Cilantro, or coriander as we call it here in Europe, is a herb or a spice depending on what part of the plant we’re talking about.
Sometimes referred to as Mexican or Chinese parsley, the Cilantro is native to south west Asia and west to north Africa. It is a soft, hairless plant growing to 50 cm [that’s 20 inches in case you don’t get the metric system] tall. The leaves vary in shape, and are normally broadly lobed at the base of the plant, and slender and feathery higher on the flowering stems. The flowers sit in small clusters (which I just have learned are called umbels) and they are white or very pale pink, asymmetrical and with petals that point away from the centre of the umbel being longer than those pointing to the middle of the umbel. (Good to know! lol) The fruit is a globular dry schizocarp (another new word for me!) and 3-5 mm diameter.
We use cilantro leaves as a herb in salads, seasonings, stews and cold sauces. The fruit is dried and used in sweets, curries, breads, cakes and liqueurs; the flowers can be used as edible garnish and even the roots can be eaten stir fried or julienned or chucked in stews.
Cilantro is also believed to have some medicinal properties:
- It is considered an aid to the digestive system. It is an appetite stimulant and aids in the secretion of gastric juices.
- A poultice of Coriander seed can be applied externally to relieve painful joints and rheumatism.
- The essential oils of the Cilantro leaves contain antibacterial properties and can be used as a fungicide.
- The seeds are considered to have cholesterol-lowering properties.
- It has pain-relieving properties and is useful for headaches, muscle pain, stiffness and arthritis.
- It is useful as a tea, because of its helpful effects on the digestive tract, and is good for increasing appetite, and relieving nausea, diarrhea, flatulence and indigestion.
- It is reputed to enhance circulation and relieve fluid retention.
Okra was a colour to me until I was introduced to Mumfood. Mumfood, in case you didn’t know, is food made by His Mum. And just so you know there’s no food in the world like Mumfood. (Having said that, I’d like to pipe up that I just loooooooove my dad’s cooking!)
Okra, also known as Lady’s Fingers, is a flowering plant in the mallow family along with species like cotton and cocoa. It is cultivated throughout the tropical and warm temperate regions of the world for its fibrous octagonal fruits containing round, white seeds.
In the Caribbean okra is cooked and eaten in soups and stews where it adds flavour and helps giving the dish a slightly thicker texture.
The papaya, or pawpaw as the man calls it, is the fruit of a little tree that is native to the West Indies. Its ripe fruit is usually eaten raw, without the skin or seeds. The unripe green fruit of papaya can be eaten cooked, usually in curries, salads and stews.
Green papaya fruit and the tree’s latex are both rich in an enzyme called papain which is used to tender meat and other proteins. Papain is also very good for easing stomach ailments and an exceptional aid to digestion. A rich source of minerals and vitamins A, C and E, papain also breaks down wheat gluten, which may be of great help those sensitive to gluten.
We use papaya in salads and stews, and sometimes in drinks.
For centuries, curing with salt was a method of preserving fish and meat. Since the time of the Vikings, salted and dried cod from the North Atlantic has been shipped around the world. Because it was cheap and could last for months or even years without spoiling, salt cod became popular in many areas of the world.
Salt cod is available all year, but it’s not cheap anymore. Most of the world supply is caught in the north Atlantic ocean, mainly off New England, Canada, and Iceland. However, decades of overfishing have brought the Atlantic cod stocks near to collapse, and it may take many years for them to recover. Some processors have switched to the still relatively abundant Pacific cod, but prices for salt cod, which have risen three to fourfold over the last two decades, are likely to remain high.
If you can’t find salted cod in your local shops, give us a call or pop in to the Ya Man! Shop to stock up and try out some of our salt cod recipes.
The escallion (pronounced scallion) is probably better known to us here in Europe as a spring onion. They look like leeks, but are thinner and their taste is milder.
We mainly use escallion in salads, soups, sauces, noodle and seafood dishes, but sometimes also in Rice & Peas to add taste and colour.
The Ackee is the poisonous, pear-shaped fruit of the Ackee tree. When it ripens, it turns from green to a bright red to yellow-orange, and splits open to reveal three large, shiny black seeds, surrounded by soft, creamy or spongy, white to yellow flesh.
It is only the fleshy arils around the seeds that are edible; and only after the fruit has opened naturally. The remainder of the fruit and seeds are poisonous, and even the edible bits are inedible when immaturre and overripe.
Luckily, we don’t have to worry about when to pick the fruit as we can buy it canned. Most famously used in Ackee & Saltfish, the ackee is a common breakfast dish in Jamaica. That might make more sense to you if I tell you the fruit has the texture of scrambled eggs although with its own taste.
If you can’t find ackee in your local shops, give us a call or check out the Ya Man! Shop and we’ll help you stock up.
In the West Indies peas are a collective name for all sorts of beans and lentils. Hence why there’s no peas to be seen in Rice & Peas.
Beans are staple food and used to make Rice & Peas, stews and other dishes more filling. Beans are cheap food, they make many dishes more colourful, and they make your stomach feel full longer.