Nigel Spence: Christmas in Jamaica
By Nigel Spence
As we approach my most favorite time of the year, I am somewhat saddened by the backdrop of fear and apprehension that has slowly taken over our Nation and which now understandably lurks in the back of people’s minds.
What has traditionally been known as the “joyous” Season is fighting to keep its claim to fame amidst mourning and gloom caused by natural disasters and/or man-made destruction.
Thanks in part, though, to the talented, Grammy-award winning Jamaican group – “Morgan Heritage” who performed at the New York Stock Exchange’s Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony this year on November 30th – the spirit of caring, sharing and giving love to one another was re-born for many, under the theme – “Reggae Christmas”. This was a great honor for the Morgan family to showcase our Jamaican culture and spread the positive message of love and peace. The group was the sole Jamaican act booked for this huge event.
We Jamaicans know how to party and one thing I can say is “Nuttin’ nah stop us from enjoying Christmas.” As long as the food nuff, the rum flowing and the musical vibes booming, everybody love everybody, from dusk til dawn (some literally, but anodda chapter fah dat!).
Christmas in J.A. is more of a nostalgic experience. Unless you have been there and totally done that – it is difficult to put in words the absolute feeling of harmony you get. Everything just irie fah real.
From the moment I land at Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston, my troubles just magically begin to disappear! Actually, the REAL reason for that is because I usually head straight from the airport to nearby Port Royal to drink a rum and eat some fry fish and bammy (cassava) before heading into the city. A few hours later, everything is pretty much forgotten including my name, where I come from…nah, just kidding – Ha!
But there is no mistaking the excitement in the air, the hustle and bustle of traffic both on the road and sidewalks as people come out shopping or selling. “Soupy” on the corner serving up some boiling hot chicken foot soup with corn, with smoke reeling from a covered jerk pan with rows of chicken legs and thighs browning to perfection. In the background, reggae Christmas carols belting out from the guy selling mixed CDs – Yes…I am home.
The ultimate for me though is Christmas dinner with the family. This occasion underscores the vacay with a sense of completion…like having a full belly; and that by no means is a light analogy (smile) – it is literal.
The laughter, the jeering among siblings, the drama of kitchen mishaps (which is a must or dinner would not be the same) and the curiosity surrounding my “mystery dish”. Every year, I use my family as food testers…actually more like guinea pigs as many times not even I know what the dish will turn out to be!
However, if it passes their test, I know it must be awesome, as they can be more brutal than any food critic out there. They will still eat it (cause that’s what we do – lol) but you will hear about it.
For that reason, I made sure that my new dish was pre-tested (secretly) and met with glowing compliments (if I do say so myself – LOL). You will definitely want to include this on your Christmas dinner menu, to excite the palates and infuse a little newness to the fare. This dish looks spectacular when served and does not require heavy-duty preparation.
I can hardly wait to share this with the family, but for now please keep the secret, okay…sshh!
Have a joyous and blessed Christmas everyone! Eat, drink and be merry…
As my dad would often say “betta belly buss than good food spoil!”
VEGAN CHRISTMAS CURRY
Every year we seem to add a few more vegans to the guest list and so the new challenge at the dinner table is to have a dish that speaks to vegans, but can also be enjoyed by the carnivores. I believe this dish does even more than that because it has a very familiar ingredient that everybody loves: CURRY.
For the dhal
1 cup yellow Split peas
8 cups of Water
Cook over medium heat until tender and thick.
Reserve for later use.
4 cups canned Chick peas, drained and reserved for later use
FOR THE MIXTURE TO ADD TO THE DHAL
1/4 Cup Coconut oil
8 cloves Garlic (smashed)
1/2 teaspoon Garlic (Paste)
1/2 teaspoon Ginger (Paste)
1/2 Scotch bonnet pepper, fine chopped
1 Large onion, medium dice
2 Tomatoes, medium dice
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 teaspoon Coriander Powder
1/2 teaspoon Gheera (cumin powder)
1 teaspoon Turmeric powder
1 teaspoon Curry powder
1 Lemon, cut in half to squeeze
Salt to taste
1/2 cup Shadow benny, rough chopped
- Heat oil in a pan with smashed garlic. Sauté the garlic until light brown – without burning it – then add the scotch bonnet pepper and ginger.
- Cook for 30 seconds and add onions. Stir fry the onions until they are translucent and add tomatoes, all herbs, spices and salt.
- Cook until the tomatoes completely break down and become pasty. At this point, stir in the cooked dhal and chickpeas along with some water if required. Bring this to a boil, turn the heat down to low and simmer for 15 minutes.
- Remove from heat. Add shadow benny and juice from the lemon.
- Serve hot with rice or roti.
Nigel Spence, a Culinary Institute of America alumnus, was born in Kingston, Jamaica. Nigel freelanced at the Television Food Network for 3 years where he worked with culinary luminaries such as Bobby Flay and Emeril Lagasse. Chef Spence has appeared twice on Throwdown with Bobby Flay where he emerged the victor in cook offs against the Food Network star and was featured on CBS when he appeared on Tony’s Table as well as ABC’s Neighborhood Eats, NBC’s The Today Show , Sirius’ Everyday Living with Martha Stewart and TVFN’s Chopped. The acclaimed and New York Times-reviewed Ripe Kitchen and Bar is Mr Spence’s first entrepreneurial endeavour.