Levi Roots (his real name is Keith Graham) was brought up till the age of eleven by his grandparents in Jamaica. He lived in a house full of extended family where cooking was a continual process. He moved to London to live with his parents and eventually had a successful career as a musician, and was indeed nominated for a prestigious MOBO award in 1998. He has performed with James Brown and Maxi Priest. He has his own range of Caribbean foods, a Caribbean cafe and takeaway, and every summer runs his popular stall at the celebrated Notting Hill Carnival.
Although we have a sizable Caribbean population in Britain we don’t have many Caribbean restaurants. You’ll find some in the largest cities but almost never in smaller towns. If you live in an area with an Afro-Caribbean community then you’ll probably have access to supermarkets that sell pre-prepared patties and Jerk Sauces but Caribbean Food Made Easy shows that you don’t need too many specialist ingredients to make authentic dishes.
I am a Londoner so have had a little experience of Caribbean food. I have been known to make quite a reasonable breakfast with fried plantains (cooking bananas). This book, however, offers a raft of authentic and adapted recipes made from high street ingredients that won’t break the bank. These are all-year-round dishes that will introduce some tropical pizzazz to summer alfresco dining as well as to cold and wet winter nights when some warming spice is in order. The chapters include One Pot Suppers, Fish and Seafood, Roasts and Grills, Street Food, as well as Desserts.
Levi draws upon his Scottish ancestry with his Mctumplings. These are traditional fried “tumplings” flavoured with vegetarian haggis. Serve these with Caribbean Salsa Verde (recipe in this book). Another version is the Banana Tumpling with a hint of cinnamon. Serve these as a side dish for fried chicken (remember fried bananas with Chicken Maryland? Very retro.), or as a dessert spread with butter and jam.
A must-try from this book is Honey, Grenadine and Ginger Roasted Lamb with Pomegranate and Mint Salad. This is no more difficult than making your regular Sunday roast but the addition of an exotic marinade elevates this dish into something a bit special. Have some roast sweet potatoes along with this for a taste of warmer climes.
If you are looking for a truly special first course then you wouldn’t go far wrong with Devilled Crab Gratin. If you can make a white sauce then you can make this. Levi suggests serving this in individual crab shells but gratin dishes or ramekins work just as well. A simple but smart start to any dinner party. If Levi ever owns a posh restaurant with crystal and linen then this would be his signature dish. None of us would be able to afford it so take the opportunity to make it at home yourself.
Caribbean Food Made Easy is an attractive book with easy to follow recipes… and I like these recipes. Each one has something to commend it. Full-on flavour or decadent sweetness or light freshness… it’s all here. A great companion to the BBC TV series of the same name… So when is the Notting Hill Carnival, then…?
Caribbean Food Made Easy
Author: Levi Roots
Published by: Mitchell Beazley – Octopus
Cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018