After making my mouth water with her description of food in The Bahamas, Chef Raquel Fox was kind enough to send me an autographed copy of her cookbook, Dining in Paradise: A Food Lover’s Dream of Family Style Dining in the Bahamas. It is a truly beautiful homage to the food of her homeland.
It begins with a brief history of the Bahamas and the diverse cultures–African, British, French, Spanish, Latin American, Caribbean, and Southern–that shaped its cuisine. I was particularly surprised to discover that African enslaved people from American South were taken to The Bahamas by exiled Loyalists after the American Revolution. For this reason, soul food dishes such as macaroni and cheese are popular on the island. This was incredibly illuminating, and something I was never taught in school.
One thing I really appreciate about this cookbook is that it is more than just a collection of recipes. Chef Raquel’s passion for food and her heritage shines through every page. She shares the ambiance of The Bahamas, the people, places, and occasions that are connected by meals.
This book is full of dishes that look and sound absolutely sensational. There are sauces and dressings, breakfast ideas, soups and salads, meat and seafood entrees, desserts, and cocktails. With so many recipes to try, I decided to cook one of the seasonal menus included at the beginning of the book.
I love the idea of seasonal cooking, as it brings to mind the perspective of culinary giants such as Southern chef and cookbook author Edna Lewis. This was the way of our ancestors, and it is also celebrated by mainstream cooking. Produce, and thus meals, taste best when the components are fresh and in season.
Dining in Paradise’s winter menu for a New Year’s Eve Dinner sounded not only timely, but also delicious and rich. Mac and cheese, duck, cabbage, and souffles? What a way to bring in 2021!
Food in The Bahamas: A New Year’s Eve Dinner
The New Year’s Eve menu consists of the following dishes:
- Savory Coconut Curry Soup
- Drum “Beet” Salad
- Creamy Rock Lobster Mac ‘n’ Cheese
- Fennel Spiced Cabbage
- Roasted Sage & Garlic Mashed Cassavas
- Long Island Braised Duck in Guava Rum Sauce
- Exotic Soufflés
This was definitely an undertaking, but I was determined to make the full meal. I am so glad I did, as it was an unforgettable, scrumptious dinner.
Long Island Braised Duck in Guava Rum Sauce (p. 153)
|Bahama Pintail Duck and Guava are indigenous to The Bahamas.|
I started with the braised duck as it seemed to be most involved. Plus, I could only find whole duck at the grocery store instead of the legs the recipe called for, so I knew it would take awhile to cook.
The bird needed to be prepped: rinsed in vinegar, salted with Chef Raquel’s smoky, garlicky seasoned salt, and refrigerated for an hour. I could not sear the duck on the stove top because I did not have a big enough pan, so I used this whole duck method I braised the duck in a herb brown sugar, Italian dressing sauce and broiled it until the skin crisped up.
Thanks to the seasoned salt, the meat was tender and well-seasoned. The showstopper was the guava bbq sauce. Even with omitting the rum, it was everything I never knew I needed: tangy, sweet, and smoky goodness.
Drum “Beet” Salad (p. 132)
While my duck was marinating in the fridge, I washed some red beets. The recipe calls for red and golden beets, but I could only find the former. I put the beets in a baking pan along with olive oil, thyme (an essential component to food in the Bahamas according to Chef Raquel!), salt, pepper, and a little water. I covered the pan with foil and cooked the beets until they were tender.
After letting the beets cool, I diced them. I tossed the beets with endive, tangerines, pomegranate seeds, and caramelized coconut flakes. The recipe calls for innovative balsamic sheets, but they are made of gelatin and I could not find the kosher version. I garnished the mixture with goat cheese and fresh parsley before topping it with a mango passion vinaigrette.
This recipe is inspired by the Bahamian Junkanoo festival, which takes place on Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, and on summer Saturdays. While the exact origins of this tradition are unclear, one theory is that it developed from the Christmas celebrations of enslaved people.
Roasted Sage & Garlic Mashed Cassavas (p. 184)
Sadly, I was unable to find cassavas at my grocery store so I used potatoes instead. I roasted garlic then I peeled and boiled the potatoes. Once they were tender, I mashed them in my ricer and folded in the garlic, butter, cream, and cheese.
There was such a depth of flavor in this mash. I am especially proud of myself given that this was my first time making ANY type of mash. It was smooth, creamy, and delicious–thanks to the healthy amount of cream called for by the recipe.
Creamy Rock Lobster Mac ‘n’ Cheese (p. 98)
|The Bahamian Spiny Lobster is indigenous to the country. Lobstering is a huge industry in the country, taking place from August to March. Unfortunately, there was no fresh lobster at my grocery store, so I had to do this recipe without it!|
Since I knew I would have to boil the pasta for the mac and cheese, I made sure to heat two pots of water: one for the mash and one for the macaroni noodles.
Once I drained the pasta, I added in a ton of dairy: butter, cheddar, evaporated milk, heavy cream, eggs, cheese, and sour cream. While I use evaporated milk, half in half and cream cheese in my Southern Baked Mac and Cheese, I had never used eggs or sour cream. I think it gives a custard-like texture similar to the one I get from using a roux/bechamel sauce.
After topping the mac with cheese, salt, and pepper, I put it in the oven. It was baked until golden and drizzled with curry oil. I loved Chef Raquel’s oil, which is infused with curry, warm spices, garlic, thyme, and lime juice.
Savory Coconut Curry Soup (p. 58)
As the mac and cheese baked, I got started on the soup. It is funny that it was one of the last things I made, given that it is supposed to be the starter. After sauteeing lemongrass paste, garlic, and Jamaican curry powder, I stirred in coconut milk, stock and brown sugar.
I simmered it, then seasoned it with salt, pepper, and basil. While I did not plate it up as there was so much food to eat already, it was absolutely delicious right out of the pot. It transported me to the islands, a taste of food in The Bahamas indeed.
A bowl of this soup garnished with cherry peppers, green onions and cumin cream (a delicious mixture of toasted cumin and sour cream)?! I can’t wait.
Fennel Spiced Cabbage (p. 185)
While the soup simmered, I made the final savory dish. Smoked paprika, fennel, and lemon juice gave this sauteed purple cabbage a smoky, earthy acidity.
Exotic Soufflés (p. 204)
This was my first time making soufflé, and I was a little intimidated. It is an egg-based French dessert that is often showcased on food competition shows.
The common questions are: Did it rise? Is it airy? Is it flavorful? Thanks to Chef Raquel’s excellent instructions, the answers are kinda, yes, and YES! I had a bit of difficulty with whipping the egg whites into firm peaks for the meringue, which is probably why my soufflé did not rise higher. also kept mine in the oven a little longer than the 15 minutes the recipe called for as it took a while to set in the middle; however, this also caused the top to brown more than I would have liked.
While I could not find the mamey or soursop called for by the recipe (this was a trend lol, I gotta find the Caribbean stores!), I made a guava flavored topping with nectar and condensed milk. Adding tropical flavor to this classic hit it out of the park. This was a fitting end to a delicious Bahamian-inspired meal.
I am so glad to have had the chance to experience the delicious food of The Bahamas by way of Dining in Paradise. I am excited to try out more of the book’s recipes and ultimately experience the cuisine firsthand!