As you would imagine, writing for my blog has created many opportunities for me to get my feet wet in many cool projects outside of my home kitchen.  It’s fun cooking for one or as I’ve dubbed ‘single life cooking’: showing organization through simple cooking tools, no-brainer mise en place and the creativity in cooking meals and testing recipes for one.  Like the time I jumped on the waffle train for brunch at home with a warm savory waffle made with spicy dhal.  Eaten with crispy fried founder and cherry tomato compote.  Now that’s a funky twist on a Trini classic!  Nowadays, some are quick to label dishes as “re-imagined Trini/Caribbean food” with lazy offerings of mediocre waffles and over-cooked protein topped with tropical fruit–I still don’t get it.  Anyway, thank God I stepped out of my head and into the pages of blogging for just shy of two years now.  Sharing bits and pieces of my life, the delicious food eaten and stories that takes me along for the ride.  One thing that has brought me joy is helping friends, readers and social media followers feel more confident in the kitchen.  To the serious home cook and cooking enthusiast I share one of the first lessons learned in culinary school–be technique driven.  Trust meh, all the cool seasonal, exotic ingredients and sous vide everything can be explored after you’ve mastered a technique.  

One technique many struggle with is the use of hot liquids and steam to cook foods.  Rice for instance, a staple around the world, cultures all over place their own identity on one-pots like Biryani, Paella, Jambalaya, Pelau and their other distant rice casserole cousins.  Inhaling breaths of herbs and spices that give these dishes their distinct hues and flavors is intoxicating. Together with a rainbow of meats, seafood and vegetables that cannot be left out of the mele, creates more than a meal or just another rice dish but an event, worthy to be shared with all.  Though different, these dishes share the same principle.  Raw or precooked ingredients that are introduced to the cooking process at different intervals that absorb flavorful liquid and allowed to finish cooking with steam. 

In Trinidad and Caribbean islands like Grenada and Barbados, long-grain rice is eaten at most lunch times.  Long-grain rice like Parboiled and Basmati needs to be rinsed before cooking to reduce the amount of starch, then boiled or cooked by the absorption method.  Brown rice needs more water or flavored liquid than white rice to cook and it takes a longer time.  Short-grain rice used in Risotto and Paella need the excess starch to make the final dish creamy so no need to rinse.  What also contributes to not so great rice is too much or not enough liquid.  When I cook long-grain rice like Jasmine and Parboiled, I always use a ½ cup less the recommended cooking liquid, this gives me perfect rice flavorful from the absorbed liquid and steamed to a fluffy perfection.

I cooked the below one-pot rice dish at home on New Year’s Eve, to ring in 2018 with prosperity.  I’ve prepared and eaten ‘cook-up’ rice for years.  Though not a dish I would cook for one, this dish symbolizes luck and fortune and is enjoyed by all Afro-Caribbean people I know at this time of year.

– Parboiled rice is used to make most ‘one pot’ rice dishes in Trinidad and Tobago.  I wash the rice three times and let it drain completely before cooking
– Black-eyed peas does not need long soaking to re-hydrate.  Pick them for stones and other tiny particles, cook straight away and they become tender in no time.
– Remember, mise en place is important when cooking at home too and it helps make the process very enjoyable.  Prepare all your ingredients before you cook.
– I always use warm / hot liquids to cook
– Dried Shrimp is added to the dish to lend to the flavor and aroma as one of my Guyanese friends taught me.  You can find packets of dried shrimp at West Indian markets and at some groceries in their international food aisle.  
– With meaty Oyster mushrooms added, I didn’t miss the poultry or meat that is typically added.  This is optional
– Oh, I also cooked the rice in the oven.  At the point I would simmer the rice on the stove top, I placed in the oven to cook.

Menu Type: Main Dish
Cooking Level: Intermediate
Servings: 6-8
Cook Time: Approx. 90mins
Prep Time: Approx. 60mins

Ingredient List:
1 1/2 cup dried Black-Eyed Peas
A handful Garlic cloves
5 sprigs of Thyme
1 Jalapeno, rough chop
1 cup of Carrots, small dice
1 cup of Bell Peppers, small dice
1 cup of Onions, small dice
½ cup of Scallions, small chop
1 heaping Tbsp. of Tomato Paste
2 Bay leaves
1 cup of Dried Shrimp
1 1/4 cup Parboiled Rice
Coconut Oil
2 ½ cups of Vegetable Stock
Salt and Black Pepper
Brown Sugar

As my Ma has taught me, I picked and rinsed the peas before adding them to a medium saucepan in enough cold water that comes up about 2 inches above the peas. I also add two sprigs of fresh thyme, 1 bay leaf, 1 tsp of salt and ½ tsp of black pepper.  Once boiling, I skimmed the foam off the top, reduced the heat to a simmer and cooked covered for about 40 mins or until tender when I bit into one.  Draining any excess liquid before allowing to cool.  This can be done the day before or the same of day.

Using a blender or a NutriBullet as I did, add about 10 cloves of garlic and the jalapeno with 2 Tbsp. of coconut oil, puree until smooth. Set aside.

In a shallow pot like a casserole pot or brasier, add enough coconut oil to coat the bottom.  Once the oil is hot, sweat the onions for about 2 minutes before adding the carrots and bell peppers, cooking for another minute.  Add the tomato paste and cook for about 30 seconds.  Stir in the dried shrimp, washed and drained rice, cooked peas, 1 Tbsp. of salt, ½ Tbsp. of black pepper and half the amount of garlic and jalapeno puree to the pot.  Add the warm stock, fresh herbs and allow the pot to come to a boil.  At this point I take the pot off the fire, tightly wrap with foil, cover with the lid and place in a 350-degree oven to cook for 30 minutes.  Take the pot out the oven and taste for additional seasoning.  I add the rest of the garlic and jalapeño puree, a Tbsp. of brown sugar and roughly chopped roasted Oyster mushrooms.  Cover and return to the oven to cook for 10 minutes.   Serve Warm


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