Caribbean tastes to bring back home

Visiting the tiny unspoiled island of Nevis and being a guest at the historical Montpelier Plantation & Beach has been a new source of sunshine food and drink inspiration.  I was on a magazine travel assignment to write about the undiscovered Caribbean where there are no high-rise apartment buildings, no ugly resorts and where KFC and Domino pizza cannot open up. (Nevis residents who fancy some American fast food have to take the ferry to the larger more developed big brother island of Saint Kitts).  Wherever you are in Nevis there are uninterrupted views of the sea and the volcano Nevis Peak. The 12,000 or so inhabitants love and respect the natural glory of their island and Mother Nature, from the rainforest to their yards.

The beautiful fig tree at Montpelier Plantation & Beach
The beautiful weeping fig tree (ficus benjamina) at the entrance of Montpelier Plantation & Beach

Here’s my Caribbean food inspiration to follow up at home in the UK (and my new home in Cyprus).

Cooked breakfast with a difference

Breakfast in Nevis: Johnny cake, tania fritters, cucumber relish, plantain chips
Caribbean breakfast: Johnny cake, tania fritters, cod stew, cucumber relish, plantain chips (delish banana bread followed)

I’m not one for breakfast. Usually at hotels I arrive ten minutes before it ends or skip it entirely if I have to be out early. At Montpelier I was up early reaching for the ginger juice, ordering coffee and settling in to a leisurely gourmet start to the day. I surprised myself big time by devouring the Caribbean breakfast on the terrace of the hotel’s 750 restaurant on my first perfect sunny Sunday morning there. I don’t like fried food, yet I tried the fritters and dumplings known as Johnny cakes. If I can enjoy these along with salt cod stew and salad in the morning then maybe for a weekend brunch I’ll try dinner leftovers here in London.  [Check out this video on how to make Johnny cakes by The Monro]

Tropical dairy free desserts

One of my favourite desserts at Montpelier’s elegant 750 restaurant was pineapple carpaccio: slivers of juicy pineapple soaked in rum, topped with vanilla infused coconut cream and toasted almonds. The atmospheric candle-lit dinner at Mill Privée – the site of a former sugar mill- culminated in a stunning light crème brûlée made with coconut milk. The brûlée topping was like butterfly biscuits, and the apple sorbet topping the crème had a refreshing zing that married the coconut sweetness.  I was particularly touched that the executive chef Stéphane Caumont wanted me to enjoy the dessert for our party of seven and chose this. The real test of taste for me is whether the non-dairy intolerant love a dairy free option and everybody broke out in a chorus of rhapsody over this one

Aromatic thyme

I thought it’s worth reminding ourselves to use fresh thyme as just one humble herb can transform flavour. Thyme is perfect in tomato sauces especially if you add a tiny bit of sugar. And it’s not hard to grow even in the UK.

Coconut in cakes and cookies

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Mevis in the kitchen at Montpelier Plantation & Beach putting love into her cookies

The banana bread at Montpelier is more like banana and coconut bread. Instead of the sickly sweet cake we’re used to, this breakfast version was lighter, and you could top up with homemade lemon curd or marmalade. Oranges are rare in Nevis but I have to say the marmalade was superior to most versions I’ve had in the UK. The soft chewy cookies with big plum sultanas also had sweet nuttiness from coconut.

Exotic new vegetables away from the supermarket

Market style at Charlestown Market, Nevis
Market style at Charlestown Market, Nevis

I was excited to discover tania a Caribbean root vegetable. It makes delicious crisps and tasty fritters with a soft texture inside that looks like a whiter mash and tastes like a cross between mash and sweet potato. I love continental greengrocers in London as they stock big bunches of coriander and fruit and veg from the Easter Mediterranean, but I’m now going to explore the Afro-Caribbean stores for yams, plantains and yes, tania.

Market vegetables in Charlestown, Nevis
Market vegetables in Charlestown, Nevis

Picnics and real plates

It's all in the plate: perfect picnic
It’s all in the plate: perfect picnic

When we opened up our picnic bags at Montpelier’s private beach every one of us was thrilled to discover a proper little plate and crockery. Sure, we could have happily eaten from the Tupperware boxes, but this formal detail makes a big difference to the enjoyment.

Fruity BBQ

Add pineapple to pork kebabs. So simple!

Remember shrimps

We’re so used to seeing farmed prawns in supermarkets and big chewy versions disguised with too much garlic in restaurants that the tiny shrimp is forgotten.  Yet shrimps are so tasty. I’m taking this idea from Indigo’s buffet night: shrimps mixed into a couscous (the larger plumper variety of couscous) with a mixed salad including lots of peppers.

Sweet and sour sweets

The lush rainforest in unspoiled Nevis
The lush rainforest in unspoiled Nevis

I’ve never been hiking before so what a first: the rainforest around Nevis Peak.  At the end of a spectacular tour our guide Lynnell from Sunrise Tours gave us local tamarind balls (tamarind fruit in a sugar coating) which were an intense burst of sweet and sour in one mouthful, and sugar cakes that were like slabs of coconut fudge. Divine.

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