Not Just for Pasta

When I think about meatballs, I usually associate them with pasta and marinara sauce. However, that’s not the only way to serve them. I didn’t have them very often as a child, but when my mom did make them, she sometimes served them with rice, which apparently is the Haitian way to eat meatballs. Basically, it was served the same way you would serve any other meat dish, sometimes in sauce, sometimes dry.

I’ve tried this with ground beef and ground turkey, and they both work. I think I still prefer meatballs with pasta, but it’s good to know there is another way.

Haitian Meatballs
Ingredients:

1 pound ground beef (or ground turkey)
1/2 lime
seasoning
1/4 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 quart frying oil

Directions:
1. Mix the ingredients (including juice from the 1/2 lime) except for oil.
2. Shape the meat into palm-sized balls.
3. Add the oil to a deep pan and heat on high for 5-10 minutes (it should be hot enough to sizzle). Reduce heat to medium.
4. Fry the meatballs in the oil for 5 minutes or until cooked.*

*You may have to do this in batches depending on the size of your pan. The meatballs should be completely submerged in the oil for even frying. I actually use a deep fryer, which makes to frying more consistent and less messy.

My (No Longer) Secret Formula

There’s a tradition in Haitian cooking to basically create a homemade rub based on spices that are commonly used. I suppose it makes sense given that more often than not, the cooks are using the same set of spices on all of their meat. I have not adopted this habit for a couple of reasons: 1) It’s usually made in large batches, and I never get around to using the whole batch so it feels wasteful, and 2) I’ve never really quite gotten the hang of what all is going in there.

Technically, you can put whatever you want in there. My mom liked to use parsley, garlic, cloves, and bell peppers. She would take these ingredients (in unspecified amounts), blend them all together, and then store them until she was ready to marinate her meat. Although there were more ingredients included in her marinade (adobo, creole seasoning, salt, chicken base), she wouldn’t include these in her rub (probably because she reserved the right to adjust the seasoning as she saw fit).

While I never got the hang of creating the rub, there is something nice about knowing the base of ingredients I’m going to need. When I learned how to cook, I basically learned how to cook by feel rather than by recipe. In some ways I think that’s better as it allows room for creativity and variance in tastes. However, there’s always room for a baseline, a general idea of where to start from so that at least you know you’re on the right track.

I started this blog for a few reasons, but one of the most important reasons to me was a way to capture real Haitian recipes to share with the world. In forcing myself to measure things out and explain the process, I was hoping for a way to simplify the mystery behind creating a Haitian dish, and I think I’ve discovered a working seasoning recipe that appears to work on chicken, turkey, beef, and pork. I finally figured out my baseline.

Obviously, your tastes and mine may not be the same, but if the goal is to learn to make food the Haitian way, this will at least give you a starting place. So here’s my base formula.

For every pound of meat, I use:
1 teaspoon adobo seasoning
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon Creole Seasoning
2 teaspoons dried basil
1 teaspoon chicken base
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
2 large garlic cloves, minced

I tend to scale up the salt and pepper if adding the meat to a stew, but at it’s core, this is the base for all my meat. I suspect that the larger your amount of meat, the more the scale will change on the seasoning, but I’ve tried this on up to five pounds, and it seems to work perfectly. So, from this point forward, I’ll redirect everyone back to this post when referencing seasoning meat.

The scale may be different, but it’s the same set of seasonings that I’m using for vegetables and rice as well. Is it the only way to do things? No. As my sister mentioned in one of her comments, I don’t think all Haitians use the same spices, but there does seem to be a certain base (that includes garlic, salt, and chicken base) that I think makes it feel authentic.

I’d love feedback on the merits of using a homemade rub (in addition to other spices) versus sticking to my standard set. What do you think?

Work in Progress

IMG_0092

Apologies for being a day late on this post. I’m blaming a lack of sleep and my dog for missing my self-imposed Monday deadline. Better late than never, right?

This week’s recipe is still a work in progress. Not that it’s bad (I promise never to post anything I wouldn’t eat myself), but I’m just not sure it’s perfect. There are a couple of reasons I’m not vouching for this one yet. The first one is because I sort of forgot to write this one down as I was making it; the second is that I don’t have much else to compare it to.

Remember that line about Haitians not naming there dishes very descriptively? I think of all the things that I’ve made so far, this has shown up as the most nameless. In Kreyol, they call this dish Legumes. Yup, vegetables. How much less descriptive can you get? To be fair, it is one of the only Haitian dishes that starts with the vegetables as the main ingredient, and there are so many different veggies in there that it would be hard to pick the one that is the show runner. Unfortunately for me, that’s made it difficult to name as well as to make.

The version I’m sharing contains beef, but I’ve also seen this made with crab (or both), and you could probably even make a vegetarian version out of it if you wanted. I guess it’s technically another beef stew, but this one is really more about the vegetables than it is the beef, and it’s definitely not a soup. It’s generally served with rice (I prefer white rice, but I’ve also seen it served with rice and beans), but I could almost eat it alone. Fair warning, it takes a while to make and the list of ingredients is pretty extensive, but the end result is worth it.

I do promise to keep working on this one and to make updates as I perfect it, but in the meantime, at least this one comes with a few images. Does anyone else have similar recipes that they like? I’m very open to feedback!

Uncooked, chopped chayote

Uncooked, chopped chayote

seasoned beef

seasoned beef

Haitian Legumes (Stewed Vegetables)

Ingredients:
1 pound cubed beef
1/2 lime
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 quart water
1 habanero pepper
1 round eggplant, peeled and cubed
1 chayote, cubed
1 cup shredded cabbage
1/2 green bell pepper, thinly sliced
1/2 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup chopped spinach
1/3 yellow onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup scallions, chopped

Seasonings
1 teaspoon adobo seasoning
2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon Creole Seasoning
2 teaspoons dried basil
1 teaspoon chicken base
2 teaspoon seasoned salt
2 large garlic cloves, minced

Directions:
1. Clean the beef by rubbing the lime over all the meat. Rinse with cold water.
2. Add seasonings and the beef  to a soup pot and toss together. Make sure all pieces are evenly covered, and let sit overnight (or at least 3 hours).
3. Brown the beef using the olive oil in the soup pot on high heat for about 5 minutes.
4. Add 1 quart water, bell peppers, and habanero and cook on high heat. Add water as necessary to prevent from drying.
5. In a separate pot, add 1 quart of water, eggplant, and chayote and cook on high heat for 25 minutes.
6. Drain and mash the eggplant/chayote mixture and add to the beef.
7. Add remaining ingredients and cook on medium heat for 30 minutes, string occasionally.

Everything’s better with flavor

I’ve always wished that I could get excited about eating plain veggies. Wouldn’t it be great if eating a bag of carrot sticks could delight as much as a strawberry or a banana? I’m sure there are people out there who believe this, I’m just not fortunate to be one of them.

It’s not that I’m anti-vegetables, and I don’t go out of my way to avoid them (I know some who do). In fact, there are quite a few vegetables that I love: spinach, broccoli, carrots; I just think they taste better with other things. Technically I feel the same way about meat, but it seems to be expected that you would season meat, but not necessarily so with vegetables.

I once had a conversation with a friend who was attempting to convince me that once he stopped eating meat, he’d been able to discover the real flavor of vegetables and that they were great all by themselves, unlike meat (which all taste the same to him). Sorry, but I’m not a believer. In my opinion, seasoning is used to enhance the flavor of whatever you’re seasoning; with out seasoning, the world would be a sad, bland place.

You may have noticed from my recipes that I have a favorite few: basil, garlic, salt, and black pepper. There are many others, but I feel a meal just can’t go wrong if I add those four ingredients. What are some of your favorites? Whatever they are, I hope you’re including them often and, of course, enjoying a flavorful meal always.

Kitchen Experiments

I was quite proud of myself this week. It’s still cold, and I really wanted to make Bouyon (Haitian Beef Stew). I had been looking for a recipe for quite some time to replicate what I remember getting in my mother’s kitchen or from friends. Alas, the internet disappointed me on this one. Perhaps it was a spelling issue, but I couldn’t find one single recipe that even came close to what I thought was right. So I decided to wing it.

It was fantastic! To be fair, I have no idea if it comes close to the traditional stew, but it was a fine beef stew either way, so I’m posting it.

Like with any soup or stew, you can probably throw in your favorite vegetables that I didn’t list here. The traditional version calls for a few root vegetables that I’m not a fan of (such as malanga and yucca), so I left them out. I had also originally intended to add spinach and bell peppers (which I think is also in the traditional version), but I forgot so they are not included in the recipe.

One of the challenges with trying something new is that I’m never quite sure how it’s going to come out, and so I did a lot of tasting as I was making the stew. I did make some adjustments that are not listed below (I ended up adding a little more seasoned salt and black pepper once all the ingredients were in the pot, but I’m not quite sure how much, perhaps a teaspoon of each), and that’s the other part with experimentation because it’s easier to just throw stuff in the pot as I’m tasting, and I usually forget to stop and measure. As I was making it, the tastes weren’t all coming together for me, so I was afraid the final product would be one I didn’t want to duplicate. Thankfully, when I finally sat down with a bowl, everything finally came together to a stew I wanted to share. Now, I’ll have to go back and try this again and make sure I got it right and I’ll adjust in the future if I missed something.

The recipe calls for dumplings, and since that was one of my favorite parts of the stew, I really wanted to include them. I’ll be the first to admit that my dumpling-making technique needs help. I ended up making them with 1 cup of flour, 1 teaspoon of seasoned salt, and water (I’m not sure how much. Perhaps about 1/2 cup). I think I can do a better job of creating them, so feel free to go find a dumpling recipe that you like. I may post an update with a more finalized dumpling recipe at a later date.

In the meantime, feel free to use the (mostly finished) recipe below, but you’ll definitely want to taste as you go.

Bouyon (Haitian Beef Stew)

Ingredients:
1 pound cubed beef
1/2 lime
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 quarts of water
1 habanero pepper
2 large carrots, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 potato, peeled and chopped
1 green plantain, peeled and chopped
1/3 white onion, thinly sliced
1 bunch green onions, chopped
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1 tablespoon tomato paste
6 dumplings

Seasonings
1 teaspoon adobo seasoning
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon Creole Seasoning
2 teaspoons dried basil
1 teaspoon chicken base
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
2 large garlic cloves, minced

Directions:
1. Clean the beef by rubbing the lime over all the meat. Rinse with cold water.
2. Add seasonings and the beef to a soup pot and toss together. Make sure all pieces are evenly covered, and let sit overnight (or at least 3 hours).
3. Brown the beef using the olive oil in the soup pot on high heat for about 5 minutes.
4. Add the water and habanero and cook on high heat for 25 minutes.
5. Add remaining ingredients (except dumplings) and cook for an additional 25 minutes. Stir well.
6. Add dumplings and cook for an additional 10 minutes.