When I first signed up to do Project Food Blog, I decided it’d be fun to do the challenges whether I was in the competition or not. The whole point is to challenge yourself in the kitchen, right? So official challenge or not, here I come.
Have I ever told you that the year I met my husband I’d sworn off men? Let’s face it, they were no good: the either lived with their mommas, had no ambitions, or were just plain dirt bags.
So imagine my interest when I’m at a party and some fraternity boy walks up to me and starts talking about who knows what…None. No interest. I couldn’t have cared less.
There I am, sitting in a filthy boy-infested house pretending to look mildly interested and not listening to a word this kid was saying. Then one phrase managed to actually get through to me.. “when I was in Haiti”.
Suddenly, against every desire I had, I couldn’t help but listen. I’d spent the summer volunteering in the Dominican Republic (Haiti’s sister country that makes up the island Hispaniola) and it was near and dear to my heart.
To this day, I still can’t tell you anything else the boy said to me that night, but I can tell you that’s the only reason I continued the conversation with him. Fast forward more than 5 years later and we’re still together. All because of a little bond over the tiny nation of Hispaniola.
We even have a little Haitian carved man guarding our front door!
When I read the second Project Food Blog challenge was to take a chance at making some ethnic cuisine outside your comfort zone, I skipped over the obvious Italian, Chinese, and French food and landed right on Haiti.
Even though the Dominican Republic and Haiti share a long border, their food and cultures have their own distinctions. I knew about the Dominican’s- it was time to let the husband relieve Haiti’s.
I wasn’t going to make rice and beans- I mean, that’s easy, right? But that’s the country’s staple dish. I couldn’t make a truly authentic meal without serving rice and beans. So rice & beans it was- but I made sure to make them Haitian style- no quick fix meal here.
Along with the rice & beans I made fried plantains- something the husband’s talked about since I’ve known him, and a typical Haitian bread.
Haitian Rice & Red Beans (Riz et Pois Rouges)
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium green bell pepper, chopped
1 small chile pepper, chopped
1 T chopped scallion
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup rice, uncooked
2 cans (15 ounces each) kidney beans, drained
½ teaspoon cumin
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon oregano
¼ teaspoon thyme
¼ teaspoon rosemary
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
2½ cups boiling water
Sauté the onion, peppers, and garlic in oil until just beginning to soften. Combine dry rice, kidney beans, and pepper mixture. Stir in spices and scallions. Place in large baking dish and cover with boiling water. Cook at 350 for 55-60 minutes, until water is absorbed.
Between chopping onions and spicy peppers, it was a feat in itself to get these guys sliced without cutting myself or rubbing the oil in my eyes, but I managed to persevere. 😉
Until the pan they go for just a few minutes.
Once they’ve softened up and are turning translucent, you know they’re done.
Against every urge I had to cook the rice first, I stuck with tradition and mixed it into the kidney beans.
In went the spices. The spices are what made the difference in this dish. I will be forever adding ground clove to my rice and beans from now on.
Once the rice and beans were mixed together, it started to look good. I was getting hungry but I couldn’t sneak a taste because the rice wasn’t cooked. Well, I could have but I probably would’ve broke a tooth or two.
I cringed as I covered my creation in hot water (and yes, I spilled the boiling water all over myself). I never said I was coordinated.
Into the oven it went, fingers crossed the rice would cook and the water would magically disappear…
Next up, bread!
Haitian Bread (Pain Haitien)
2 packages active dry yeast
1½ cups warm water
¼ cup honey
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon ground nutmeg
4 cups flour
¼ teaspoon instant coffee
2 Tablespoons milk
Add yeast to warm water and set aside. Combine flour, honey, salt, oil, and nutmeg. Stir in water/yeast combo and beat together until lumps are smooth. Knead dough until elastic and smooth, then set aside to rise for 45 minutes or until doubled in size.
Spread dough into large, flat baking dish (such as 9 x 13 pan). Score the dough in 2 inch squares. Mix together instant coffee and milk, and brush across top of dough. Cook at 350 for 30 minutes or until surface turns golden brown.
Two packets is a lot of yeast for just 4 cups of flour, but I went with it- and boy did it bubble!
It’s a pretty simple dough: flour, nutmeg, salt, and honey.
Mixed with the water and yeast to get the start of a dough.
In just a few kneads, the above sticky mess turned into the gorgeous dough ball below. No matter how much bread I bake, this is the part that always amazing me.
A little while later…
Remember how much yeast there was? Goodness that dough rose!!
After working the dough into a rectangle in the pan, and trying to make nice, clean score marks (have you ever tried to cut sticky dough?) I brushed the top with a glaze of milk and instant coffee.
Then the bread joined the rice and beans in the oven so they’d come out at the same time.
Now the really fun part.
Fried Plantains (Bannann Peze)
Slice plantains on an angle, about 3/4 of inch thick. Heat oil in large iron skillet until sizzling. Cook plantains in hot oil, about 2 minutes on each side or until slightly brown. Drain on a paper towel. Using the bottom of a glass, flatten each plantain slice and return to hot oil. Cook each side again for about 1 minute, until golden brown and crispy. Serve hot.
Fried plantains. I didn’t even know you could buy plantains in North Carolina until I went on a hunt for them. But sure enough, there they were with dates and the spiky melon I never know what to do with.
Now, you would think this would be the easy part. All you do is cut up the plantain and toss it in the oil.
Well. I’ve never fried anything. Ever. *Enter irrational fear of spraying hot oil here.*
I have to say, it was less traumatizing than I thought, but I did learn an important lesson.
Ready for it?
Don’t stick your fingers in the hot oil.
(I ended keeping the ice cube with me next to the stove. You know, just in case….)
Besides that, it wasn’t as hard as I thought to make a yummy double-fried plantain. And before you get all in hissy about me double frying my fruit, listen up: if you fry at a hot enough temperature the food doesn’t absorb much oil! Plus, it’s still fruit inside. 😉
Anything that has “smash” in the directions is good with me- it makes cooking more fun. 😉
It worked!! These were so yummy right out of the pan… the husband’s lucky any made it on his plate.
By this time, timers and beeps were going off everywhere: the beans and bread were done!
Look, Ma! No water! Magic.
And ooh did that bread smell good when I opened the oven door- you could smell the honey and the nutmeg wafted off of the pan.
My Haitian meal, ready to dig in.
I loved it! Now I want to go to Haiti to see how I did. 😉 The husband said it was spot on & brought the memories of his trip flooding back.
(But who knows, he has the memory of a goldfish. He’s just happy there’s food on his plate.)
The main dish was like rice & beans meets jambalya- you could taste the Creole influence in the spices. The bread would be delicious with any meal- or just on it’s own. Lightly, fluffy, and a little sweet & spicy from the honey and nutmeg.
I hated it, clearly.
And with that, Haiti, I’d like to thank you for single handedly making me not brush off the man that I’m now happily married to. (And for making me eat my words that all men are dirt. There’s a few good ones out there;))
What’s ethnic cuisine are you scared of cooking? How did you meet your significant other if you have one?