It's always fun to check out the local markets in each island we visit. I usually have many questions for servers when we dine out, sometimes much to my friends dismay, but that is nothing compared to the questions I have for the women standing behind the produce. There are so many fruits, vegetables and spices I have never seen and have no idea how to use. Luckily, they are always happy to talk with you and to pass on cooking advice.
Here's some of what I've learned so far:
Sorrel are these beautiful red pods that you boil with cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg around the holidays to make a festive drink. It cooks up to this rich, dark red concoction, not a ton of flavor though. No matter how much simple syrup I added I could not convince our young friends on a neighboring boat that it was tasty, and they'll eat and drink pretty much anything. I would have liked to have tasted some made by a local, not sure my finished product was what it was supposed to be.
Christophene is a really versatile round squash. similar to zucchini. You can do so much with it, raw or cooked. I've stuffed it, made pickles out of it, grated it for a quick bread and mixed it with bulgur to make tabbouleh.
Turmeric is a spice I have only seen in a jar until now. It is a root that looks kind of like ginger but skinny and sort of wrinkly, both are a big part of the cuisine here. Fresh it's this bright orange color that leaves your hands and anything else that touches it with deep yellow stains and gives food this subtle Indian flavor.
Seasoning peppers are these small peppers that look like mini red, green and yellow peppers, you can fit a bunch in one hand. Some are spicy, some are not. You have to be careful which you use, the spicy ones are super hot.
Colombo is a spice mixture that is really good in chicken dishes. We eat a lot of chicken these days, until we got to Guadeloupe the only place we found fresh fish was on restaurant menus.
Saltfish seems ingenious, it is sold in all the grocery stores. It comes packaged in bags on the shelf and is a hard, preserved, salted fish that doesn't need refrigeration. It's perfect food for storing on a boat. After it's soaked in water for 24 hours you drain it, squeeze out the extra water and mix it with those seasoning peppers to eat on johnny cakes or you can fry it into fritters. No matter how long I soak it, and how many times I change the water it's still really salty and tough though, still working on making that edible.
Coconut is always available, getting it out of the shell though is not so easy. The hammer, knife, drill and vegetable peeler I used made a mess of the boat. There is usually someone selling fresh coconut water at the local market, that may be the easiest way to enjoy it.
You can always find people selling homemade green sauce and hot sauce at the market. The green sauce is a mix of fresh herbs, kind of like chimichuri, it's delicious. Great for marinating those endless chicken dishes. It's difficult to try all the local hot sauces, there are so many, but we are working at it.
White radishes are long vegetables shaped like a carrot, but white. They taste like the radishes we are used to but milder and white all the way through. They're really good roasted, sliced or shaved in a salad.
It's gotten a little more difficult to figure out the produce in Guadeloupe and Martinique where we aren't speaking the same language. Through charades and our broken French and English we try to communicate. That packet of spices I bought to steep in rum for one month, she mentioned sugar, the directions say to add 200g of canne de syrop? And the fruit (couldn't quite make out the name) but I did get that I should peel it and take out the pit, is all the fruit attached to the pit not supposed to be eaten? It doesn't taste like much, am I doing something wrong?
Back to the market with more questions…