“Everyone needs to go to Trinidad for a visit to experience the hominess,” said Westbury resident Placida Nedd. Although born in Brooklyn and having lived in Westbury since 1994, Nedd feels a deep bond with Trinidad, from which her parents emigrated. “Everyone knows everyone.”
This sentiment is echoed by my friend Hortense Simmonds, also of Westbury, who, although of Jamaican heritage, married a man from Trinidad and has come to know the culture well. Simmonds and her husband, Gerard, met at his family’s nightclub in Queens. He invited her to Thanksgiving, held at the club. “To my shock and surprise, there were 300 guests. People from Trinidad, wherever they’re planted, they still get together,” she said.
This sort of supports my image of Trinidad as a place filled with people who enjoy having a party. Placida says that weekends in Trinidad are beach days. “There are so many beaches and everyone packs up snacks and heads to the beach.” And Trinidad is considered to be the mother of all West Indian carnivals, a festival that dates back to the 18th century.
Other Caribbean countries have followed suit but many claim that Carnival in Trinidad beats them all, rivaling even Brazil. All that celebrating and imbibing calls for some special food at the end of the evening. That’s where roast bake comes into play. Roast bake is a flat bread that is fried or baked and served with a variety of fillings.
Typically roast bake is a breakfast dish but it’s also the perfect snack after a night of drinking as it is thought to soak up the alcohol. “I used to party a lot,” said Nedd, “and they would sell it in the back of the club.” Nedd likes serving her roast bake with saltfish.
Curries also are integral to Trinidad’s cuisine. With the abolition of slavery many plantation owners looked for an alternative source of cheap labor and a system of indentured servitude was undertaken, with the first East Indians arriving in 1845. Many stayed and so did their curry powders. “Trinidadians will curry anything,” said Simmonds. Her favorite is curried Granny Smith apples.
Placida’s Roast Bake
1 stick margarine
3 ½ cups flour
3 teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
Pinch of sugar
1 cup water
Combine the dry ingredients and crumble the butter to pea size. Add water and form a ball. Don’t overwork the dough. Let it rest for ½ hour. Break into pieces and form into circles, about ¼ inch thick.
Heat a nonstick pan over medium low and place dough circles on pan. Make air pockets with a fork and bake approximately three to five minutes each side.
Or you can bake in a 350 degree oven on a greased baking sheet for 10 to 15 minutes. Placida prefers the stove top because it browns the bread.
The saltfish filling
12 ounces salted pollock
1 small onion, chopped
1 medium tomato, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 scallions, chopped
½ teaspoon dried thyme
Soak pollock for four to five hours in cold water, changing the water every hour or bring to a full boil for 20 minutes. Flake the fish to remove any bones.
Saute onion, tomato and garlic until onion is translucent. Add fish, scallions and thyme.
To serve, slice bread crosswise in half and fill with pollock.
Hortense’s Curried Green Apple
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 large garlic cloves, smashed (this is for flavoring)
¼ cup finely chopped onion
2 tablespoons yellow curry powder
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon butter
4 tart green Granny Smith apples, cored and chopped (keep the peel so the apple slices maintain their shape)
1 teaspoon salt
1½ cups water
1 tablespoon packed, brown sugar (add to taste)
Heat the oil in a large sauté pan on medium heat. Add the garlic and let cook until the garlic starts to get browned. Remove the garlic from the oil and discard. Add the chopped onions and let cook until translucent (approximately four to five minutes).
In a separate bowl, mix together the curry powder and two tablespoons of water. Stir until you have a smooth, thin paste. Once the onions are translucent, stir in the curry paste. Cook for one minute or so. Stir in the butter.
Add the chopped apples and salt to the pan, plus 1 ½ cups of water, or enough water to just almost cover the apples. Stir in the brown sugar.
Bring to a boil, reduce flame and simmer. Let cook, uncovered, on a low simmer for 30 minutes, until thickened and cooked through. Add more water if needed, a little at a time.
Don’t allow the contents to stick to the pan. You want the apples tender to the touch.