Elevating Healthy Meals with a Caribbean Foundation
By: Feli Musing
Caribbean culture can be just as delicious as it is vibrant. Though prominent sweet dishes such as porridge, pone, and black cake are staples in the islands, savory foods are worth their weight in gold. No matter which island’s cuisine I’ve eaten, the greens are always flavorful. With a Jamaican background, there are some simple and accessible ingredients we use that can elevate any simple healthy recipe to the next level. Here are six ingredients that I’d suggest you keep in your kitchen all year round to create a flavor explosion that may leave reggae lingering on your tongue.
Onion, Scallion, Garlic, and Thyme. Oh my!
Onion can be pungent in taste when raw, but that mellows out once cooked. It actually contains quite a bit of sweetness, which makes it a great component for any dish. My favorite onions for cooking are yellow onions and white onions. Pickled preparations such as escovitch work well as they combine acid and the texture of nutrient-dense onion all in one.
Scallion often referred to as green onion, is milder in taste than onion. The flavor profile is different enough that adding it to a dish with onions will not be overwhelming. The vibrant green color and riboflavin content makes scallion an outstanding ingredient.
Garlic is by far an ingredient held with high regard across the world. The umami flavor of garlic is prominent throughout Caribbean cuisine. In my mind, there is no limit to how much garlic you can add to a dish. Garlic is also great for digestion and the immune system. Some people even drink tea with garlic when they have a cold.
Thyme is honestly an amazing herb. It’s notable fragrance and flavor can really bring dishes together. My preference is to use the fresh thyme, or fresh thyme sprigs that I’ve dried myself. They taste so much different than the dried thyme found on market shelves. From broad leaf to fine leaf varieties, thyme is packed with vitamins and minerals such as Vitamin A and calcium. As a fat-soluble herb, a bit of oil can really bring out the flavor even more.
Scotch Bonnet Pepper and Tomato fi likkle broughta (for a little extra).
Scotch bonnet pepper brings both heat and delightful flavor in an array of colors and heat levels. If you can’t find scotch bonnet peppers, you can use habanero peppers for a similar flavor profile. Not everyone adores these hot country peppas (peppers), but spiciness aside, the taste is one that will ignite a flavor profile that black pepper alone cannot achieve. The vitamins A, B, and C content is also a plus.
Tomato adds juiciness and acid to many cooked and raw dishes. Plum tomatoes (widely known as plummy tomatoes in Jamaica) and salad tomatoes are more popular varieties in Jamaican cooking. An ingredient as versatile as this fruit can mesh well with raw dishes, cooked dishes, mild dishes, and spicier dishes alike. They are also an excellent source of vitamin C and beneficial antioxidants.
Every aforementioned ingredient except tomato was used in this kale, okra, and saltfish meal I made some time ago. It was quite delicious.
These flavor elevating ingredients can be diced and sautéed together in any oil or butter of your choice as a base for anything from callaloo and kale to saltfish (salted codfish). I am often asked what I put in vegetable dishes and burgers to make them taste so good. The honest answer is I go back to my Jamaican roots and apply Caribbean techniques and flavors to healthy food options that can considerably enhance healthy meals. Ginger, pimento seeds (allspice), and sweet peppers (bell peppers) are also fan favorites, but you can’t go wrong by starting with these six ingredients. As always, you can add nuff (a lot) or a toops (a little) of each of these ingredients. It depends on the flavor you’re looking for at the time. You definitely won’t be disappointed. Happy cooking!
All 6 of these ingredients are lovely in turkey meatballs and sauces like these gluten-free turkey meatballs with spaghetti squash and arugula.
Disclaimer: All photos taken are owned by Feli Musing. Kindly cite this blog post upon the use of these images. Thank you.