There are only five days to go, folks! If you haven't started your Christmas dinner preparations, you'd better get cracking. See the 'Food' sections of November 22nd and 29th, December 6th and 13th on our website www.jamaicaobserver.com, and solicit help from other family members, so you can be up to speed. Once that's done, it's time to head to the market for your fresh produce.
There are markets all over the island, but the two that we made it to last week were Coronation Market in Kingston, and May Pen Market in Clarendon, both of which have an abundance of supplies needed to make your Christmas meal marvellous.
Side dishes at Christmastime are equally as important as the main meats, and often guests offer to bring something along. If that happens, gracefully accept. If they ask what they can bring, do not be shy in suggesting a dish that will complement what you are already preparing, or what others may be bringing along. Whether you are the guest in question, or the hostess with the 'mostest' who wants to do it all, here are some ideas for the vegetables and starches needed for your table.
A vegetable stir-fry — with onion, garlic, fresh ginger, escallion, thyme, cabbage, cho cho, green sweet peppers, broccoli, cauliflower and pak choy — is one of Lovelette Morgan's favourite things to cook. Morgan is a Maroon from St Elizabeth who has been coming into Kingston to sell her produce at Coronation Market for the last 25 years. "Thursday through to Saturday are the days I am here, and the best time for shoppers is in the morning, starting at about 6:30. We go until 7:30 at night, but most things sell out by then," she tells Thursday Life. She predicts that this Saturday will be particularly busy, perhaps more so than Christmas Eve, which is Grand Market day.
Roasted vegetables are ideal for large numbers, as you can pile in a plethora of courgettes (zucchini) and aubergines (eggplant), coat lightly in olive oil, and sprinkle some freshly grated nutmeg, salt, black pepper, thyme leaves and chopped Scotch bonnet over the top. Bake in the oven at 400ºF for about 20 minutes, stirring halfway through cooking, remove from oven and serve hot, or cool with large leaves of lettuce.
Another easy baked fare is creamed callaloo. Steam the callaloo and drain off the water. Gently fry finely chopped onion, garlic, scallion, thyme, Scotch bonnet and tomatoes, pour in a 'tups' of your favourite tipple (rum, whisky and brandy work best), then fry on high heat. Stir in the cooked callaloo, season to taste with salt and pepper, then pour in enough heavy cream to coat the mixture well. Check seasoning. Grease a baking dish with butter, then pour in the creamy callaloo, top with your favourite cheese (grated), and bake in the oven at 350ºF for about 20 minutes. Serve piping hot.
There's nothing quite like a simple medley of steamed carrots and string beans, tossed in a hot pan of melted butter, chopped parsley, salt and a smidgen of brown sugar. Why not finely dice up a little sweet pineapple and Scotch bonnet pepper, and toss in the mixture, too?
Last week Barbara Calo and Erica Cooper contributed a recipe each, from their repertoires — of an Irish potato salad and baked marshmallow sweet potatoes, respectively. Now is the time to shop for those ingredients, and all the fresh ones, including the coconut, may be found at Coronation and May Pen markets, and, most likely, others around Jamaica. While you're looking for the carbs for Christmas, don't leave out green bananas, which are simply delicious fried in oil and served with a dash of salt, and equally divine fried in butter with a coating of sugar and cinnamon. And don't forget 'yampee', which has to be one of the tastiest ground provisions known to us. Roast, split open, and serve with butter and salt. OMG!
Of course, what would Christmas be without fresh gungo peas in your rice? Glenda Whyte, from Manchester, who has been selling her ground provisions and vegetables in May Pen market since the eighties, tells us how she likes to eat them. "I cook soup with them at Christmas, and even all the time," she says. "I love gungo peas soup, with pig's tail, salt beef, yam, coco, dasheen, sweet potato, dumpling, scallion, thyme and breadfruit," she continues. Sounds scrummy, and it would be a good thing to have as a back-up just in case you get extra visitors at the last minute or happen to run out of all the other food. You can even have it as its own dish on the evening of Boxing Day. There's nothing quite like hot soup after a couple days of exhausting celebrations!
Merry Christmas to you all!