Fun Food Friday: Rasta Pasta

I am not totally certain what exactly Rasta Pasta is aside from pasta with vegetables in it. I found that children that hate veggies ate this stuff up with relish, like literally finished the pot off.  I made it when I was visiting one of my host families last week, they asked for the recipe and to make it one more time before I left, so here is the recipe!



Oil to cook in and make sauce with (****True Rastas do not use oil unless they press it themselves)

variety of veggies for this one I had:






red pepper

bok choy (pak chow if you live in Jamaica)


Chick Peas

All purpose seasoning


I cooked the pasta to al dente and left it in the pot with some water to keep for the sauce later.  I sautéed up the veggie, leaving the greens until the end.  I added the greens and beans along with some pasta water and seasoning jus to steam the greens down a bit before mixing the pasta.  That’s pretty much it.  Sometimes it has mayonnaise in it, but I do not think it needs that.

The second time I made this I used black beans, Choyote, a can of mixed vegetables, bok choy, zucchini, peppers, onions, okra, yellow tomato,  and a little bit of kale.  This was based on what was available and what I had on hand.



Fun Food Friday: Jamaican Meats

I love having a cook on campus.  She gives me the opportunity to get some basic ideas of how Jamaicans cook up their meat.  This week was no exception.


We had a meeting this week and lunch was provided by the lab.  On Tuesday Ms. Precious and Ms. Junie were busy cooking and baking.  The coffee break was amazing, I got to sample some oatmeal cookies and sweet potato pudding.  Both were spot on!   I snuck back into the kitchen to see what gwaan for lunch!  They were frying and breading fish, frying some chicken and cooking up a roast.  Big tings gwaan!


I wanted to focus on the chicken today.  After defrosting and quartering it, they allow it to marinate in some herbs and spices for awhile, I believe this particular one was overnight.  The herbs consist of a blend from Maggi, some fresh thyme, salt and pepper.  Once she is ready, Ms. P pours a little bowl of milk and some seasoned flour for breading.  Now the fun, read mess, begins.  In  a large dutchie (a large aluminum pot with a lid) heat a lot of oil up.  Enough to cover a goo portion of the chicken as it cooks up.  Dip a piece of chicken in the milk and then dredge through the flour.  Drop it into the hot oil and add a few more pieces at a time.  Cover and let cook for awhile then turn meats over.  Cook until the meat is cooked through.  When making a large batch for a big crowd you can put it into a pan and cover with foil and bake to finish in the oven.   This is a very simple way to get a nice crisp but tasty chicken skin and moist chicken.

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.


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!


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!


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.)


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.


I might be living in a Vegetarian Paradise!

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.

cabbage salad

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.

salmon salad

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.