Vacation fare is a lasting souvenir

By JOHN CARAFOLI 
CONTRIBUTING WRITER

When I talked to my editor about doing an article on Jamaica, she told me about Coonamessett Farm in Falmouth where workers prepare a Jamaican buffet every Wednesday.a

Our conversation reminded me of some of the recipes I brought back from a winter vacation in Jamaica, a vacation that was supposed to be 10 days of total relaxation in the tropical sun. Instead, it became clear to me after a few meals that the island's food and the people who cook it were too interesting to ignore. When I recall the very special meals I had in Jamaica, I think of summer on Cape Cod. Jamaica's unique food, with its fresh ingredients, many of which are available on the Cape, is adaptable for a light summer meal. So I put together several recipes for summer eating, but first - back to Jamaica.

I landed in Montego Bay without a reservation and walked around looking for a room. I came across a small resort not far from the airport called Lady Diane's Seawatch. What attracted me was the tranquility of the place. After I checked in, I learned it was a macrobiotic spa. I am not sure it still exists, but the experience of staying there was one I have never forgotten. The front of the building, where the reception desk was located, was open to the sea; fresh flowers and orchids were everywhere. Meals were served on a deck by the swimming pool, which was surrounded by palm trees. I remember how gracious and warm the owners were. They wanted the resort to be a haven for people to eat healthful vegetarian foods in a stress-free environment. They grew many of the vegetables in their garden and also bought produce from local farmers. They even bought carrots from the women who cleaned my room.

I was thrilled the day I was invited into the kitchen with the chef to learn how to prepare her Jamaican version of escoveitch fish. The fresh red snapper was cut into pieces and marinated in a sauce of tamari, fresh ginger, grated onion, and a little minced garlic. It was fried and topped with a colorful blend of fresh sautéed peppers, then seasoned with a splash of vinegar that brought all the flavors alive.

This meal was served with brown rice cooked in coconut milk and black beans mixed with chopped scallions and fried plantains. It was delicious!

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This dish is best when made several hours (or the day before) you plan to serve it, refrigerated, and served at room temperature. Any firm white fish can be used. Try it with halibut or striped bass, which is now in season.

Escoveitch Fish

2 pounds any firm white fish

1/4 cup grated onion

1 tablespoon fresh

grated ginger

1 garlic clove, minced

2 tablespoons tamari

or soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon paprika

Oil for frying

Dash or two of red

crushed pepper

1 cup sliced onions

1 red pepper, sliced

1 green pepper, sliced

2 tablespoons white vinegar

Cut fish into 2-inch pieces and place in a large glass bowl. Add the grated onion, ginger, garlic, tamari or soy sauce, black pepper and paprika: mix well and marinate at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes. Put 1/4-inch of oil in large skillet and place on high heat, heating oil until it smokes. Add the fish a few pieces at a time and fry until lightly browned, turning frequently. The fish should not be cooked all the way through just lightly browned. Remove from pan and place on a paper towel to drain.

Put the red and green peppers, sliced onions, 1 tablespoon of oil, and the crushed red pepper in the same skillet; sauté for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the vinegar and cook 2 to 3 minutes more. Place the fish on a platter and pour the vegetable mixture over it. Let rest at room temperature for a few hours, then serve. Serves 4

Brown Rice with Black Beans

1 (15.5-ounce) can

black beans, rinsed

1 (14-ounce can) unsweetened coconut milk

2 cups water

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 sprig fresh thyme OR

1/2 teaspoon dried

1 1/2 cups brown rice,

washed and drained

2 scallions, chopped

Salt and freshly ground pepper

In a saucepan, place the coconut milk, water, salt, and thyme. Bring to a boil over high heat. Add the rice, stirring occasionally. Turn heat to low, cover, and cook for 35 to 40 minutes, shaking the pot from time to time until the grains have separated. If rice becomes too dry, add a little hot water. When rice is cooked, remove thyme sprig and stir in black beans. Heat, mix in the scallions, salt and pepper to taste. Makes 6 to 8 servings

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Plantains are found year-round in your local produce department. If they are not available regular green bananas will do.

Fried Plantains

3 plantains

1 lime

Peanut oil for frying

Salt

Remove the skin from the plantains and cut lengthwise into 2 to 3 strips; rub with a little lime juice to prevent from discoloring.

Put 1/2-inch of peanut oil in an iron skillet and heat to about 375 degrees. Fry the plantains until golden brown. Drain on paper towel; salt to taste.

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Sorrel comes dried and is a member of the hibiscus family. It can be purchased at any Latin market, such as Tropical Foods in Roxbury. It makes a wonderful, light, refreshing drink that is a favorite drink for Christmas and New Year in Jamaica and perfect for hot summer days on Cape Cod. (Sorrel is not related to the European sorrel, the spinach-like leaves that are prepared more or less like spinach.)

Hibiscus or Sorrel Drink

2 cups sorrel

6 cups boiling water

Sugar syrup (see recipe for sugar syrup)

1/4 cup fresh lime juice

In a saucepan, add the sorrel and water. Bring to a boil, stir, cover and let cool for 1 hour. Then strain and add the lime juice and sugar syrup to taste.

Note: This drink should not be made thick and sweet but light and refreshing. So, keep the sugar syrup to a minimum. Serve with slices of lime and lots of ice. Makes about 6 cups

Sugar Syrup

This is sometimes called ''simple syrup'' and is used in many mixed drinks.

Combine 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water in a sauce pan; bring to a boil, stirring, and cook about 3 minutes, until sugar is dissolved.

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I happened to be having dinner at the Bistro Bar at Bleu Restaurant in Mashpee Commons. While talking to the bartender, Gail Pendegast, about rum drinks, she came up with this one. Next time you are at Bleu ask Gail to make one for you. It's a good thirst-quenching drink for a hot summer night.

Jamaican Delight

1 ounce amber rum

3/4-ounce apricot brandy

3 ounces pineapple juice

1/2-ounce fresh lime juice

1/4-ounce sugar syrup (see recipe for sugar syrup)

In a shaker combine rum, brandy, lime juice, pineapple juice, sugar syrup and crushed ice; cover, shake vigorously, and then pour into a 12-ounce glass. Garnish with a lime or a pineapple slice. Serves 1

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This is a rum martini. It is a luscious but strong drink. One as an aperitif to stimulate the appetite is enough. Sip and enjoy.

Lime Daiquiri

Juice of 2 limes

1 ounce sugar syrup

6 ounces rum

Crushed ice

Lime twist for garnish

In a shaker combine the lime juice, sugar syrup, rum and crushed ice; cover and shake vigorously then pour into a stemmed glass. Serves 1

(Published: August 3, 2005)