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West Indian food provisions are food staples in the Caribbean

 provisions / A Food Tradition, Super Food or Both    

It is definitely the Trelawny Yam” Bolt senior told Reuters seconds after his son Usain Bolt smashed the world record landing one of the biggest gold medal in sports history.  Trelawny is a parish in Jamaica famous for its special yams (some weighing 450 pounds) which are a major export crop.  Citizen of this

area believe that its yam has medicinal properties. Certain yams (Brazilian Wild Yam & Trelawny Yam) contain steroidal sapogenins, a compound nearly identical to human testosterone—so Bolt senior could be right in saying “it is definitely the Trelawny Yam.”  Yams are a part of the food group people of the Caribbean (namely the English speaking islands) call provisions.   Webster’s definition of provisions is “a stock of necessary supplies especially food.” Necessary, essential, vital, indispensable, yes for West Indians there is no substituting these meal accompaniments.  In the Caribbean provisions are certain agricultural  whole-foods that accompany a main dish or protein.  And the most popular is…you guessed…Sweet Plantains.  (Link to article /

Sweet Plantains, tostones, and Jacob with coconuts

glossary).  Plantains can be eaten unripe, ripe, over ripe. You can boil, fry or mash it. (But that’s another article).  
 

There are more provisions than five can count on their hands. From yams (over 30 varieties), Caribbean sweet potatoes, plantains, bananas, local calabash pumpkin, yuca (cassava or manioc), green papaya, christophene (chayote), breadfruit, avocado, malanga,  okra, peas,  and countless other roots and tubers.  Newer style sides that share the fame on a West Indian dinner plate include macaroni and cheese (an American influence), bakes or journey cakes; although these are the newer staples, they’re not considered traditional West Indian provisions.  Real authentic provisions roots extend back to the dark days of slavery.  Old school provisions are referred to as “super foods” because of their high concentration  of   essential   nutrients.   Certain

roots, okra, christophene, roti?...

provisions are like human jet-fuel, comprising high concentrations of complex carbohydrates that are slowly released over time; vitamins (A, Bs, C, D), several vital minerals (zinc, folic acid, copper, calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphors), dietary fiber and antioxidant components for a good health.  Provisions are what help to sustain the slaves under the hard brutal work conditions.  During the plantation days slaves were required to grow their own food with the little in between time they had. Crops such as yams, bananas, plantains, cassava, pigeon peas, and other roots and tubers were easy to grow because they are low maintenance, disease and drought tolerant. However, they required time and skill to cook. Hence popular one-pot dishes like Sancocho, Calalou (read about calalou soup), and Pepper Pot Soup which can literally simmer low for days.  Even today,  in the Caribbean   a   typical   meal   consists  of  two  or  more  provisions   (Caribbean  sweet  potato,  green

 bananas, semi-ripe plantains, green papaya) simmered together and served along side a fish or meat main.  You can add more flavors to the simmering pot, like coconut milk, chopped scallions, garlic, butter, fresh chopped chilies and salt.  The provisions are cooked when you can easily pierce them with a fork.  The foods cook at different times, take each out when cooked.  Careful very hot!  Peel, add a little salt, black pepper to taste and eat along side of saltfish stew, smoked fish grundy, or Island-style fried fish.  Heat it up with your favorite hot sauce. Don’t throw out the pot water.  Drink it! It’s tasty and loaded with nutritious from the provisions. Common wisdom says the pot water contains a great deal of vitality.

Over time, certain meal accompaniments still remain essential to tradition.  We celebrate our “Roots” at Sweet Plantains with the “Traditional Sides Platter,” a perfect complement to your meal.  Also, come in the day before St. John annual 8 Tuff Miles race for a plate of provision—guaranteed to give you an edge.

A plate of mixed steamed provisions with satlfish and vegs.

 how sweet it issweet plantains our namesake   

Sweet plantains are a part of the 'supper foods' referred to as “provisions” in the West Indies.  It is the common denominator that is deliciously divisible throughout the cuisines of the Caribbean. Plantain is the thread shared amongst almost every Caribbean Island nation.  It served as inspiration for my restaurant and  many  classic  and  creative  dishes  we  serve.    Now   it   is  the  reason  I’m   writing  this  piece.

Not only “just” a cousin to the banana, but a right of passage to every Islander.  It is a versatile fruit that eats like a vegetable.  Plantains can be prepared fried, mashed, boiled, stewed, poached, grilled or baked.  Here at Sweet Plantains were always pushing the envelope to create new classics.  For example, one season we served a killer sweet plantains marmalade glaze with our jerked pork tenderloin that customer still “demand” (and some don’t come back in protest to us not serving it this season);  So sorry, we’ll bring it back. Another season we served a caramelized sweet plantains dessert to rival the New Orleans classic   Bananas  

Plantains -- green, ripe & over ripe...

Foresters.   Today   our   new Duck   A L’ Sweet Plantains and caramelized sweet plantains custard has a strong fan base.  We fry green plantains   and   serve  them  as   “toast points”   for our   spicy  crab    spread    and   our    grundy    fish   pâté.    We   serve   it   as   an   accompaniment   to   certain    dishes

 to harmonize our bold flavors.  For example, it’s a sweet buffer between the complex, spicy flavors of our hand-blended curry entrees. On Latin Nights its called tostones; perfectly twice fried and served with fresh Seviche del dia. Plantains are grown in the hot tropics—Africa, Caribbean, Japan and Florida. We grow them in our kitchen garden on St. John.  It’s  banana’s bigger brother; A large tropical fruit of south Asia and Africa. It’s far healthier and more versatile than the banana.  You pick them when they are still green to ripen. Plantains develop different flavors and textures depending on their stage of ripeness. They can be eaten at any of their three stages--unripe, ripe and over ripe; but you can’t eat it raw… it must be cooked.   When ripe, the skin turns deep golden yellow with brown and black spots; the ripper, the more aromatic and sweeter.  Plantains mature in about 15 months (like bananas), producing one 50 to 100 pound bunch of plantains apiece.  Each bunch includes several “hands” of a dozen or so plantains called “fingers.” Plantains are indigenous  to  Asia  and  Africa,  with hundreds of  different plantain species.   

Traditional sides platter with tostones, sweet plantains, yuca fries and garlic cilantro mojo dipping sauce.


A part form being delicious….its nutritious and considered one of the world’s healthiest foods.    Did you know…Sweet Plantain is rich in vitamins (A, B6, C), vital minerals (folic, potassium, phosphate, copper, magnesium  and calcium), protein and a great source of dietary fiber?     They  a
lso  contains  three  natural

 sugars—sucrose, fructose and glucose—combined with the aforementioned, sweet plantains can give you an instant boost of sustainable energy. (Load-up on Sweet Plantain prior to running the St. John Annual 8 Tuff Miles Marathon.).  So come in and eat up!    

Some islands refer to plantains as cooking bananas as in you must first cook before it can be enjoyed. (So true.)  Most English speaking Islands call them green, ripe or yellow plantains respectably.  Fired sweet plantains in some  Latin American Islands / countries are commonly referred to as plantain

Smashed fried green plantains -- tostones.
maduro; or fried with butter, cinnamon and a little dark rum for plantains in passion sauce—try it, you’ll agree the name is accurate.   Regardless of where you hail from it is the Caribbean most versatile and widely used food.  It is our version of the potato but with more flavors.  Use it as a side dish, appetizer, in a main entrée, or have it for dessert.
 

Like most food sources in the Caribbean every thing is used and nothing goes to waste. Every part of the plantain is used:   We eat it at almost any stage, unripe, in between, ripe and over ripe and every part of the plantain is used. 

  • Unripe plantain—can be boiled and mashed with a little butter like potatoes; or slice and fry them up for plantain chips, twiced fried to make tostones. Grated green plantains make are nice for incrusting pan fried fish.

  • In between stage—Steam and eat with poached fish.

  • Sweet ripe plantains—Fry, or boil and mash.

Plantain blossom, Jacob with freshly picked plantains, inner heart from our plantain shoot...
  • Over ripe—the sugars are concentrated and fruity tasting; great for caramelizing or as the key ingredient in a  fritter or pancake.

  • Plantain Leaves. Plantain and banana leaves are used interchangeably. The leaves are used to wrap around poach, steamed or boiled foods.  My mother says that the fresh plantain or banana leaves are an essential ingredient in the Jamaican delicacy call Blue Drawz made with a massa of blue cornmeal, freshly made coconut milk, nutmeg and allspice.

The leaves are used in Latin America as a wrapping to tamales and Puerto Rican pasteles.   The Plantain and banana  leaf can also be used as a plate for eating off of. Cooking with plantain and banana leaves is an age old technique, still in use in Asia, Africa and here in the Caribbean.  The leaf imparts a distinct woodsy-herbal fragrant to food, as it also helps in keeping it moist and juicy.   You must “quail” the leaf over an open flame or quickly poach in boiling water to make it pliable.   

Hearts of plantain shoot. The young inner shoot can  be  steamed,   grilled  or  sautéed   just  like

Steamed sweet plantains...

heats of  palm.   

The Blossom--Plantain & Bananas .   Deep burgundy, with a bitter-nice taste similar to endives; They make a nice colorful addition to a tossed salad. (You must chop them up and steam the first.)  Boiled and  strained  this sensual blossom is used as a fortifying tonic, for women who recently gave birth.  
 

 A few plantains alias: 
 
  • Maduro—sweet fried plantains in Latin America;
     
  • Tostones—Latin for the twice fried green plantains;
     
  • Banane—Fried Sweet Plantains in Haiti and other French Caribbean;
     
  • Mafungo—mahsed  fried green plantains in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic;
     
  • Tajadas in Panama and Venezuela;

We love when restaurants and caters on St. John use Sweet Plantains (green or ripe) because it serves as free publicity.  New customers often tell us that our “name some how came up while ordering / eating / or speaking to someone about plantains.”  Come in and taste the different flavors of the Plantain

Organic plantains for our Restaurant's Garden

 yam up your yams

The word yam in many African languages means to taste or sample; in Portuguese and Spanish  it translates to the same meaning—to sample; and in Caribbean yam in Creole means to eat, as in yam up!  This might be evidence that mankind did at one time share a single language.   According to my research, there is archaeological evidence that yams was farmed over 8,000 year; first in Africa, then  Asia and the yam made its way around the World during the slave trade.  The yam was introduced to Europe in the 1800s to supplement   the  diminishing   potato   crop   which   was being devastated by disease.  

Yam is an underground tuber like potato, but much bigger, richer and more flavorful.  Yam is a tropical vine tuber with a bark-like exterior;  the inside “meat” ranges in color form every shade of white to yellow and pink.  This highly prized edible fibrous  root vary in taste from sweet, sour, bitter, to bland. Texture varies as well—creamy, grainy, fibrous, and chewy.    Yams are any number of mainly the perennial tropical vines belonging to the botanical named Dioscorea family.   There are over  200  varieties  of  this  edible  root vegetable;  

This highly prized  edible root’s rough skin makes it difficult to peel when raw; so you cook it skin on

Yams at the West Indian market shop

via boiling.  The skin soften when cooked making it easy to peal.  When cook, the meat is soft like a boiled potato;  Chinese yam is one of the more flavorful yams; its creamy, silky, when steam / boiled; just drizzle with oil (coconut oil / olive oil / pat with butter), garnish with chopped scallions and enjoy.  It takes about six months for the crop to mature in to an edible tuber. 

Yams are one of the world’s most popular foods. It is a major food staple in Asia, Africa and in some parts of the Caribbean.  In the Caribbean yams are a part of the food group called provisions. (Read more about provisions at top of this page).  Although it is a plentiful and important agricultural commodity, yams are little known to Americans.  
 

In the USA sweet potatoes are often called yams;  however, they are of a different species; They may be roughly similar in appearance, and some yams are sweet like the American sweet potato.  My guess is that the confusion began when the African slaves confused the American sweet potato with the African yam. The African yams can be as small as a potato or over 10 feet long and weighing a much as 450 pounds.

Yams can be served boiled, steamed, fried or mashed as in a fufu. In the Philippines a purple yam  is  used  to  make  two traditional desserts—

My mother inspecting yams..

halaya and halo halo;  In Japan it is eaten raw, when first treated with vinegar to remove toxin, it is  grated and eaten as you would starch rice along side.  The tubers can be stored without refrigeration for up to six months, a great food source during a severe drought or raining seasons.  Yam is said to be one of the world’s healthiest food.  It is very nutritional—containing, vitamins  B6,  C,  vitamin E;  potassium, magnesium,

and dietary fibers; an  a chemical (discaretine) which lowers blood sugar levels and promotes a healthy kidney; rich in good carbs, protein and phosphorous.  Cultivated around the tropical world mainly for food, however, more medicinal uses have been discovered; the Mexican wild yams are cultivated for natural progesterone (a steroid hormone)  in a topical cream to treat women with low progesterone levels.  Certain yams contain a chemical that can suppress ovulation in humans and are cultivated for making a female contraceptive pill.  The yams amazing anti-aging properties are just being discovered.  

Peggy's yummy  pegion peas soup with provisions and yam...


After winning three  gold medals and setting three new world records,  Usain Bolt’s father was asked what contributed to his son’s success on the track. “It’s definitely the Trelawney yam” said Bold.  He might be right so YAM UP! 

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© by Prince Adams


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