Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Meal Basics

Traditional Haitian cooking is simple. It is organic, healthy, very clean and  uncomplicated once you know the basics principles. Haitians prefer ingredients that are fresh from the market and organically grown.   
In Haiti we tend to forget that before the French the Spaniards had the longest running colony in Haiti and therefore left their customs behind which can be seen in many aspects of Haitian culture and even present in the gastronomy like, the Riz Djon Djon (rice blacken with dried munshroom) alike the Paella Negra and several other prints.  Alike Spain the larget meal of the day is served during lunch hours between 1:30 and 3:30 pm.   Haitians do enjoy a long break during lunch time but of course life is slowly changing with modern times.  I still remember when I used to sleep after lunch at school.  On sundays the meal is served around noon time. The Haitian informal plate always consist of a grain which could be rice, corn/plenta, millet or wheat. Beans and peas are eaten regularly. The grains are cooked either mixed with beans or peas or the beans and the peas can be pureed into a sauce to serve with the grain.
Prior to serving the rice and beans which is considered the main course, dinner is introduced with a serving plate consisting of boiled plantain and other boiled roots and tubers with a meat dish which can be meat, poultry or seafood they can be prepared in every way most often they have either been stewed, grilled on a charcoal grill, fried, roasted, tasso or étouffée (legume) with a side of salad and if it is a sunday dinner there will often be a gratin.  Haitian loves their pasta gratin which is served as a side dish.
Fresh squeeze juice is offered or a fruit shake to end the meal.  Formal dinning is more hearty and a dessert is offered at the end.
Haitians wakes up every morning to their cup of coffee do not forget it is one of the coffee land. coffee is always offered with bread and butter or peanut butter.  Some people can content themselves with just coffee and a a simple toast.  For others it could be hot chocolate with a toast, an omelet or the more complex traditional breakfast which can be polenta with herring or spinach; pasta which is serve only for breakfast in Haiti or plaintain and other roots with sauteed liver or salted fish or kidneys with a side of watercress.   Such a meal is always accompanied by a fresh squeeze juice.
Typical Haitian Snack
Haitians snack all day long and it is all healthy snacks that are sold to go on the streets or in many small stores or bakeries.  The snack of choice is fresh fruits, there is always fruits in the household and one that one finds at every street corner is the ultimate sugar cane man ready to cut into into juicy sticks for your relish; roasted peanuts; cassava bread with peanut butter; it could be a refreshing slush drink like "Fresco"; Plaintain chips "Papita" or a beef, cod, chicken turnover called "Pate" or on the street stand one will grab a "Pate Kode" Haitian empanadas.

It is around the time that one visit friends to play cards, dominos and women chit chat about the days event and gossip over a beer or a soft drink.  Haitians are avid soccer fans if there are any games on expect for the environment to be boious and long discussion about the games if not politics.
Families during the evening between 8 pm and midnight either serve some type of porridge, a consomme or  a ragout.  However, the general population during the evening purchase what is called "Fritay" from street vendors the consomme can be purchased on the street as well but not the porridge.  Everyone has their favorite vendor that they purchase from.  Fritay is a plate consisting of fried plantain, accras, beignet(marinade) with Griot (fried Pork) or a goat or beef tasso and a lot of "Picklis".  For the past decades, the streets have been invaded by barbecued chicken vendors who serves their barbecue with either fried plaintain or boiled plaintain and Yucca.  One today has that as an option as well.

To note
On Saturdays, Haitian loves to cook up a big pot of soup or you can simply make a pot of Tiaka.

Sunday mornings,  a big pot of pumking soup is in the morning menu for which guests are invited over sometimes to savour as brunch.  The soup is serve with bread, lime and a side of "Picklis" for those who loves this addition.

Is not generally part of the Haitian daily diet.  It is taken during cold weather specially the rainny seasons or during illness and in  the form of infusion.  In the upper class a menthe tea is taken as a digestive. 
Cooking Methods
The basic ingredients of all Haitian food is garlic, onions, green onions and herbs such as parsley, laurel and thyme are used, but garlic more than the others, black pepper, clove, one scotch bonnet according to the dish but unbroken, hot pepper is there to perfume the food not for heat.  Therefore Haitian food is not hot and any hot sauces or pickles are served on the side or according to the cook's taste.  Do not forget Haiti is one of those big islands composed of ten departments and several subdivision with distinct geographical settlements therefore, although the cooking techniques are the same but there are indeed variations.  Some families may cook only with garlic and others with lard, roucou (Achiote) and all the other common ingredients finds in spices in most part of the Caribbean and Latin America.

Things to Remimber!!
Marinade:  When Haitians are talking about marinades they are not talking about a sauce to marinade meat but they are talking about "savory beignets" which can be made with smoked herring, chicken, shrimp, cod fish ect...

Epis: is the Haitian Creole translation for seasoning/herbs, it is the crushed mixture of onion, parsley, garlic, black pepper, thym that Haitian use to marinate their meat.

Picklis: it the pickled cabbage, carrot and scotch bonnet pepper vinegar mix that Haitian serves as a side dish at the table.

Pate: is the word for turnovers made out of puff pastries filled with ground beef or chicken, cod fish or smoke herring.

Pate Kode: is the empada like savory pastry filled with either smoked herring, hot dog or chicken.