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
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!
Growing 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)
- 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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