After its musical heritage, the food of Jamaica is probably the Caribbean island’s biggest export as sun, sea, and miles of ocean come together to create some of the freshest and tastiest dishes around.
One person who knows a thing a two about both crafts is musician, chef, and founder of vegan Jamaican food brand, Dee’s Table, Denai Moore. Born in Spanish Town, Jamaica, Moore moved to the UK aged 10, creating a fusion-like culinary inclination that combines the flavours of her homeland, with the best of British.
Most in the UK would think of Jamaican food and immediately cast their mind to jerk chicken. But Moore, who switched to a vegan diet six years ago, is quick to point out that a lot of traditional Jamaican food is plant-based.
“Essentially a lot of vegan food that is Jamaican would be coming from Rastafarian cuisine. It’s essentially just very plant-based, no processed foods. The Rastafarians culturally have been eating that way for centuries.”
Along with old family recipes, heirlooms from her childhood, she also credits her switch to a vegan diet as having pushed her interest in cooking to the next level.
“I was always interested in food and I was always enthusiastic, but I think when I went vegan, and I think most vegans will relate to this, I just found myself cooking and experimenting way more. Figuring out what I liked, what I didn’t like. And it made me really appreciate vegetables in a different way. I think I have a deeper understanding and appreciation for a lot of vegetables. And I think I taste them a lot differently than I did before going vegan.”
As relative novices to Jamaican vegan food, we asked Moore if she could show us some pointers. From delicately balanced flavour combinations to an easy switch-up of a breakfast fave, we hope they can help spice up your next kitchen adventure.
Keep It Fresh And In Season
“Because Jamaica is a tropical Island and has a lot of fresh produce, freshness and seasonality are key. I think a lot of the flavours I use come from the nostalgia of growing up around all that fresh produce and having mango at your doorstep. But kind of through the lens of also growing up here. So I am quite influenced by the seasonality of food. Cooking with ingredients that are just perfect. I love that kind of focus and I try my best to do that.”
Swap In British Produce
“I love incorporating produce that you’d get from the UK. There’s stuff that’s quite transferrable. There’s a lot of sweet potato and plantain is an obvious one, in Jamaican cooking. Then you have callaloo, which is kind of dark leafy greens. In Jamaica you might use something like ackee as well [the national fruit of Jamaica, ackee is cooked and used as a vegetable]. But you can’t get that fresh here. So for callallo and ackee I’d just swap in a vegetable like spring greens or kale, and just transfer those Jamaican flavours to that kind of produce.”
A Fresh Seasoning To Go In Every Sauce
“Jamaican cooking is very vibrant and fresh. So stuff like garlic and ginger, spring onion and scotch bonnet, are regulars. Pimento, and more earthly spices are also used in a lot of dishes.
“There’s this traditional seasoning made out of ginger puree, garlic, spring onion, coriander, and pimento. You blend it together to make this green fresh seasoning, kind of like a paste, that people use in the base of lots of dishes. It’s more fresh and aromatic than spicy. And you just keep it in your fridge and fry it with your next curry.”
Porridge Is King
“Porridge is big in Jamaica. They eat a lot of peanut porridge, or they use hominy corn, which is like a dried maize. It’s got lots of cinnamon and nutmeg in it, and that’s a very traditional porridge. I actually took that recipe and turned it into a waffle. A lot of my recipe inspiration comes from the root, the authentic place of the dish, but using it in a modern context.”
Don’t Skimp On The Nutmeg
“Most Jamaican porridges have lots of nutmeg. I’d say that’s maybe the difference compared to porridge in the UK. I think a lot of people have cinnamon in their porridge, quite naturally. But I grew up having just fresh, grated nutmeg, and maybe some coconut milk. So the base of the hominy corn porridge itself has a lot of nutmeg, along with the actual cinnamon bark and stuff that you boil with the coconut milk. Next time you have a bowl of porridge, grate some fresh nutmeg over the top. It’s a really nice earthy, fragrant addition.”
Coconut Is (Also) King
“In my house, I always have a lot of coconut. It’s usually either creamed coconut which I use a lot of as a base in dishes or desiccated coconut. I buy that in a big block and just take what I need and sprinkle it over.”
How To Make Dee’s Hominy Corn Waffles
- 1/4 cup of rice flour
- 1 cup of plain flour
- 1 and a 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
- 1 cup left over hominy corn porridge
- 3 tablespoons of olive oil/coconut oil
- 2 tablespoons coconut sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 flax egg (3 tablespoons of water and 1 tablespoon ground flax)
- 1 cup plant milk
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar or lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons of melted butter for waffle iron
- Pinch of salt
- Freshly grated nutmeg
- Coconut yoghurt
- Start by making flax egg by mixing 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseed with three tablespoons of water. Mix and set aside.
- In a big bowl sieve the rice flour and plain flour with the baking powder. Add the coconut sugar and salt, then whisk to combine.
- In a small bowl add 1 cup of leftover hominy corn porridge, plant milk, vanilla extract, vinegar and olive oil. Mix and then combine with the dry ingredients. Then finally add the flax egg and combine well.
- Set aside as the waffle iron heats up. Brush waffle iron with butter and cook till crispy for 4-6 minutes. Check to ensure that it is crispy and golden all around.
- Serve with coconut yoghurt, maple syrup and freshly grated nutmeg for that hominy corn porridge smell.
Picture credit: Dee’s Table. To find more about Dee’s Tables and Denai’s tasty vegan Jamaican food creations head over to deestable.com.