, I was able to find the preserved pig tails, which actually added a lot of flavor (and salt!) to the pot.
I will note that this is a pretty poorly written recipe: some items in the ingredient list don't show up in the instructions, and vice versa. But it doesn't much matter, because from what I can gather this is really a "throw in what you want" sort of dish. In this case, I left out the dumplings and added half a pumpkin instead, and also put in more greens than called for.
I'm not sure exactly what I was expecting this dish to taste like, maybe sorta coconut-y with the nuttiness of root vegetables and squash, but this was different. Maybe it's the long cooking, and quite likely some of it is due to the generous dose of turmeric, but the flavor felt more like a subdued richness, almost in the direction of caramel.
Black bean and corn salad
Lisa brought this refreshing salad of black beans, corn, onions, and tomatoes. The crunch of the vegetables and the tang of the citrus-y dressing were a nice foil for the soft, rich oil down.
Sweet potato pudding | Recipe
I really enjoyed this dish during the meal, but didn't much like the leftovers, and I just figured out why: it's a lot better warm. The aroma of the spices (including nutmeg, of course!) is released, the texture is softer, and the whole experience just more satisfying. It's a really simple recipe, just prepare all the ingredients, mix them together, and bake at medium heat (around 350) for about an hour and a half. I grated the sweet potatoes with a food processor, but maybe I should have done it by hand to get those thinner, wider shreds that a box grater provides, for an overall softer texture. And one final note: the sweet potato most commonly used in Grenada's neck of the world has a purple skin and a white interior, but I bet this would be as good if not better with the sweeter and more readily available yellow variety.
Nutmeg ice cream | Recipe
I love making frozen desserts that play on the flavors of the country we're cooking, so I was delighted to see nutmeg ice cream suggested as a Grenadian treat on several sites. The base custard of this recipe differs a bit from what I'm used to: rather than cream and milk in a 2:1 proportion, and use of yolks only, this goes for 1:1 and whole eggs. The result, made with milk and cream from the farmer's market, and nutmeg freshly grated on a Microplane, was a bit denser than my preferred texture, but held up very well when scooped directly on top of the warm pudding. Oh, and the flavor was great, a wonderful way to accent the mystery and complexity of a spice we normally don't give a second thought!
Our next meal is Haiti, which will coincide with fet gede, the Day of the Dead!