A Taste of the Tropics

As we settle into winter and the cold, snowy weather that comes with it, a bit of spice, brightness, and excitement is always welcome to escape this dreary season, if only for a moment, or a single meal. While a one-way ticket to a tropical island is undeniably appealing, a much more reasonable approach to handling the cold is to hunker down with a good cookbook and whip up something warming. The Caribbean Vegan, a new release by blogger extraordinaire Taymer Mason, is a bit outside of my culinary comfort zone, but just enticing enough to warrant a closer look.

Filled with traditional dishes from all over the islands, sans meat, egg, and dairy, The Caribbean Vegan manages to pack tons of flavor into the simplest of preparations. Though unfamiliar with the spice combination and a few new ingredients, I was excited to taste another cuisine that isn’t readily as available to me, and so rarely made with vegans in mind.

First up, a Creamy Pumpkin Soup sounded like just the thing to shake off a nasty chill, so I wasted no time throwing sweet potatoes, pumpkin, and aromatic spices into the stock pot. Wholly unlike my typical approach to pumpkin soup, it was love at first spoonful. Enriched with a splash of coconut milk and blended to a perfectly smooth consistency, the balance between sweet and savory was incredible. Thick but not cloying, it seemed so much more satisfying than the typical bowl of orange squash puree, and had an instantly soothing quality, like a nice warm hug for your stomach. Delicately and warmly seasoned with a melange of ginger, cinnamon, all spice and more, it’s still subtle enough for kids to appreciate, but much more complex in flavor than one might expect from a humble soup. This is one that I will absolutely make again and again throughout the winter.

Encouraged by this early success, I moved on to a more complex (but still easy) dish; the White Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie. Never before had I seen nor heard of a white-fleshed sweet potato, so off to the store I went, fully planning to pick up a standard orange yam. Clearly it was fate intervening, because lo and behold, as soon as I entered the produce department, white sweet potatoes stood proudly piled right in front of me. They must have been hidden in plain sight all along!

Surprisingly spicy for the typically humdrum meat-and-potato pie, this recipe breathes new life into the tired old casserole. Kicked up with curry, paprika, and a good dose of pepper, the mildly sweet mashed potato topping pairs beautifully with the hearty filling below. Hearty enough to satisfy the most voracious appetites, this is one that I would recommend serving to omnivores and vegans alike. Don’t skip over the optional peas, though, as they add much needed color and textural variation to the dish.

The instant I opened up this cookbook, there was one recipe in particular that leapt out and seized me by the throat: Ackee Scramble. Just days earlier, I happened to spy a can of the elusive ackee at my standard grocery store, and was taken aback by the steep price. Not willing to spend so much on a risky ingredient I knew nothing about, I was thrilled to finally get the bit of advice on how it might be prepared. Enticed by the opportunity to try a whole new food, I took the plunge and treated myself to one of those pricey tin cans. Taymer explains that the ackee is a fruit related to the lychee and longan, but cooks up looking for all the world like scrambled eggs. No kidding, this was the most “realistic” scramble I had made since eschewing eggs.

Soft and somewhat creamy, the texture was shockingly spot-on. I could hardly believe what a find this exotic fruit was! Admittedly, I wasn’t crazy about the seasonings and especially the use of liquid smoke, but you can be certain that this is not the last ackee scramble that will grace my plate. Using Taymer’s recipe as a template, I will definitely be trying a more traditional tofu scramble-type of approach, sulfurous black salt and everything.

Whether you’re familiar with the flavors of the Caribbean or have never tasted a single dish from the tropics, The Caribbean Vegan is a fun and engaging way to immerse yourself in the food culture. Filling a niche otherwise almost entirely untouched by those seeking cruelty-free cooking, it’s an invaluable text for any adventurous cook’s shelf.

28 thoughts on “A Taste of the Tropics

  1. Interesting book! I lived in the Caribbean (Venezuela)so I am familiar with that areas kitchen.And now I learned something new:I have never heard of Ackee before reading about it in your blog!

  2. Oh that Shepherd’s Pie sounds fabulous. That’s something I haven’t made in awhile. I love delicious vegan comfort food. I rarely make traditional dishes like that, but a few vegan restaurants around Philly do it wonderfully!

  3. Wow, awesome review Hannah! I seriously want that shepherd’s pie, it looks amazing. Yep, I just saw those white sweet potatoes the other day too. They must be hiding!

  4. White flesh sweet potatoes are a favorite of mine. They make great fries because they stay firm unlike yellow sweet potatoes and are a great addition to curries and other dishes as well.
    I still need to pick up that cookbook for myself, I’ve looked at it while buying a couple of vegan cookbooks for some friends during the holidays that are new to veganism, and her book is so colorful! My son told me I need to buy this cookbook.

  5. What’s that you say? It’s delightfully warm here in sunny Australia? :P (Don’t hate me – two years of winter has made me giddy about summer.) Gosh, fruit as scramble? Craziness! Looks good, though, I must admit…

  6. Yum. That was a very thorough review. That soup sounds worth the price of the book alone. I love dishes with a sweet-savory balance.

  7. All of these dishes would be perfect for your winter season. It’s funny, I’m over here in sunny Australia and would definitely prefer to be in the cold right now! My favourite is that Shepherd’s Pie…I really admire that you piped the potatoes; also I can see a little pea hiding under that potato and I definitely wouldn’t skip the peas either.

  8. I love sheperds pie, oh the flavros are awesome, I would love extra peas in mine and the piping is perfection..thanks fro such a great review!

  9. You know… I’m pretty sure I’ve seen Ackee at the Asian market? I could be wrong, but I’m sure it would be a heck of a lot cheaper than the normal grocery also!

  10. The book sounds awesome. I don’t do much vegan cooking but I’m ready to give it a try. I’ll have to check the book out. That pumpkin soup and shepherd’s pie looks really gooooood!

  11. Another book to add to the wish list! The creamy pumpkin soup sounds like exactly what I need right now. I’m very intrigued by this ackee. I will definitely be on the lookout for some.

  12. I should have known better than to come here on an empty stomach!! Yum yum and yum. Like the matcha cookies too. Your friends and family are so lucky to have you around, really.
    Eco Mama

  13. I love the flavors of Caribbean food and it’s a perfect way to get you through these wintertime blues! I will definitely be making that sweet potato casserole…I can’t think of a better way to warm myself up on one of these cold afternoons!

  14. Thanks for this great review, Hannah! Your shepherd’s pie is a work of art. And you can be sure I’m off to suss out some ackee–that just sounds SO intriguing! :D

  15. I’ve never heard of ackee before! How intriguing. I’ve heard that people use jackfruit as a meat replacer but haven’t tried it. Everything looks delicious.

  16. I grew up in Jamaica. I love ackee. You can also use it to make a shepherd’s pie. There is also a meat pie that we call Patti in Jamaica. You can also substitute the ackee in the meat pie. Yes, the price of ackee is very steep.

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