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Sweet Hands: Island Cooking and a Stew Beef recipe

Sweet Hands: Island Cooking from Trinidad & Tobago Sweet Hands: Island Cooking from Trinidad and Tobago has become a new classic for Trini cooking, alongside the old faithful, the Naparima cookbook. It is now in its second edition (first published in 2005, this edition 2010), testament to its popularity. I am not entirely a newcomer to this book – years ago I sent it to friends when I couldn’t get the Naparima Cookbook and wanted to give some non-Trini friends something that would show them the foods I’d grown up with. The recipients were pleased with it, discovering recipes and information that confirmed what I’d been telling them (seasonings, street food, methods etc) with clearly set out recipes and photos. They especially liked the Beef Stew with Dumplings recipe (more on that below) which for one friend has become almost a staple…

Sweet Hands is by Ramin Ganeshram, a trained chef, journalist and teacher. Her claim to Trini cooking is from her Trini father, visits to his homeland and growing up with the food and the stories. The book has much of the expected traditional Trini recipes – Indian delicacies like phoulourie, doubles, aloo pies; the classics like pelau, pastelles, shark and bake, various curried meats; drinks such as sorrel and cocoa tea; chutneys and other condiments; and of course desserts that are derived from all our cultures, barfi, sweet bread, sugar cake etc. You can look for Ramin on twitter, or on her Sweet Hands blog. And I so want to make her Cocoa Tea Cakes posted in this NPR story here.

Since we were on the topic last week, Sweet Hands, in introducing the reader to Trinidad and Tobago, also provides information on the history of T&T and traveling to the islands. She lists some essentials for visiting Trinidad, even suggesting an Indo-Trinidad tour day among others. So what made her list?

  • The Hanuman Temple, the Indo-Caribbean Museum in Waterloo, Temple in the Sea
  • La Brea Pitch Lake
  • The Beaches
  • Asa Wright, Caroni Swamp, the Wildfowl Trust
  • Turtle watching (leatherback turtles during nesting)
  • Grafton Nature Sanctuary and the Tobao Rainforest Reserve

Sweet Hands Beef Stew recipeBut now, onto the recipe for beef stew with dumplings. This appears to be a Trini dish – it also appears in the Naparima book (see Trinigourmet’s recipe and post) – but not one I’ve ever had. Don’t get me wrong, at the core this is an authentically Trini stew beef recipe, completed with the browning of the sugar, (green) seasoning of the meat, soy sauce etc. I’ve just never eated stew beef with dumplings. I’ve seen recipes online for Irish, or English Beef Stews with dumplings, and certainly these Trini recipes also include the beer element (which I obviously have to substitute). But, never let it be said that I have not had a Trini dish (one that can be made halaal of course).

I have some very very nice Qurbani beef (from the Eid ul Adha sacrifice) and was waiting to use it. I modified the recipe somewhat – of course, I needed to replace the beer…and not with ALE as suggested on some sites :-) – so I looked around my kitchen, saw something also “brewed” on the stove, and threw in my Dominican Republic coffee. Yes, COFFEE. I have no idea what beer or ale is supposed to take like and I didn’t want to use up my rare productive-awake-Saturday time googling. While it smelled very much like coffee when I first poured it in, and I was worried, the dark coffee flavour blends very nicely with the stew adding to the rich, dark flavour. I also haven’t used oil for stews in a long time. The sugar browns just fine in a hot pot just like that, and beef especially will have enough fat on its own. This also gives me the freedom to add a bit of salt butter in a stew if I feel like it :-)

Oh, and I only had chicken stock (but homemade) not beef stock. And I used my pressure cooker to cut down the simmering time. Of course my pressure cooker is a tad wide/big for my portions, which means that I had liquid-depth issues when it came time to drop in the dumplings, but I managed. There’s enough flavour in this recipe to add some more water at that point. Just don’t oversalt the dumplings since they pick up the seasoning from the stew.

Stew Beef with Dumplings (as modified by me noted in red)


  • Sweet Hands Stew Beef - Onions1.5 lbs stew beef, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 tablespoons green seasoning
  • 2 tablespoons Canola oil (I didn’t use this)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar (I use brown for almost everything)
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3/4 cup brewed coffee (instead of the beer)
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse or kosher salt (I used sea salt)
  • 1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
  • 2 cups beef stock or water (I used chicken stock)


  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • pinch of coarse or kosher salt

1. Mix beef with green seasoning and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. You can do this overnight.

2. Heat pressure cooker, and add the sugar. Let the sugar caramelise until dark brown. Add seasoned beef and stir well to coat. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the onion and garlic, and cook for 5 minutes more.

3. Stir in the coffee, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, bay leaf, salt and hot pepper sauce. Add the stock, making sure it covers the beef, adding additional stock or water if necessary. Bring to a boil and then lower to a simmer. Cover and cook until the meat is tender, about 1 hour, adding the dumplings as instructed in step 5. OR Close pressure cooker, add weight and cook as usual until tender, then add dumplings.

Sweet Hands Stew Beef and Dumplings

4. While the stew is simmering, make the dumplings. Mix together the flour, cornmeal and salt. Add 6 tablespoons of water and knead to form a stiff dough, adding more water if necessary. Knead until smooth and set aside to rest for 15 minutes.

5. Pinch off 1-inch pieces of dough and roll between the palm of your hands to form ovals. Pinch both ends, then flatten the oval between palms or against a cutting board. The dumplings should resemble small flat footballs. Drop them into the beef stew in the last 15 minutes of cooking. (You may need to add more liquid to get a good depth of liquid to cook the dumplings…just let the extra liquid come up to a boil then lower heat) Adjust the seasonings of the stew to taste.

Serve hot.

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9 Comments so far (Add 1 more)

  1. Looks great, I’m glad to learn more about Trini cooking and have this wonderful recipe to try!



    hip pressure cooking
    making pressure cookers hip again, one recipe at a time!

    1. Laura on January 13th, 2011 at 2:01 am
  2. Nice…..you do not know beef and dumplings cooked together at home because I never really liked it….lol. But it was a staple of my growing up…a way to stretch the meat flavours by my mother. She also did stewed salted fish like this as well. The latter I loved.
    What I liked and I think my siblings loved as well was the stewed beef with potatoes and carrots eaten with hot huge Gafoor’s Bakery hops. This meal was usually a saturday evening meal and during the course of its preparation it was my job to go buy the hops bread with the special white cotton bag.The bread was sold at 16 for a shilling at that time. Of course the trip to the bakery was only done if no bread , coconut drops etc were not baked that saturday. Shukran for bringing back some happy memories.

    2. trinimom on January 13th, 2011 at 7:03 am
  3. Didn’t know about this Sweet Hands cookbook. Thanks for sharing!

    3. equalease on January 13th, 2011 at 1:08 pm
  4. Hello and welcome Laura. As I venture into using my pressure cooker more, I should be checking out your site!

    Mom – see how parents can influence your entire view of your world. I know stew fish and dumplings…and thought that’s all there was…coincidentally I made this stew on the same day I made hops. So…maybe I got the knowledge psychically that this is the way it supposed to be :-)

    @equalease – the Google Reader working for you I see 😀

    4. Chennette on January 13th, 2011 at 1:38 pm
  5. I just added this book to my shopping basket at Amazon but later I will check RIK and Nigel Khan to see if they have it. I see it got some very good reviews at Amazon. The Naps Cookbook seems out of print but it shouldn’t be since it’s an excellent local cookbook.

    6. aka_lol on January 15th, 2011 at 8:40 am
  6. I think it was when I couldn’t order the Naps cookbook a few years ago and wanted to send people something Trini is when I came across this one. It has pretty good coverage of a range of recipes and techniques so it’s a good one to have. I got used to the original Naps cookbook and took some time adjusting to the new one, but yes, it shouldn’t be out of print. What would we send off young ones with?

    7. Chennette on January 16th, 2011 at 12:17 am
  7. Looks great!!! :)

    Re: Naps – It’s only out of print, really out of stock, overseas. You can get it anywhere locally :) It’s only sold on Amazon via the Amazon Marketplace, they don’t have a direct supply :)

    8. The Trinigourmet on January 17th, 2011 at 4:49 am
  8. Beer is not an ingredient in my beef stew with dumplings but everyone makes a recipe a little bit their own. I have and quite like the Sweet Hands Cookbook.

    9. wizzy on January 28th, 2011 at 10:49 pm
  9. well, as you would see from my Mom’s comment – this wasn’t a childhood recipe for HER children :-) so I will only now start to make it my own!

    10. Chennette on January 30th, 2011 at 6:26 pm

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