Have you ever found yourself sitting down to a plate of food and saying, “You know what this (fill in the blank) needs? Some pepper sauce, achar…” I’m not just talking about a condiment here, I’m referring to little bites created to accompany the food. Offerings that add to the taste, flavour and overall appeal of a dish.
Sliced cucumbers dressed with black pepper and salt and or a twist of fresh lime juice make most dishes even more appetizing. A few slices, undressed, go perfectly with a plate of fried rice. Offered alongside a spicy curry, it offers respite from the heat and cleanses the palette.
Steamed okra completes a plate of Cook-Up Rice, Rice & Peas, fish broth or a bowl of soup.
A few torn lettuce leaves add colour, crispness and freshness to almost any dish.
A couple slices of fruity red juicy tomatoes can accompany most dishes and offer up colour and really opens the appetite – red.
The demand for pepper can vary depending on the dish. In some cases pepper sauce works, in others boiled peppers or sliced raw pepper. Even the type of pepper can make or break the completion of a dish. While a boiled whole big pepper (Scotch Bonnet) works for a pelau, rice and peas or cook-up rice, the same cannot be said for a plate of chow mein where pepper sauce is the order of the day.
Fried (sautéed) vegetables to be eaten with rice, curries and dhal are elevated when eaten with a bit of achar. Of course people would have their preference for the type of achar to have with each dish. Even a hot plate of black pudding is elevated when eaten with achar rather than the regular sour.
Fry some small bangamary, nettley, or Suriname mullet until brown and crisp to eat on the side of most meals and you have a treat all by itself.
Thinly slice some scallions (shallots, green onions), especially the red-head ones, and sprinkle over any meal and right away it visually appeals. The delicate onion flavour is inviting and offers textural contrast to food. For the Italians, it’s flat-leaf parsley. For Thai’s thinly sliced red chili, for some Spanish and regional Indian cuisine its chopped cilantro/coriander.
Like many households, Cook-Up Rice was the Saturday dish in our home. Mommy would always grate carrots and mix with mayonnaise and a sprinkling of sugar for extra sweetness. The carrots were served on the side along with the fried ripe plantains and bangamary. Actually, the little bites themselves warranted an extra plate when it came to certain dishes, so we invariably had a salad plate; too many things to hold on the main plate. Having cook-up without one of these little bites makes you feel as if something is missing. The meal is not complete.
How can I forget pickled onions. Though traditionally made to be eaten around Christmas time, there were always pickled onions left back to last at least half of the year.
Most, if not all of these combos and accompaniments are made up. Born out of cooking instincts, tradition, and in some cases what is available, and a need to supplement. Little bites are created to complete a meal from a taste standpoint. And boy do they do their jobs well. They are exceptional at satisfying us so much that for many, we cannot dare imagine not having them with certain foods. Or better yet, the meal would not be complete without them.
Why not share some of the little bites you create to complete your meals? I’d love to hear from you.