Haiti is a gourmet’s paradise. Environmentally-friendly farming, non-intensive breeding and wild resources from the land and the sea provide the basic high-quality ingredients of the Haitian cuisine. The main cereal is maize, which is naturally grown using old varieties and traditional techniques.
For flour production, the African background is enhanced with the cultivation of root crops such as cassava, yams and sweet potatoes. Legumes, particularly red peas, peanuts, congo peas and okra are grown in family vegetable patches and taken to the market every day.
Mango, papaya, corossol, passion fruit, banana, lime, and oranges sures are the main fruits, and both arbre à pain (breadfruit) and arbre veritable (Lam veritable in Creole) are ever present.
Cattle, goats, rabbits, chickens, ducks and guinea fowl are raised free range and fed exclusively on natural foods.
The quality of the food is not only the result of superb raw materials, but it also owes its success to the way it is cooked in wood-fired ovens and grilled.
Simple Haitian recipes
ARBRE À PAIN or “Labapin”
Place the breadfruits in a saucepan with cold water. Cover and cook at medium heat. As the water level drops, add hot water without completely removing the lid and let them cook. When the water level drops again, add hot water as needed until holes begin to appear on the “labapins”. Then, add salt and continue cooking to taste.
Peel the “labapins” and serve hot. When ready, “labapins” have the appearance and flavour of chestnuts.
BANANES MÛRES FARCIES (STUFFED RIPE BANANAS)
Prepare the stuffing using ham, leftover bits of cooked meat and poultry. Stir-fry the mixture in butter and add spice to taste. Take some ripe bananas, cut into long slices and roll them into the shape of a cylinder closing them with a toothpick. Then fill them with the mixture. Place the bananas in a baking dish and bake in the oven. Serve with watercress.
Take one potato, one green banana, one “mirliton” (chayote – a pear-shaped vegetable), a handful of watercress, some mirliton buds, one large onion, 2 pears, one turnip, one carrot, one small lettuce, a handful of spinach, a few leaves of sorrel tied together with string, one piece of yam and one “Eddoe” (a tropical vegetable closely related to taro). Peel all the vegetables and cut them into quarters. Put them in a big pot with lots of water. Add a pinch of pepper, a dash of salt, pork or beef and cook over low constant heat, covering it with banana leaves. After one hour, mix with a spoon to dissolve the chunkiest parts and to thicken the stock. Savour this broth with some lemon juice after an aperitif with “Clairin”.
Broth for Christmas Eve. Buy a large rooster. Wrap the rooster with slices of lard and ham and season it well. Then, baste all over with oil and butter (one tablespoon of butter for two tablespoons of olive oil). Add 4 carrots, 2 turnips, 6 large peppers and 4 large potatoes, a piece of beef or pork, a big onion, 2 or 3 small whole cabbages. Sauté the vegetables until brown on the bottom and edges of the pan but avoid burning them and use only the fat from cooking.
Place the rooster and vegetables into a large deep pan and pour in the desired quantity of hot water. Stew gently, bringing the broth to boil, and cover the pan, so as to soften the meat. If too much water evaporates, gradually add some more. Finally, remove the broth from the heat and season it to taste with chopped parsley; add a spicy scent with a large whole green chilli pepper. Serve the soup in a bowl. Divide the rooster into pieces and serve with the vegetables on a separate plate.
MAIS MOULU – Basic recipe
Dilute one cup of corn meal in 3/4 cups of water, depending on whether you prefer it soft or al dente. Let it stand for a few seconds. Then, using a colander, pour the same water you used for soaking the corn meal into a pot. Bring the water to boil adding parsley, garlic, salt, a pinch of crushed red chilli pepper, and a tablespoon of oil. As soon as it starts boiling, add the corn and mix well until smooth. Simmer the mixture for 20 to 30 minutes over low heat. It is important to remember to stir occasionally as to prevent the corn from sticking to the bottom of the pot. After cooking, add butter and serve hot on a serving dish.
MAIS MOULU – with salt cod
Slightly desalt the codfish. Then, add garlic, parsley and a pinch of freshly ground red chilli pepper, 1 to 2 tablespoons of water and oil. Cook over low heat in a pan and cover with a lid. Simmer gently until the cod begins to sizzle. Finally, add a teaspoon of tomato sauce diluted with a little water (optional). From this stage, proceed following the basic recipe for corn moulu.
Made with grated cassava tubers
Add 1/2 cup of water to the grated cassava and mould to form small balls. Leave to stand and then grate them again, sieving the grated cassava through a medium sieve.
Place small metal moulds on a baking tray and fill them with the mixture. You can press the mixture into the moulds with a spoon to flatten it. Finally, cook for about one minute so that they take the shape of the moulds. Once ready, cook them until golden-brown on both sides.
RAGOUT DE CABRI
Buy some goat stew meat, boil and marinate it. Melt some butter and oil and brown the meat on both sides. Add onions, carrots and turnips cut into wedges. When golden-brown, add a teaspoon of tomato paste and a sprinkle of flour. Stir with some stock and leave it to simmer. Finally, add potatoes cut into wedges or fresh “white peas”, taste, and serve.
The Boudin is pig intestines filled with blood and fat. To prepare it, prick the skin of the boudin (intestine) with a needle in several points. Divide it into pieces about 1cm thick keeping it slightly tilted but making sure it does not detach. Then, grill it at low heat remembering to turn it over frequently and serve hot accompanied with mustard and pickles.
Lightly brush the finely sliced liver with oil. Grill for 5-6 minutes on both sides and add salt and pepper. Serve accompanied with lemon, butter and water cress.
BRANDADE DE MORUE
Desalt 250 grams of salt cod, cut it into pieces and boil.
Drain the codfish, patiently remove all the fish bones and the skin and let it stand. Before cooking the salt cod, prepare three ounces of milk, ¼ litres of oil and boil ½ pound of potatoes.
Put the pieces of cooked codfish in a bowl, add some oil, and mix it with a wooden spoon until the cod is crushed. Keep stirring adding milk or oil.
When the brandade achieves a smooth appearance, season it with a clove of peeled garlic. Then, mash the potatoes and add them to the codfish. Keep stirring until it reaches the consistency of cream cheese. Once ready, add salt and pepper to taste. Serve accompanied by slices of bread fried in butter, and green olives.
BEUF EN RAGOUT
Buy a tenderloin fillet or a veal fillet; trim the hard membrane around it and cut it into pieces. Spice it with a hint of chilli pepper, garlic and salt crushed together, onion rings, a splash of vinegar, lemon juice, and oil. Sear it in a pan covered with a lid occasionally rolling it until golden-brown. Add 4 carrots, 1 turnip, 2 potatoes, 2 “Eddoes”, and 2 green bananas and sprinkle some flour over it. If you want a softer consistency, add two glasses of water. Let it cook gently for a quarter of an hour. Then add the “cryques” (potato pancakes) and continue the cooking. Finally, add some small “dumbreils” to spice and tomatoes to give colour. The sauce should be neither too thin nor too thick.
NB: you can also cook the meat over high heat until it is golden-brown, sprinkle with a little flour and then soften it with boiling water.
CASSOULET A L’HAITIENNE
It can be prepared with roast mutton, pork or duck fillets.
Cassoulets require slow cooking over low heat and their preparation requires several steps. Put 3 cups of white beans into a large amount of cold salted water. Cover, and cook for at least 2 hours. Then, add a large piece of fresh pork rind, a chopped carrot, a pinch of basil, and half an onion with 2 or 3 cloves.
Marinate your chosen meat (pork or beef) and brown with oil or butter, without adding the onion. Add 2 cloves of peeled garlic, a sliced onion and a tablespoon of tomato paste diluted in two cups of water or stock. Simmer over low heat until it is cooked.
To present the cassoulet, peel the baked beans and chop them up, put them in a container previously rubbed with garlic. Alternate layers of beans, with meat cut into small pieces, sausage and slices of bacon.
Try and spice to taste. Sprinkle it with breadcrumbs and cook over low heat for at least 3 hours.
A good cassoulet is soft and creamy inside, while crispy on the surface. It is a family dish traditionally accompanied with white rice or baked bananas.
Buy some conches at the fish market. Remember to ask the fishmonger to clean them for you and once at home rinse them thoroughly. Wrap them with papaya leaves to soften them, or grind them in a mortar with a pestle, and rinse again. Put them on a dish with garlic, parsley, a little pepper, and a teaspoon of orange juice. Place over medium heat in a covered pot, adding oil and a little water. Let them cook gently without removing the lid until soft enough. Then, sizzle until golden adding onion rings and one teaspoon of tomato paste. Salt and spice it to taste, and serve it hot adding the sauce. Enjoy with a mirtillon or aubergine salad.
The Haitian coffee is the best in the world and the Haitians have a reputation for being big consumers and for knowing how to make the best coffee.
They drink it at any time of the day as it is part of everyday and family lives. Taken after a meal, it helps the digestion and stimulates the appetite, giving the body a feeling of well-being.
Coffee is drunk during family meals and can be served in the living room when there are guests.
Once served, coffee can accompany a good cigarette and an after dinner drink.
GOLDEN RULES TO “ROAST” AND “COLOUR” COFFEE
To roast the coffee beans, warm a pan over heat pouring a few coffee beans at the time. This is to ensure that the beans have as much contact as possible with the bottom of the pan in order to be toasted well. Make circular movements to stir the beans for the entire duration for the roasting process. As soon as the beans become black, but not too black, they are ready. Ideally, they should be brown inside and open like the shell of a pistachio under the pressure of a thumb and forefinger, without crumbling into pieces.
Lower the heat and continue stirring to cool. Put the roasted coffee beans into an airtight container and store in a dry place.
NB: to obtain 450 grams of coffee you need: 2 x 1/2 cups. After toasting, these two initial half cups will produce four half cups.
CAFE’ FORT AND ESSENCE DE CAFE
Café fort requires less time to prepare than essence de café. Just one tablespoon of ground coffee will give you a good cup of café fort.
Put a spoonful of coffee in the filter and press the powder with the spoon. Pour over 2 ounces of boiling water, cover and leave it to infuse with the coffee for 1 or 2 minutes. Continue to pour boiling water over the coffee until you get the desired amount of café fort. After this first stage of filtering, you can start a second by pouring more boiling water with respect to the first phase to obtain a more diluted coffee. You can also filter the coffee a third time to get a clearer coffee, suitable for children or it can be diluted to make weaker brew. Serve hot with sugar. Remember to warm up the coffee in a bain-marie.
ESSENCE DE CAFE’
There are two possible ways to prepare the essence: the ‘town’ and the ‘peasant’ ways.
To prepare the town way, fill the filter with 3/4 of coffee powder and plug the coffee spout with paper, pouring in small amounts of boiling water every two minutes so that the powder can perfuse.
Continue this procedure until you obtain the desired quantity of coffee, then pour it into an airtight container.
To make coffee the peasant’s way, pour 450 grams of ground coffee into 3/4 litres of boiling water. Then, cover the pot, remove it from the heat, and leave it in infusion for about thirty minutes. Lastly, strain the mixture through a sieve and decant into a container.
The coffee essence is used in confectioneries, for creams and for breakfast (two or three tablespoons in a cup of milk).
MABI (apparently derived from my beer)
Mabi is a Haitian tree and its bark is used to prepare a popular beverage.
Get a small box of Mabi bark. It is always made in the afternoon due to its fermentation.
Boil two or three pieces of Mabi adding cinnamon, ginger and star anise. Let it cool. Sweeten with brown sugar. Filter. Stir with a long-handled spoon to revive the sediment. Bottle the liquid to the brim.
NB: Keep some of the first preparation for future use. You can also infuse the bark in boiling water overnight and then spice and sweeten it once it has cooled.
If you are in a hurry, you can buy a bottle of Mabi at the market to use for fermentation.
In addition to Clairin, the region produces another speciality from sugar cane: rapadou. The cane juice concentrated in a large parabola-shaped muffler, for a longer time than the syrup de batterie. When the sugar begins to crystallise, it is poured onto one-metre long palm leaves while still moist to preserve. The taste is amazing. As soon as you taste it, you are reminded of marron glacé, and then it develops a liquorice and balsamic aftertaste that is completely unexpected. Rich in vitamins and minerals, it gives sugar dignity, and it is obvious why it was so sought after and rich in value in the past. Evidently, all its taste comes from the absolute naturalness of sugar cane and it is a real delicacy.