Tastes Like Home
Breakfast we can forego, mid-morning snack, tea and dinner we can miss or have something light, but not lunch. Lunch is a must-have meal and we want a variety. We want it heavy and we want it hearty. We want real food. Lunch for us is the sustenance we need to provide the stamina to complete a day’s work.
All across the region, lunch, served buffet style is a veritable feast, especially on weekdays. The offerings run the gamut from Creole food (in the Caribbean context this refers to everyday food cooked at home), to weekend, holidays and special occasions food. You’ll find Moussaka, Bajee Rice, Lasagne, Scalloped Potatoes, Stewed Lamb, Pork Chops, chicken done three-ways, Fried Rice, Chowmein, Curry, Dhal Puri, Stew-peas, Shepherd’s Pie, Steamed Fish… yep, hearty lunch eaters we are. No sandwich, salad, or consommé-like soup for us. We want “proper food”. We want food-food. Depending on which country you visit, the line up would vary but it is guaranteed to always be a long list to choose from.
At midday, workers and students flock food vans, cafeterias, canteens, restaurants and other eateries, forming lines that snake their way the length of many hallways, all waiting to be served lunch.
Coming from this kind of lunch-eating background, imagine then how excited and hungry I was when several years ago while on a trip to the United States of America, a friend, Angela, invited me and another friend, who was also from the Caribbean, to lunch. We’d agree to meet up at a coffee shop around the corner (my understanding was that we’d be going somewhere else for lunch once we met up).
We met Angela and the next thing I knew we were being seated, there were menus on the table and she and my other friend, Sonia, were busy looking at their respective menus, which as you would guess by now was made up of sandwiches and leafy green salads. Surely, we’re not having lunch here I thought to myself. This is a mistake. Besides, Sonia is a Caribbean woman and she knows better than to think we’d be having lunch here. So I ignored the menu in front of me waiting for someone to announce that we’re leaving, as I sat gazing through the window.
My attention was drawn back to the table as I heard Angela and Sonia discussing their choices from the menu and my heart sank. Are you kidding me?! I said to myself. I am hungry and want some food to eat! Resigned to being polite, I picked up my menu and chose a sandwich and tried my best not to sulk like a spoilt child. I honestly cannot tell you what sandwich I had or what the conversation was about. I’m sure it was about work (frown). All the time I kept thinking about lunch. I wanted some food to eat! I was anxious for Angela and Sonia to finish so that I could go in search of food. Needless to say, the hour we spent having lunch seemed like eternity.
When Angela drove off, I immediately expressed my hunger and frustration about “the sandwich” lunch to Sonia. She was sympathetic but nevertheless had a good laugh while pointing out that lunch in America is different, soups, salads and sandwiches were the order of the day. Long story short, I ended up going to a Mall and eating something from the food court and vowed never again to accept an invitation for lunch in America except if it was a special occasion, say like a weekend and that I know that food would be served or if I were having lunch with Caribbean people. But then again, that might be iffy; they might have been in America so long that they’d probably forget what lunch is like back in the Caribbean.
If you’re reading this column and you ever come to these parts, be sure to try our lunch. It would be a great way to sample some real Caribbean food and the variety would astound you.
In many places like Guyana, Suriname, Trinidad and Jamaica, you can get buffet menus by their various cuisines. The same is true here in Barbados but more often than not, you get most places selling very similar items. Here’s what a typical Barbadian weekday buffet menu offers
Macaroni pie, Rice and peas, Sweet potato pie, Creamed potatoes, Creamed yams, Pelau, Shepherd’s pie, Vegetable chowmein, Lasagne (vegetarian and non-vegetarian), Cou-cou (breadfruit or cornmeal)
Dry food/stewed food (boiled ground provisions)
Baked chicken, Stewed chicken, Fried chicken, Stewed lamb, Lamb chops, Pork chops, Baked pork, Barbequed pork ribs, Steamed fish,
Sautéed salt fish, Fried fish, Stewed beef
Vegetable & Salads
Potato salad, Pasta salad, Coleslaw, Tossed salad, Steamed vegetables, (broccoli, pumpkin, okra, christophen (chocho), cauliflower), Fried plantains
I hope that you can appreciate the pain I felt on that day way back when I had to sit still and have a mere sandwich for lunch.
Yield: 1 (9 x 13) baking dish
2 tablespoons Olive oil
½ cup finely chopped onions
3 cloves garlic minced
3 pounds minced meat (beef, or a combination of beef and pork)
7 cups marinara sauce
Water to cook pasta
White ground pepper
1 (16oz) packet lasagne pasta
2 pounds whole milk ricotta cheese
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
¾ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 ½ tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (reserve ½ tablespoon)
3 ½ cups grated mozzarella cheese (reserve ½ cup)
2 large pots with cover
1 large spoon
1 medium bowl
1 rubber spatula
1 (9 x 13) baking dish
1 large baking sheet lined with foil
1 wire rack
1. Add oil to pot and heat over medium-high heat.
2. Add onions and sauté for a minute then add garlic and let cook together for another minute (do not let the garlic get brown, reduce the heat if you have to).
3. Turn the heat to high and add the minced meat and fry until brown, breaking it up with the spoon.
4. Add the marinara sauce and stir. Season with salt and pepper; cover the pot and let it come up to simmer, then reduce the heat to low and let it cook slowly for about 30 – 45 minutes. Set aside.
Add water to pot, cover and bring to a boil. When the water boils, liberally salt the water, add pasta and cook according to package instructions and then drain thoroughly.
Add the ricotta, eggs, parmesan, nutmeg and 1 tablespoon parsley to bowl and mix thoroughly to incorporate.
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
2. Spread a layer of the meat sauce at the bottom on the baking dish.
3. Layer the pasta to cover the meat sauce.
4. Spoon and spread some of the ricotta cheese mixture over the noodles.
5. Sprinkle with mozzarella.
6. Repeat the layering: meat sauce, pasta, ricotta, and mozzarella in that order until it reaches the top of the dish.
7. Tear a large piece of foil and tightly cover the entire dish. Transfer to lined baking sheet and place in oven.
8. Bake for 45 minutes, then remove foil, sprinkle reserved mozzarella cheese and chopped parsley and bake for another 15 minutes, uncovered.
9. Remove from oven and set dish on wire rack to cool. Let rest for 1 – 1½ hours or more before cutting into it so that it can hold its shape.