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Sunday Lunch Coucou (with a recipe)

Sunday Lunch in Trinidad

I am home* for a couple weeks – vacation, then to vote.** So, taking advantage of being at home with Mom (who did the beef and beans), I present to you our Sunday Lunch today! Cornmeal Coucou, stew beef and red beans! Sunday lunch is a big thing in the Caribbean. It’s the time to break out the sometimes labour-intensive dishes, to make a special meal that is not easy to prepare during the work week. Lunch is sometimes later than usual, because of the work involved and also because having a big Sunday lunch is part of the enjoyment of the whole day. The heavy meals with macaroni pie, or coucou, leading to post-meal-paralysis are also ok, since you’re supposed to be relaxing before you start the dreaded Monday. Well, that’s my take on it :-)

Sliced Coucou

Coucou and flying fish is the national dish of Barbados, but it is also a traditional national dish in Trinidad and Tobago, eaten with callaloo and/or stew beans. Cornmeal coucou is ubiquitous, but it can be made from breadfruit as well. It’s like a Caribbean polenta. Some people like it a bit soft where it is spooned out of a dish – others prefer it to be set and firm enough to slice, although it should never be dry and chewy – that’s not coucou…maybe that’s cornbread. 15 years ago when I was studying in Barbados, I was surprised at the number of Bajans who tried to “introduce” us Trinis to coucou…I mean, I knew their national dish, how could they not know we have coucou and callaloo? I think things have changed over the years – we are more aware of our Caribbean neighbours food and culture – at least this is my hope!

Sliced OchroesGrowing up, I was never sure I liked coucou. I knew I didn’t like ochroes, not just because of the slime, but the skin itself had a texture that I was uncomfortable with, even though in most preparations (callaloo) it melted away on the tongue. I was a picky vegetable-eater…But then somewhere in my teens, through food courts in those little malls on Frederick Street, in having to get vegetarian foods, I grew to love this thing called coucou. After all it is better than rice in soaking up stew gravy!

Coucou is traditionally a bit labour-intensive, because it involves an hour or more of stirring at the pot, while the cornmeal gets heavier and heavier and harder on your arms. So I hear, anyway. I never made it that way…my first attempt at coucou making was a couple months ago when Cynthia (of Tastes Like Home) posted a microwave coucou recipe. That was the quickest I have gone from reading a blog to cooking. I made the coucou that weekend, even though I had no ochro…I substituted baigan (eggplant) since that’s what was in the fridge, and I figured…hmm…eggplant also gets kind slimy when cooked… :-) I was already craving stew chicken and red beans, and this would have been a perfect accompaniment. The proportions and recipe were really easy to remember too – 1 cup cornmeal to 3 cups water, salt, ochroes…stir, microwave, stir, microwave…eh, voilà!

There were some problems though…which I thought I should share if you want to try microwave coucou, so as to avoid my pitfalls!

  • eggplant is not bad in coucou, but the skin can be bitter and inedible – if forced to use this, PEEL it
  • after stirring, let the mixture sit for a while to let the cornmeal completely absorb the liquid – this way you won’t get hard cornmeal bits at the bottom of your bowl cooking well before their time – I don’t know what I was thinking, putting in a bowl of essentially water with cornmeal floating around…
  • if the liquid is fully incorporated, you may not even need the stirring process in the middle of cooking!

Using Cynthia’s recipe was great – and I enjoyed a few meals with my coucou. However, I think there are differences between Bajan coucou and the Trini version. I remembered more colour in the Trini coucou I was used to eating – colour representing peppers and seasonings. It seems Bajan coucou, or the versions I have eaten and seen online, stick to cornmeal and ochro. I checked with Mom, and reinforced by Wizzy of Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner and Punch, I realised that Trini coucou does indeed have more things, including coconut milk. Any Barbadians reading this can confirm whether this is true, or if I have just experienced a basic coucou.

So, here’s my version of the microwave coucou recipe (hope Cynthia doesn’t mind)

Green Ingredients for CoucouIngredients

  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 2 cups warm water
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 3/4 cup sliced ochroes (nice thin young ones)
  • 3 pimento/seasoning peppers, chopped (these are not hot peppers)
  • diced hot pepper (optional, to taste)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped chives
  • 1 teaspoon (or more) chopped shadow benny
  • 1.5 teaspoon garlic (we like garlic)
  • salt to taste

Prepare all ingredients
Mix all ingredients except water and coconut milk, together.
Add liquids (warm water will make the cornmeal absorb faster and come together very nicely.
Stir well so there are no large lumps of cornmeal.
Pour or spoon out into a greased microwaveable dish and smooth the top.
Microwave on high for 5 minutes.
Check the coucou – it should not need stirring.
Microwave again on high for another 2 minutes.

The coucou will still appear jiggly and soft at this stage, and Mom ate it like this, but it will continue to firm up and by the time I ate, it was sliceable.

* home is always Trinidad.
** T&T elections are on 24 May 2010

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25 Comments so far (Add 1 more)

  1. Coucou looks yummy, really enjoyed reading your post. Glad you’re back to vote. Your coucou pic is so enticing and together with the beans makes me feel really hungry. I am not a big coucou fan but you’re making me a believer. I ate it from a place in Maraval which usually has really delcious food and found it quite bland, Your recipe looks really good though, any ting with coconut milk can’t be bad.

    1. Aruna on May 18th, 2010 at 9:27 am
  2. That red bean photo is one of the best I have seen. Nice color and looks like it was made from dried beans and not the canned stuff.

    I like coucou that is not too mushy and the ochroes gives it a great flavor. You have a point with the nice, thin, young ochroes as there is nothing worse than some ole ochroes in the coucou 😉

    2. aka_lol on May 18th, 2010 at 1:27 pm
  3. Aruna – thanks for the compliments :-) I think as always, the best way to get something to your taste is to try making it. So you can add whatever you feel like! I agree about coconut milk!

    aka – thanks :-) the red beans were indeed from the good dried stuff, courtesy Mom. I just did the coucou and some broccoli. The ochroes were from the Chaguanas market – there was some really good ones that day.

    3. Chennette on May 18th, 2010 at 8:34 pm
  4. When I saw Cynthia’s post on microwave coo-coo I bookmarked to try it. Glad you went brave and tried it before I did so that your tips will be very helpful. My question is this. What did it taste like the next day? Did it have that typical rubbery microwave food thing going on?

    4. wizzythestick on May 18th, 2010 at 11:25 pm
  5. Hey Wizzy – I didn’t cook it for too long – I cooked it for 6-7 minutes, the original recipe was 10 minutes. At its hottest, it was soft enough for Mom, but it set and firmed up by the time I ate. It wasn’t too firm though, so it didn’t turn dry and rubbery the next day at all. I ate it heated up (in the microwave) and it was fine. I think if you keep it a little softer the first day, it’s fine. This doesn’t make too much though – with 4 of us in the house, there was only one serving the next day.

    5. Chennette on May 18th, 2010 at 11:56 pm
  6. Excellent DOF and sharpness on that photo. Makes me feel for some.

    6. hassan voyeau on May 19th, 2010 at 1:16 pm
  7. I suppose you used your Canon f1.8 50mm.

    7. aka_lol on May 20th, 2010 at 10:16 am
  8. canon – what’s that? 😉

    8. Chennette on May 20th, 2010 at 10:17 pm
  9. not Canon?

    9. aka_lol on May 24th, 2010 at 6:59 am
  10. Loved the idea of coconut milk in coo coo, had family over for lunch yesterday, and the feature dish? coo coo with coconut milk (accompanied by stewed fish and baked chunky vegetabes)…!!! Can I tell you, the reviews were phenomenal… Thanks for the tip! :-)

    10. Tamarind Ball on May 24th, 2010 at 4:05 pm
  11. @aka:-) I use Nikon, the lens is actually a Sigma 50mm f2.8 macro

    @Tamarind Ball – Mom says she thinks it’s a Tobago thing, the coocoo with coconut milk – her family picked it up when they Tobago residents long time ago.

    11. Chennette on May 24th, 2010 at 9:30 pm
  12. I never made coucou and I’m not a fan of microwaving, but a light still went on for me while reading this. My mother makes coucou, but never have I seen her use coconut milk. I love anything with coconut, so I can only imagine how much better the dish tastes with it.

    12. Liane Spicer on May 29th, 2010 at 9:05 pm
  13. Hey Liane – glad you like the coconut milk idea :-) Mom gives credit to her time in Tobago growing up, not sure who else does it!

    13. Chennette on June 6th, 2010 at 10:12 pm
  14. I am by no means Bajan but the recipe is just that. And Bajans are very particular about their Cou-cou as you probably know. It is basically water, cornmeal and okra. Some may stretch it by putting sauteed onions and fresh herbs (which I do).

    I am not a cou-cou fan though. I like the idea you mentioned of the Trini-style cou-cou with more colourful things in it :)

    14. Cynthia on June 9th, 2010 at 12:20 pm
  15. the coconut milk is part of tobago cooking. My father’s family is from tobago, and as a reasult we vacationed in Tobago most summers. I would ask my dad about his childhood-the stories were most captivating. Well one day I was trying to make coucou, I asked my father how to…he gave me the receipe, including the use of coconut milk, which he explained was used in alot of the dishes. Also Tobagonians also used coconut oil in their cooking. This was mainly due to what was available and affordable. If you’ve ever been to Tobago in the ’70s & early ’80s, you’ll see that there was never a shortage of coconuts. My dad passed in September of 2009. I miss him and his stories about Tobago and the wonderful foods he cooked for us-receipes via Tobago. Hey, I didn’t get his coconut tart receipe (Tobago style) maybe you can and post it up.

    15. helen on June 19th, 2010 at 3:31 pm
  16. hi Helen, sorry about your Dad. But it’s always good when you’ve had the opportunity to share the stories, and of course the food. Thanks for the confirmation re coocoo and coconut milk. I think it’s great that us sister-isles still have things that can be learned from each other.

    16. Chennette on June 19th, 2010 at 3:35 pm
  17. Yes, it is so true…coconut milk is part of Tobago cooking. We lived in Mount Marie for many years, one of my sisters was born there and even after returning to Trinidad we went on holidays very often. She used it not only in Coocoo but also dumplings and in this she would add a dash of the grated coconut. Cassava dumplings had to be made with grated coconuts. My mother used coconut milk in all her cooking and I find that I do as well. I love the taste of it. I add it to my curries, meat and vegetables and it is a must in curried soya.

    Coconut oil was always made in our home when we were growing up, fresh coconut oil for headaches and was a given remedy. I have made it once or twice as nowadays I get gifts of it from some neighbours in the village when I also get common fowl eggs….lol
    My grandmother as well as my husband’s grandmother made it and also used it for cooking. And there was a special time of the month when the oil was made to get maximum yield…lol. I loved to eat the fried coconut bits left in the pot after the oil was made. We would put some sugar and it tasted oh so gooood.

    17. trinimom on June 20th, 2010 at 8:13 pm
  18. You know i recently met a sister from Charlieville who never heard of cou-cou in her life, much less had oil-dong (ah looking forward to that post). Chennette like yuh still have a lot of culinary dawah to do even with your own fellow country(wo)men. But you doing good so far.

    18. Umar on June 29th, 2010 at 11:54 am
  19. assalamu ‘alaikum Umar! Although Mom didn’t cook it much when we were young, I think I at least knew about it. I just didn’t like the texture and back then hated the texture of callaloo as well! But coucou is in every food court in this country, so it is now to get it into homes – maybe the microwave method will help :-)
    The oil-down I really don’t understand – it is breadfruit! Yes, with things in it, but to not experience breadfruit in this way! Even if it was a “boring” oil-down :-)

    19. Chennette on July 4th, 2010 at 2:26 am
  20. my mom is a purist and scoffs at my bajan seasoning and pepper sauce in Barbadian cou cou but I do not mind other unmentionables in it lol it can only help huh. I do not advise my newbies to Caribbean cooking to do cou cou alone and eat it but a well made cou cou should taste good on its own

    20. Taymer on December 2nd, 2010 at 4:40 pm
  21. heh :-) a little green seasoning could fix a lot in my view! :-) fry rice tasting bland, throw in a little green seasoning! etc etc

    21. Chennette on December 2nd, 2010 at 8:53 pm
  22. we have microwave


    22. Lilandra on June 9th, 2011 at 10:52 pm
  23. so you can make coucou – and tinned red beans!

    23. Chennette on June 9th, 2011 at 10:53 pm
  24. This is very nice. In Jamaica we no longer do foo foo or’ ‘turn cornmeal’ but my mother made it with coconut milk and if I remember corectly she added cod fish. The best I have had was in Trinidad.

    24. vilma on August 29th, 2012 at 3:47 pm
  25. Lol (or rather BAL) Umar at “culinary dawah” !

    25. Sara on November 4th, 2012 at 5:28 pm

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  1. […] may recall that coucou has appeared on this blog before. Back then, this traditional Trini (and Bajan) cornmeal dish appeared as part of a Sunday lunch […]

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