Wahaca and Caribbean inspired cilantro rice

So Wahaca is not a serious mis-spelling of Oaxaca, but rather a tasty Mexcian Restaurant near Covent Garden in London.  They serve up great ‘street food’, tacos, tostadas, quesadilla…burritos…guacamole…well you get the idea.  The food is  yummy and  fresh, and decently priced so you can afford to stuff yourself and have a very good Margarita.  I especially like the pork pibl tacos with pickled onions, delish! Anyhow, I digress, the lime-cilantro (fresh coriander) rice served at Wahaca is very nice so I decided to try a version at home, and since I just got back from the Bahamas I couldn’t help putting in a Caribbean twist.  This went very well with a nice grilled jerk chicken and some grilled courgettes.

1 cup white rice (I used Thai Jasmine)

1 small yellow onion

2 cloves garlic

1 small bunch cilantro (fresh coriander)

1/4 red chili

1 teaspoon caribbean curry powder (or other medium spiced curry powder)

1 cup coconut milk

1/2 cup water

1 lime

Rapeseed oil (or olive oil)

Start by blending together in a food processor or blender the onion, garlic, chili, cilantro and 2 tablespoons rapeseed oil.  Don’t completely puree, but leave a bit ‘chunky’.  Heat a pan on medium heat and add a tablespoon of rapeseed oil.  Pour the blended ingredients onto the pan and cook for about a minute, or until you start to really smell the onion.  Add the rice and curry powder and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes, making sure the rice is completely coated with the onion-cilantro mixture.  Add the water and coconut milk and cook, covered,  on low for 20 minutes.  Remove from heat and let stand for about 5 mintues before squeezing in the juice of a lime.  Give it a good stir and eat it up!

Sailing and snorkelling

After the shark feeding I was ready for a very lazy day on the Flying Cloud.  Sailing, snorkelling…and of course, rum punch!  No annoying Southern Families on this trip, just a nice family from Arkansas that accidentally ended up with Brendan’s waterproof camera. A group of Russians who insisted on pulling out a large Russian flag every time they took a picture, and then boogying to Michael Jackson on the sail back to Paradise Harbour, provided plenty of entertainment.

The snorkelling itself was OK, my fins didn’t fit very well and the visibility was mediocre, but no matter, it is hard to be grumpy and cynical when peacefully floating over a reef surrounded by colourful fish and gently waving coral.  Lunch consisted of some mouth-watering, fall-off-the-bone BBQ pork ribs and ‘peas and rice’.  After lunch everyone spilled off the boat onto Rose Island…and a stunning beach that was all our own for the day.  A lot of people, including myself and Brendan, moved away from the boat to claim a small portion of quiet beach and water, but I eventually migrated back to the boat so I could get some rum punch.  If you have never drank rum punch while floating in crystal clear water (with sunglasses and a wide brim straw hat)…I highly recommend it.  Very decadent.

Ahhhhhh......
Ahhhhhh......

Power boats, Wild Kingdom and shark bait

It claimed to be the adventure of a lifetime and while is was pretty damn fabulous I am hoping I still have yet to experience my adventure of a lifetime (and in any case for now that honor must go to my Paris ¬ Leningrad trip in 1991).  Anyhow…the “Power Boat Adventure” from Paradise Island: a big power boat…and a couple island stops that include feeding iguanas, stingrays and sharks. Your get to live your very own episode of Wild Kingdom! (For those not of a certain age and who didn’t grow up in the States: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wild_Kingdom).

Step 1: get into very big powerboat…maneuver yourself to get the perfect seat, make sure your hair is tied back…and go!

Cheesy but fun!
Cheesy but fun!

Step 2: land at small deserted island put grapes on the end of long sticks and feed the local iguanas while marveling at the amazing water surrounding you.

Breakfast time
Breakfast time

Step 3: allow yourself to get caught up in the cheesy silliness as the theme to Miami Vice plays while the power boat races around a couple islands

The Island "Customs Officer"
The Island "Customs Officer"

Step 4: sting rays and sharks!

Feeding time
Feeding time

Step 5: eat fabulous fresh grilled fish (whose carcasses were fed to the sharks) and drink up the rum punch at the open bar…and then lounge languidly in the water, pretending you are an oligarch and this is your island (or I guess Richard Branson if you prefer crazy capitalist to shady business tycoon).

So, back to those sting rays and sharks.  The boat lands on a private island, disgorges everyone (including the extremely annoying “Southern Family” with the really supremely annoying pushy father…I feel for poor Jessiah!) and you explore a bit while the guides fillet the fish for lunch while standing ankle deep in water so as to attract the sting rays and sharks with the smell of fresh fish.

Once the bait, err, I mean lunch, is prepared everyone lines up in the water on their knees and we get to feed the stingrays.  I guess the sharks don’t choose to come to the very shallow water and the guides have long poles to poke at the sharks if they come too close. You aren’t supposed to poke at the rays, just let them slide across your body and suck up the fish you are holding out for them.  They are very curious and glide over your feet, hands, legs…whatever they can touch…and their skin is like silk. Despite being surrounded by people you get very caught up in the rays…the way they glide through the water…the feel of their skin, the way they look at you.  Very soothing and calm.  Which is not what can be said for the sharks.

The “Sharks!”.  So now everyone is confident having lounged around with sting rays, time to feed the sharks (which the guides do while rest of us watch).  A fish carcass is tied to a fat rope then tossed out to where the sharks have been circling.  When a shark latches on it is dragged to the shallow water where the guide will then lift its head out of the water for all to see.  Yep…lots of teeth and seemingly black eyes and totally mesmerizing in an adrenaline-pumped way.  Giant, muscular eating-machines.  At some point, once the guide gets his shark-groove going, he invites a few ‘guests’ to help him hold the rope connected to the shark.  Poor Jessiah, I think he is the oldest of four brothers (I don’t know any of the other bother’s names since Jessiah’s father was only shouting “Jessiah!!” every two minutes).  Jessiah was standing behind the guide and Jessiah’s father was standing next to me at the end of the group.  He kept shouting for Jessiah to “Step up, grab that rope!, Don’t lolly gag…just do it Jessiah, get up there, Jessiah, Jessiah…go on Jessiah…do it…c’mon Jessiah get up there!!”.  While he was shoutng he was slowly stepping into deeper water (the better to view and shout at Jessiah).  At one point a shark swam within inches of his ankles and he was so busy shouting at Jessiah he didn’t notice.  An evil part of me was hoping would take one more step back and then….now that would have been an adventure of a lifetime!  But no, the shark was probably put off by the shouting.

After the sharks were fed a few people snorkeled over to the neighboring reef and then lunch was served.  Fabulous, fresh, grilled Grouper and Mahi Mahi, accompanied by a nice little rum punch.  It was nice eating fish that I had seen filleted…and had been shared with both the rays and the sharks.

Finally, time to go.  Pile into the boat, speed back to Paradise Island and throw the annoying family into the harbour…oops, no, that last bit didn’t actually happen…damn.

Rum punch and Kalik at the Fish Fry

Don’t know the name of the hut….but it had a sign saying “Cold Ass Beers”.  How could we not sit down and have a beer. Brendan and I took a moment to marvel at the making of conch salad (raw conch, lots of onions, tomato, lime juice, orange juice and scotch bonnets) and then sat at a table in the shade to enjoy our cold ass beers in the sweaty heat.  A few sips in Biccie came over to see how we were doing and let us know that we were in the best place for conch fritters, “real gritty food…none of this fluffy stuff” she also recommended Oh Andros for grouper…..but told us we would have to come back for her special rum punch and conch salad.  Couldn’t resist the fritters…

Conch fritters and a cold ass beer
Conch fritters and a cold ass beer

Taking Biccie’s advice we headed to Oh Andros….but accidentally ended up at Andros Hideout.  A tasty mistake…..grouper burgers!   Perfectly cooked grouper, crispy light batter and a dash of chili sauce. Yum!

Grouper burger at Andros' Hideout...and another cold ass beer
Grouper burger at Andros' Hideout...and another cold ass beer

Having stuffed ourselves with grouper burger…we couldn’t face eating conch salad, but returned for the rum punch, which didn’t disappoint.  No idea what was in it…at least three different rums.  Needless to say, I slept well.

The three part fish sale in the Bahamas

First off…I am glad I wore trainers as I didn’t realise fish shopping would mean scrambling over fishing boats.

I was on a mission for a grouper.  Surprisingly, the only fish to be found in the supermarkets near where I am staying in Cable Beach is frozen and not likely to be caught anywhere near here.  I heard about Potter’s Cay, where there is a daily market of local food…so of course I went.  Well, the fish portion of the market turned out to be cooked fish. I was there fairly early in the morning so they weren’t even cooking.  After wandering aimlessly through the few fruit stalls and a couple stalls that had cages of live crab I was about to give up and find the bus back into town when someone shouted, “Hey baby girl…..what you lookin’ for?”.  The next thing I know I am following a man named Sturgess (who lived in West Surrey for seven years before returning to Nassau two years ago) away from the market and over to the docks.  The first five or six boats had sold all of their grouper, we were directed down the dock to a man getting into a black Oldsmobile.  “What do you want to spend?”……I had no idea, how much is a whole, albeit small, grouper??, so I just just shrugged and asked what is the going rate….he offered up $30-$40 and I figured that was worth a taste of fresh fish.  The man pointed to a boat, shouted out to his son to get out some small grouper…and drove away.

To get to the “Grouper Boat” I need to scramble over two boats…a man on the first boat offers a hand to me, laughs and asks if I’ll be OK.  I smile and hop up onto the boat thinking, “trainers…good idea…denim short skirt….not such a good idea”. I manage to arrive at the “Grouper Boat” without flashing anyone and without falling into the water (success!), and three fish are pulled out and slapped down in front of me.  Sturgess points to one and says, “Not that one”… then changes his mind.  The son of “the man in the Oldsmobile” smiles at me, shakes his head and asks Sturgess what he is up to today because he heard that Sturgess accidentally blew up a freezer…then he points to the smallest fish and says “That will feed two very hungry people” and he’ll sell it to me for $25. Sold!  Almost.

Do I want the fish cleaned…..well, considering the sad set of knives available in my vacation flat, yes. Please.  Sturgess leans forward to grab a knife off a pile of nets and then a shout comes from behind me, “Hey…the police are right there…..you ain’t got a license, you’ll get us all in trouble!”.  A bit of heated discussion and then I am following another man off the boats, with my fish, to the “stand-with-the-red-umbrella” where he will prepare my fish for $5.  He slaps the fish down on a naked plank of wood, pulls out a large rusty knife and cuts the fins off, “You want the head?”.  No. He chops off the head.  A bit more heated discussion with Sturgess at which point he man explains to me that you can’t clean fish on the boats for ‘regular’ sale , and then pulls out an ID card, which is his fish-cleaning license.  It turns out the metal building behind me on the dock is the police station, and they keep a sharp eye on the boats.  Sturgess sulks and shakes his head and mumbles something about looking after me .

“How are you cooking this?” Pan-frying. The “licensed-fish-cleaner” pulls out a long thin knife and fillets the fish and a matter of seconds.  He makes a few shallow slices across the fillets “so the fish cooks better”, rinses the fillets and ties them up in a bag.  He smiles at me, hands across the fish, and says to just add bit of lime and some spice.

Sturgess then insists on walking me to the bus stop, I hand him $10 and thank him for his help and he tells me to come back in a few days… Lobster season is starting.

Duck with blueberry-orange sauce and sweet potato dumplings

So I had a lovely duck breast…some blueberries and a sweet potato and here is what came together:

Duck

Make a few slashes in the duck skin without piercing the meat. Mix a couple tablespoons extra virgin rapeseed oil (or olive oil) with 5 spice and rub all over the the duck breast.

Cook skin side down over a low heat for about 8-10 minutes, until skin is nicely browned.  Finish off in 180C oven, skin side up for 6-8 minutes.  Let sit a few minutes before slicing.

Blueberry-Orange sauce

One onion, sliced

One clove garlic, chopped

One orange, juiced and about 1 tablespoon zest

One cup chicken stock

Bay leaf

Star anise

Pinch herbs de provence

Balsamic vinegar

Couple pinches sugar

Handful blueberries

Tablespoon of butter

Saute the onions in a couple tablespoons of extra virgin rapeseed oil (or olive oil) over a low heat until the onions just barely start to brown, add the chopped garlic and cook for  1-2 minutes.  Add balsamic vinegar, cook another minute, add star anise, bay leaf, herbs de provence orange zest and juice, and chicken stock.  Cook on  a low heat for 10 minutes.  Add blueberries and a pinch of sugar, cook for another 5-10 minutes, or until blueberries start to break up.  Check seasoning…turn off heat, stir in butter and serve with duck and dumplings.

Sweet potato dumplings

1 medium sweet potato, baked, flesh removed and mashed

1/2 cup flour (I use 000 pasta flour), sifted

1 large egg, beaten

Pinch chili flakes

With your hands gently mix together the mashed sweet potato flesh, flour, pinch chili flakes and egg.  Let sit 5-10 minutes, then drop by small spoonfuls onto a dish dusted with flour.  Roll the dumplings so they are lightly dusted with flour then boil for 3-4 minutes.  Toss dumplings in rapeseed (or olive) oil and top with another pinch of chili flakes and some sea salt (I like flaked salt…like Maldon).

That is about it…next time I make this I may try red wine in place of chicken stock.

Truffles and tomatoes

Last summer I fell in love.  I spent a few days in Cortona and fell in love with truffles.  Truffle oil…truffles on pizza, truffles on pasta…truffle-infused honey with pecorino…I left with a jar of truffles and a shiny new truffle slicer.  For a month of Sundays I had truffle omelets.  The jar of truffles is now long gone…but I do have truffle salt and white truffle oil to keep me satisfied in between frivolous moments of spending my hard earned cash on a small ugly fungus.  Sometimes I just need to have a quick smell.  Yes, somehow the scent of truffles has a touch of old gym bag and rotting earth, but somehow this mixes together to form my idea of the scent of paradise.

While in Cortona I also renewed my love of tomatoes.  I was reminded that a good in-season tomato smells fabulous before you even slice it, a far cry from the supermarket variety with gritty texture and watery flavour.  The first place I hit on a Saturday morning these days is my farmer’s market at the bottom of Parliament Hill and this time of year the first purchase is at the tomato stall. I have made an unsuccessful attempt to grow my own, while the plants grow, the reality is my terrace is just too shaded….so nice tall plants…but no fruit.  Oh well, they still ‘smell’ of tomato.