Last Friday night I sat with friends in the window booth at the Latin American Club. The rain was falling outside and collecting in tiny droplets on the windows, foggy from the warmth of stickysweetpulsing life inside. While we indulged in a couple rounds of the most potent margaritas this side of the border, I hatched my Haitian dinner idea.
Geographically, we’re far away from the island of Hispaniola. Port-au-Prince is 3,290ish miles from that cozy nook on 22nd Street and Valencia in San Francisco. I hoped we could feel closer and a bit more connected to the devastateddetermined country, at least with two of our five senses, if I whipped up some Haitian hotness in the kitchen.
Ellie played the role of my Haitian taste sensation advisor, emailing me her favorite Haitian recipes and enthusiastically answering all of my culinary questions.
“What is pikliz? Is it some sort of salad in a jar? How is it served?” It’s a “so damn delicious” spicy pickled cabbage hot sauce condiment. Haitians eat it with everything. “How do you say it? Is it peek-leez? Or pik-liz?” It’s the former. “Crap. Can I bake the chicken in the toaster oven because our big oven has gone cold and kaput?” Sure! Innovation is the key to Haitian cooking.
Okay, I was learning.
It was a simple meal – chicken, sos pwa (pureed black beans with coconut milk), cornmeal (simple boiled cornmeal seasoned with salt and pepper) and pikliz. I made the pikliz a few days ahead of time so the cabbage, carrots, onion and hot peppers got a good soak in their vinegar bath. The toaster oven chicken that I feared might take twice as long to cook turned out to bake in half the time the recipe called for. It could have been a drycardboardairplanedinner disaster, but I happened to probe a breast (did I just write that?!) while flipping them over and discovered that the chicken was completely cooked. Done and done early!
I recommend quenching your thirst with a rum inspired cocktail to keep a Caribbean vein running throughout. Before dinner, Katie mixed rum, ginger beer and fresh lime for a round of mean Dark ‘n Stormies. Later, I used the same rum and a little brown sugar to caramelize bananas to go with our ice cream and cookies. Overall a satisfying meal, in both tummy and heart.
So, without further ado, here are the chicken, sos pwa and pikliz recipes for you. Go ahead. Get cookin’! Maybe this Haitian taste sensation will sweep the nation…
Serves 4 – 6
6 chicken breasts (2 1/2 pounds of chicken)
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
2 1/2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1 tbsp. chili powder
2 tablespoons basil
Pinch of red pepper
2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
* Arrange chicken in a shallow baking dish.
* Combine remaining ingredients in a small bowl. Pour evenly over chicken.
* Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours.
* Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. *This is when, upon probing, I discovered to my great surprise that the breasts were cooked! Be sure to check your chicken.
* Turn and baste with the juices. Bake until tender, up to 30 more minutes.
* Serve with sos pwa, pikliz and rice or cornmeal.
Serves 6 as a side dish
1 pound of dried black beans, soaked
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 can coconut milk
2 cubes of chicken bullion
salt and pepper to taste
* Boil a 1 pound bag of dried black beans for 1 1/2 hours or until tender
* Once the beans are soft, separate them from the water, but do not toss it. Place the beans into a food processor or a blender along with chicken bullion and garlic cloves. If the mixture seems too thick, add some of the cooking water to make it thinner.
* Heat beans on medium. Add the can of coconut milk while stirring. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Makes 2 quarts of salsa
1/2 head purple (because it’s pretty, green works too) cabbage, shredded in the food processor
2 carrots, peeled and shredded in the food processor
1 onion, thinly sliced
6 hot peppers, halved lengthwise with seeds (Check out the Scoville scale and proceed with caution! Scotch Bonnet, Habanero, Serrano or Jalapeno will work.)
6 whole garlic cloves, peeled
2 teaspoons salt
8 to 10 peppercorns
3 cups white vinegar
* Add all the ingredients except vinegar to a large bowl and toss well to mix. (Use caution handing the peppers! They will burnbabyburn.)
* Place all the vegetables into 2 clean quart-sized glass jars. Pour in enough vinegar to cover the vegetables, tamping them down to remove any air bubbles.
* Store the pikliz in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours before serving. It will keep in the refrigerator for a month or two.