Fun Food Fridays: Jamaican Ital Steamed Veg


There are many ways to do this.  It all depends on what is available and how clean you want to eat.  I do not eat Ital, that means no salt, no alcohol, no animal products and no oils.  I use oil, I use salt, I drink alcohol (lately it is less and less due to budget mostly) and I eat cheese and eggs and on a rare occasion seafood.  A true Rasta eats Ital and you will know by how clean their skin is, for real most Rastas have very clear clean skin and eyes.

To start with you have to obtain vegetables.  Today I have Bok Choy, (which Jamaicans call pak chow),  carrots, scallion, onion, tomato, zucchini and some hot pepper.  Cabbage is also a staple in this dish, I just do not happen to have any at the moment.  Traditionally here you will soak your vegetables in salt water to kill off any insects/worms that might be hiding in the leaves.  In Ital cooking you simply chop it all and drop it into the pot/pan and cook it down slowly.  In my version we use a bit of coconut oil to soften/brown the onion and carrots.  I slice the onion and carrots and add them to the hot oil, stirring pretty regularly so as not to burn the oil off.  I then chop up the bok choy, zucchini and toss it in along with slivers of the scotch bonnet pepper, which if you do not like so much heat you can toss in whole, just be careful not to mash it up as that releases the heat.  Cutting sliver off the pepper releases more of the heat but keeps it in control.  I then mix it all together and cover for a bit, keeping my eye on it, because sometimes you need to sprinkle in some water to ensure it steams well.

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I pictured a can of broad beans, which is commonly served with this dish.  I however, made up a pot of black beans this week, so I will be using those instead.  (Crockpots are amazing for cooking up legumes, except kidney beans!)  I reheat the beans while the veggies are steaming.  I also add a little salt, thyme or other seasoning to flavor it up.  As the green parts of the bok choy start to wilt and cook down I cut up a tomato and toss it along with some chopped scallion.  A real Jamaican cook would clean the scallion and toss the whole thing in at the beginning along with a sprig of thyme.  I like to eat the scallion so I cut mine up, scissors are my favorite kitchen tool for cutting scallion, hot pepper slices and garlic bulbs up!  *** The carrot ribbons are cut using a vegetable peeler, another favorite tool I have found!

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Once the beans and rice that I cooked last night are heated up, I plate the dish.  In a traditional Ital shop you might be offered “food” to go with this dish along with chunks.  Food is basically a collection of starches; boiled green banana, Irish potato, sweet potato, breadfruit and/or yam.  It could be any combination of those or all of them.  Sometimes you are also offered a dumpling, which is basically flour and water boiled in the case of an Ital cook.  I find this much starch overwhelming.  I choose one of the items most often rice or Irish, not all of them!

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Chunks are a soy product, they are a textured vegetable protein or TVP.  They seriously look a lot like dried dog food.  Typically they are boiled for 20 minutes and made into a gravy or stew with canned vegetables to be served up on top of the “food” or rice.  I chose beans today because I am out of chunks and I had made up a pot of beans earlier this week. The secret to Ital beans is to cook them in coconut milk.  This creates a tasty almost sweet gravy to mix over the food.  (Richard liked these so much I sent him home with a bag of them.)

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This is a fairly inexpensive meal and quite filling.  This is my favorite Jamaican dish because it has so much vegetable in it.  Typically a boxed food, (Jamaican food to go) is served with a few shavings of cabbage a slice or two or cucumber and a slice or two of tomato.  The majority of the boxed meal is rice and peas with a bit of meat in a lot of gravy.

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4 thoughts on “Fun Food Fridays: Jamaican Ital Steamed Veg

  1. Haha! I use my scissors in the kitchen too- perfect for scallion (especially if you only want a little bit and you’re being lazy…)

    Question: why don’t red peas/kidney beans cook up well in the crock pot? I do find I have to boil them longer than other beans. They’re pretty tough. Is that why?

    • It has to do with the gas they create when cooking. I have a terrible time with them and I was told that you need to put them into a pressure cooker, the crock pot does not get them hot enough to break that gas down and release it, or so I was told. Boiling on stove top can, but it uses a lot of cooking gas, that is why a pressure cooker is preferred, it breaks it down much faster and cuts the cooking time down.

      • Huh. Who knew?
        I might try soaking them longer to leach out those gas-creating compounds. I’ll let you know how it goes. 🙂

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