Traditional Jamaican Cuisine consists of Jerk, rice and peas, pumpkin soup, boiled green banana, fresh fruits, fried chicken, curried goat, porridge, juice, dumplings, patties, callalou and saltfish, akee and saltfish, bammy, bulla and pear, roast breadfruit, and plantains. In my life this spells a health disaster. The focus is meat and carbs. Imagine your whole life only eating something green for breakfast! When I first experienced the food here I started to bloat and gain weight. I became very concerned about this. I was also always tired and even though I was walking nearly 3 miles daily, I found my health in jeopardy. Once I got assigned to my own site and was able to control my food these things all changed. I have lost enough weight that I can actually see it! When you can see it yourself you know it is a lot. I switched to olive oil and coconut oil to cook with. I cut out saltfish completely and focused on more vegetables. I bought a blender and two types of juicers and I feel so much better. The idea that I do not eat meat is often a mystery to Jamaican people. Even the Rasta will eat conch or fish.
Last week I noticed that I was completely worn down and realized that my B-12 levels likely were dropping. I had not been taking my vitamins regularly and I was also at the mercy of other people for my food for a few days. This is my biggest challenge, getting the right amount of nutrition when I am not eating meat. Sunday here is rice and peas day. Always! At first I tried to keep up with this tradition, but soon found myself overwhelmed with rice. I changed it up so that I only make rice and peas every other Sunday. As the weather gets hotter, I do find myself avoiding cooking in the evening. I often eat leftover soup reheated for several days. I do love pumpkin soup! Pepper pot soup is also a favorite of mine. I spend most of my money on food, because I refuse to not eat fresh produce. I have embraced the callalou, which is like finely chopped spinach. I like to sauté up some onions and sweet peppers and then steam the callalou with them. I finish it off with an egg, either fried or scrambled in. This is a typical breakfast for me. Sometimes I will add in okra if I need to use it up. I never use saltfish, which is like kippered cod. It is a cod fillet preserved in salt and shelf stable for a long time. Lunch is most often a green salad or some type of pasta. This week I ended up adding tinned salmon to my salad a couple of days to up my B-12’s it really does help. I make my own dressing, either a yogurt based herb dressing or a liquid amino based vinaigrette. If I have left over mango and cilantro, I make a cilantro mango lime dressing that is amazing. I even sometimes make a tahini based dressing. I try to change it up often so I only make a little at a time. If I make a pasta for lunch, it often includes kale or arugula. By just adding something green I feel it adds so much to the dish.
When I cook up a dinner it can be a soup or a rice dish. Sometimes it is a stirfry and either rice or a asian noodles. I do use mushrooms a lot. They are expensive here so I have had some dried packets sent to me from America! Thanks Kathy! I appreciate it so much! My friend Teresa sent me a spice mix called Braggs organic sprinkle! I use it often, I hope someone else sends me some more soon! It is great on popcorn with some nutritional yeast. I live right outside of Ocho Rios and can get almost anything I need or want. The few items I cannot get I ask to have sent to me. Right, back to my dinner ideas! Dinner often consists of a ton of veggies either roasted or sauteed up with beans, tofu or some kind of veggie chunk. The veggie chunks that are dried look like dog food to me! But they are quite tasty. I avoid the ones that look like dried hot dogs or fake chicken, I just use a small handful of the dark ones in my meals. This week I am going to try jerk tofu with my rice and peas. What could possibly go wrong? The worst that can happen is it tastes wonky, but I have faith it will turn out well. Working with farmers has great advantages. I always get a few items at no charge. I often get banana or a few extra tomatoes dropped into my bag. It really does make a difference in my budget.
This week my landlord gave me a handful of akee. Since akee is poisonous prior to opening naturally, I refuse to buy it from anyone I do not know. I have heard that they theif it and split them manually, which is a bit of a risk for the buyer. That old saying, buyer beware, it really is a thing here! I also do not eat akee often, simply because it is nothing but fat! If you have never had it, you should totally try it. It is similar to scrambled eggs! A true Rasta does not eat eggs, but they eat akee! You peel it and de-seed it. Then you boil it until it is soft enough to pierce with a fork. You can freeze it at this point or saute it up with sweet pepper and onions. Jamaicans would drop saltfish into it, but as I stated I do not eat this. I am getting better and better at coming up with new ideas of things to eat. I find it an artistic outlet! I can tell you that juicing too many greens will leave a bad taste in your mouth, but the right combination of greens and other veggies or fruits will create a quite tasty drink. I am feeling more at home and definitely love my little kitchen! I find more reasons to love it daily.