“What is your favorite summer food?” For the Caribbean chef, remembering warm days in the sun and mouth-watering treats evokes the euphoria of street-side fare, ripe fruits picked straight from the tree and “having a lime” with friends.
Four culinary experts from across the diaspora share details on their favorite Caribbean food and cocktail recipes for summer and how they adapted these memorable flavors for a more sophisticated palette.
Taymer Mason | Vegan Inspired
Bajan chef and author Taymer Mason came to the rescue of vegans craving Caribbean cuisine, which often leans meat- and seafood-centric, with her cookbook “Caribbean Vegan.” First published in 2010, the book has since become the standard for flavorful animal-free island fare. Now settled in London, Mason runs multiple businesses with her husband, including a buttermilk vegan pancake line, The Happy Mix Co.
For Mason, the summer’s best kept secret is crispy fish fritters. One bite instantly brings her back to childhood Saturday mornings enjoying the savory treat for breakfast. In her youth, her own recipe memorably drew long lines at school fundraisers with many patrons circling back again after their first bite. “As a Caribbean person, it’s almost a right of passage,” laughs Mason. “It’s something in our blood that makes us love this particular fritter. You will be able to smell it in the wind anywhere.”
Her new vegan take on the recipe substitutes unripe soursop for fish ― a surprising, yet delicious addition to summer tacos. When marinated and cooked, this fruit mimics the texture of white fish. The neutral flavor also makes it the perfect base for seasoning.
Beachside Fish Tacos
What you need
For the Soursop “Fish”
- 1 tablespoon pink or sea salt
- 1 medium green (unripe) soursop, sliced into 2 × 5-inch pieces, seeds removed
- ½ cup Bajan seasoning or all-purpose seasoning blend
- 1 tablespoon neutral-flavored oil, plus 1 cup for frying
For the Beer Batter
- 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2 nori sheets, toasted and crumbled
- 1 tablespoon onion powder
- 1 tablespoon seasoning salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- 3 tablespoons minced fresh herbs (try a mixture of thyme, parsley and marjoram)
- 2 green onions, minced
- 2 12-ounce bottles of lager beer
- 6 soft flour tortillas
- 2 cups shredded lettuce
- 1 avocado, sliced artfully
- 1 cup sliced red cabbage
- 1 red onion, thinly sliced
- 1 cucumber, chopped
What to do
- To make the “fish,” salt the soursop and let stand for 2 hours on the counter.
- Rinse the soursop and pat dry. Coat with Bajan seasoning and 1 tablespoon of the oil. Leave to marinate overnight or for at least one hour when in a rush.
- To make the batter, combine the flour, nori, onion powder, seasoning salt, pepper, baking powder, herbs, green onion and beer. Mix well and allow to stand on the counter for 15 minutes before using.
- Heat 1 cup of oil in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat until hot, about 10 minutes.
- Dip the seasoned soursop in the batter and carefully place it in the hot oil. Shallow-fry until golden brown, 4 to 6 minutes. The batter should puff up a bit. Fry two pieces at a time. Transfer the cooked soursop to paper towels to drain.
- To serve, layer the “fish” in the tortillas and add some of the suggested zesty toppings to really sizzle up your vegan tacos!
Rachael Findley | Mixology
Born in Grenada but raised in the West Indian neighborhood of Flatbush in Brooklyn, New York, Rachael Findley traveled back to the island at 23 to take mixology classes, eventually joining the team at the luxurious Silversands Grenada hotel. With her custom creations, she quickly stacked up the accolades, including recognition at the 2020 Flavors of Grenada Mixology Competitions.
“I am most interested not so much in replicating classic cocktails, but instead in creating something new and expanding upon the flavors,” she said. Findley now works for Cannes Brulees Rums while growing her personal brand and fostering a tea business on the side.
For the award-winning mixologist, the allure of summer always tasted like the season’s selection of tropical fruits. Her Vitality frozen cocktail encapsulates a cornucopia of fruity flavors, featuring mango and guava. It’s the perfect refreshing treat for a day in the summer sun.
What you need
- 120 milliliters light rum
- 80 milliliters mango puree
- 80 milliliters guava puree
- 60 milliliters lime juice
- 40 milliliters banana liqueur
- 40 milliliters melon liqueur
- 2 teaspoons of grenadine
- Cherries and orange wheels, as garnish
What to do
- Separate rum into two 60 ml portions.
- Add the first portion to a blending cup with ice, mango puree and banana liqueur then blend. Place to the side.
- Blend the second portion of rum with guava puree and ice. Set aside.
- Blend the melon liqueur and lime with ice and set aside.
- Drizzle the teaspoon of grenadine into a glass and layer with the rum and half of the blend of mango and banana liqueur.
- Add in the melon liqueur and lime blend.
- Layer some of the rum and guava mixture. Then some of the mango blend. Continue alternating until the glass is full.
- Garnish with an orange and cherry.
Chef Danny Peñalo Dominguez | Dominican Cuisine
Chef Danny Peñalo Dominguez is the executive chef of Yarumba Restaurant and Lounge in Miami Gardens, Florida. He brings fusion flair to traditional Dominican cuisine, envisioning combinations like snapper stuffed with Thai rice and authentic green plantain mofongo. “Food is one of the most important things when we talk about culture,” Peñalo Dominguez said. “Our food has Spanish, African, Chinese, Lebanese and indigenous Taino influences. I’ve been able to reach a lot of people promoting our gastronomy.”
His summers in the Dominican Republic were spent visiting extended family and whipping up delicious dishes in the kitchen. When it came to Caribbean food and cocktail recipes for summer, he most looked forward to fresh-caught seafood and ripe fruit ― especially the iconic Dominican “banilejo” mango. “We had six mango trees around my house, so we had a lot of mangoes,” he laughed. Peñalo Dominguez combines both with his delicious take on a tropical ceviche. He pairs the dish with a classic Dominican “Morir Soñando,” or “Die Dreaming” drink, a refreshing combination of milk and citrus.
Tropical Shrimp Ceviche
What you need
- 2 pounds of extra jumbo shrimp without tails, deveined
- 1 small mango, ripe
- ¼ white or red onion
- ¼ red pepper
- ¼ green pepper
- ¼ yellow pepper
- 1 bunch fresh cilantro
- 16 medium limes
- 2 ounces extra virgin olive oil
- Bay leaves
- Kosher salt, to taste
- Pepper, to taste
What to do
Note: Make sure to buy all products fresh and wash them properly.
- Peel mango and dice small.
- Cut onions and peppers into small cubes. Reserve everything, including the mango, in the refrigerator.
- Squeeze all of the limes and set the juice aside.
- Cut shrimps in half lengthwise and set aside.
- In a medium pot, add water, salt, thyme and bay leaves. Bring to a boil. Add shrimp and cook for 30 seconds. Drain then add shrimp to a bowl with ice to chill.
- When the shrimp are cold, drain all water and any remaining ice. Add the lime juice. Let sit for 5 minutes.
- Chiffonade (finely slice) the fresh cilantro.
- Add the remaining ingredients to shrimp, mixing well.
- Serve with plantain chips and enjoy!
Morir Soñando (Die Dreaming)
What you need
- 6 large oranges
- 1 ½ cups evaporated milk
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 limes
- 2 cups of ice
What to do
- Juice the oranges to produce about 1.5 cups (260ml) of juice.
- Pour the evaporated milk, sugar, vanilla, orange and lime juice into a pitcher and stir until combined. Add ice and stir to cool.
- Use an orange wheel to decorate (optional). Serve and enjoy.
Chef Troy Levy | Ital Cooking
Ital cuisine may have its origins in the Rastafari faith, but the style of food prep emphasizing natural, unprocessed ingredients proves equally healthful for all who try it.
In addition to running a successful catering service in New York City, Jamaican chef Troy Levy is spreading the delicious gospel of ital cooking, working on his own cookbook to bring these authentic recipes to the world.
For Levy, summer couldn’t come fast enough in his youth. He spent many at his family’s large farm in Glengoffe, Jamaica. Run by his Rastafarian uncles, this was where he first fell in love with the unadulterated flavors of the land, from bananas to breadfruit. He particularly reminisces about the spicy pumpkin soup he would enjoy after days by the river. Since becoming a chef, he has adapted the original recipe into an elegant bisque while still paying homage to the natural approach to cooking he learned from his family. He named his version of the dish “His Majesty Bowl” after Haile Selassie, late Emperor of Ethiopia.
“His Majesty Bowl”
What you need
- 1 ½ cups pumpkin
- 1 cup sweet potato
- 1 cup coco
- 1 cup dasheen
- ½ teaspoon cumin
- Sea salt or Himalayan salt to taste
- 2 cloves garlic
- Olive oil
- ¼ cup scallion
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 cups fresh coconut milk
- 1 cup veggie stock (optional)
- ½ corn on the cob
- ½ tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh lime or lemon juice
- 2 or 3 button mushrooms, sliced
- 1 Scotch bonnet or habanero pepper, seeded and sliced
What to do:
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Using a large metal spoon, scoop out the seeds of the pumpkin. Use a sharp knife to cut slices of pumpkin, sweet potato, coco and dasheen to 1-inch thick.
- Place pumpkin and sweet potato slices on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and rub on both sides. Sprinkle with cumin and Himalayan salt to taste. Add one clove of garlic to the pan. Roast for 18-20 minutes, depending on the thickness of pumpkin slices. (Check doneness after 15 minutes.)
- Grill fresh corn cobs on the open flame of a stove top or grill. Cool for 10 minutes. With a sharp chef’s knife, cut off the corn kernels.
- In a medium bowl, combine cilantro, lemon or lime juice, sliced pepper and a pinch of Himalayan salt (optional). Toss very well and set aside for garnish.
- In a blender, add roasted pumpkin and sweet potato slices, coconut milk, the unroasted clove of garlic, scallion and thyme. Puree until creamy. Add vegetable stock or more coconut milk as needed for consistency.
- Serve with a tablespoon of garnish.
Jamal Lake | U.S. Virgin Islands
For pastry chef Jamal Lake, food always tells a story. “When you try someone’s food, you understand where they’re from and what they passed down for generations,” said the native U.S. Virgin Islander, who originally fell in love with sweets while baking alongside his mom every Sunday.
After moving to West Palm Beach, Florida, Lake opened Ganache Bakery in 2011 with his wife Nishanee, creating cupcakes, tarts, macaroons and custom cakes. In 2018, he found more sweet success after becoming a finalist on Food Network’s “Halloween Baking Championship,” attracting acclaim for his raspberry passion fruit petit fours and green velvet cakes. After the show, Lake continued creating unique concoctions.
Lake treasures the warm summer days he once spent in the U.S. Virgin Islands enjoying freshly-picked fruits. The season’s most desirable treat was always a succulent mango. “We made mango juice, spicy mango curry, mango salad with herbs and sometimes we got creative and even made mango tarts.” Lake’s own mango tart recipe incorporates fresh, ripe mangoes and citrus layered within flaky homemade pastry.
What you need:
For the crust
- 8 ounces sugar
- 1 pound butter at room temperature
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
- 1 egg
- 1 ½ pounds flour
- ¼ teaspoon salt
For the filling
- 3 cups diced mangos, ripe but firm
- ⅓ to ½ cup light brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch and 2 tablespoons of water
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
What to do
- To make the dough for the crust, cream together the sugar and butter. Add eggs and extracts, and mix until combined.
- Add salt and flour, and mix just until combined.
- Place the dough in plastic wrap and press until fairly flat. Refrigerate for a few hours to chill. Working with a cold dough works best.
- To make the filling, combine the sugar, mango, lime juice, cornstarch and water in a small pot. Stir well and cook on medium heat until mixture thickens.
- Remove from heat then stir in the extracts. Set filling aside to cool.
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove dough from the refrigerator, unwrap it and place it onto a floured surface.
- With a rolling pin, roll the dough until it is about ⅛ inch thick. Place into a 10-inch tart pan, trimming excess dough from around the edges. Fill the prepared tart pan with enough of the filling to come almost to the top without overflowing.
- Cut strips of the remaining dough then use them to cover the top of the tart with a lattice pattern. Trim edges and bake in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. For muffin- or mini-sized tarts, reduce baking time to 10 to 15 minutes.
- Cool the tart completely then remove from the pan and enjoy!
For more Caribbean food and cocktail recipes for the summer, check out these amazing dishes from Caribbean chefs.