Thursday, 18 October 2012

Mexican food in Trinidad

Trinidad and Tobago is culturally diverse. The average Trinidadian does not stop to think of what country his food comes from. He simply eats. Mexican culture exists in our country from cornbread and corn pie to tortilla chips. Mexico has claimed the exclusive international right to the word "tequila". The truest tequila of all is said to come solely from the highlands of Jalisco. Who does not love tequila? When we buy Tacos from Massy Stores, or Burritos from Tru Valu or Xtra Foods,we take a part of Mexico with us. Below is a collage of some of the most popular Mexican foods found in Trinidad and Tobago.

From top left to right: Corn bread, Corn Pie, Tortilla chips. From bottom left to right: Tequila, Tacos, Churros


When we visit restaurants like TGI Friday's, Bootleggers, and other popular restaurants in Trinidad and Tobago, Quesadillas is a must on the menu. Quesadillas, along with the flour or corn tortilla wraps used to make them, are Mexican.

What is a corn tortilla?
In Mexico, a tortilla is a type of thin, unleavened flat bread, made from finely ground corn . In Mexico, there are three colors of corn dough for making tortillas: white corn, yellow corn and blue corn.

 Th tortilla  got its name by the Spanish due to its resemblance to the traditional Spanish round, unleavened cakes and omelettes (originally made without potatoes, which are native to South America). The white and yellow corn tortillas are the most common tortilla wraps sold worldwide. To the right is a picture of the most popular brand, Poco Loco, of Tortilla wraps in HiLo Food Stores in Trinidad.

Here's a quesadilla recipe you can make using these Tortilla wraps.

Chicken Quesadillas
  • 1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese (about 2 ounces)
  • 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese (about 2 ounces)
  • 4 (10-inch) flour tortillas
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded, cooked chicken (about 8 ounces)
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh shadon beni
  • Guacamole, for serving (optional)
  • Salsa, for serving (optional)
  • Sour cream, for serving (optional)                         
  1. Combine the cheeses in a medium bowl.
  2. Heat a large frying pan over medium heat until hot, about 3 minutes. Place a tortilla in the pan and sprinkle with half of the chicken, half of the shadon beni, and and half of the cheese mixture. Top with a second tortilla and cook until the underside of the bottom tortilla is golden brown in several spots and half of the cheese is melted, about 3 minutes. Using a spatula, carefully flip the quesadilla over and cook until the underside of the second tortilla is crisp and golden brown in several spots and all of the cheese is melted, about 2 to 3 minutes more.
  3. Slide the quesadilla from the pan onto a cutting board and cut into wedges. Repeat with the remaining ingredients to make a second quesadilla. Serve topped with guacamole, salsa, and sour cream, if desired.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Popular brands of corn flour used in Latin Cooking

Harina PAN

Harina PAN is an essential ingredient when making the dough for dishes such as Arepas, Hallacas, and bollos. The most popular brand name of corn flour in Venezuela is Harina PAN. Premade arepa flour is usually made from white corn but there are yellow corn varieties available. Harina PAN is also used for people on restricted diets as it is gluten-free and contains no additives. Harina PAN is not the popular brand of cornmeal in Trinidad but it should be your preferred choice if you would like to start making arepas.
Harina PAN can be found in major Massy Stores across the country and in Sperstore in Malabar, Arima. You usually have to ask for it or look hard for it as it usually is not put on the same shelf with all the other no-name cornmeal brands. HiLo usually keeps HARINA PAN and Promasa close to each other in the store. If you shop in the East, you can check the St. Augustine, Broadway or the Ridgewood stores. If you do not shop in those stores, here is the number of the supplier 645-7214: MultiFood Processors. You can give them a call and they will direct you which store closest to you you can visit. Below is a picture of Harina PAN white cornmeal and yellow cornmeal flour.


Promasa is an essential ingredient in Trinidad mainly around Christmas time when Pastelle/Hallaca-making is taking place. It is also the corn flour of choice used when making empanadas. You can use Promasa when making dumplings, coo-coo, corn pie or corn tamales. Promasa pre-cooked yellow cornmeal flour is popular in Colombia and also popular in our local supermarkets in Trinidad and Tobago.

Corn flour, unlike regular white flour, is very filling. One cup of corn flour can feed three persons an Arepa that is not only tasty but satisfying, especially if the arepa has a filling in it.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Empanadas in South Trinidad

Empanadas are fast becoming a  popular food in Trinidad, especially in South Trindiad. At Cross Crossing in the night, empanadas can be bought at Señor Seeche. In Marabella, there is also a restaurant a few buildings before Eat It, that sells some of the tastiest empanadas. Empanadascan be bought at Tamryn's on Mucurpo Road, Port of Spain or at Antojostt at the San Antonio Green market in Santa Cruz. They are also usually sold at Indian Expos in the dome, opposite the Centre of Excellence in Macoya.

Empanadas are like Venezuelan hot pockets or calzones.   They are usually served as appetizers.  Empanada fillings are as varied as Arepa fillings and we use some of the same fillings that we use in Arepas as well.   The most common empanadas are ground beef, shredded chicken, shredded fish.  Then there are the less common empanada fillings in Trinidad (black beans and cheese, and fried plantain and cheese), or combination ones like cheese and beef, or even ham and cheese. 

What You’ll Need:
- 1 Cup Harina PAN or Promasa  pre-cooked cornmeal
- 1 ¼ Cup Water
- ½ Teaspoon Salt
- 1/3 Teaspoon Sugar
- Vegetable Oil (enough to fry all the empanadas)
- Your already seasoned and cooked Empanada Fillings (beef, chicken, pork, etc.)
- Clear Plastic Wrap (Cling Wrap)
- Bowls
1. Just like the Arepas: Add the Harina PAN or Promasa into a mixing bowl, then add the salt and the sugar to the water and stir it.   Now little by little add the water and knead and mix the dough using your hands.  You must knead the dough until the mix is soft, firm and has a uniform consistency without any grains.  
2. Once the dough is ready, make a big ball out of it, and then split into 4 equal parts.
3. Set up your cooking space as shown in the picture below in order to have:
a) Your Dough
b) Your Fillings (I have beef and shredded Queso Blanco cheese here)
c) A bowl with warm water with a little bit of oil in it.
d) A bowl to shape your empanadas with
e) A large enough piece of Cling Wrap

Set Up Your Cooking Space
4. Grab one of your four sections of dough and form a ball.
5. Begin to flatten the ball into a disk shape using the entire length of your hands, also use the water with oil to moisten your hands so that the dough doesn’t stick to them.
6. Flatten the ball until it is less than 0.25” thick.

7. Place about two to three tablespoons of your filling right below the center of the circle.
8. With both hands grab the top of the Cling Wrap and carefully fold the circle in two, so that you have a semicircle.
9. Press the Cling Wrap with your fingers over the top dough towards the bottom dough, in order to close the empanada.

10. Now use the extra empty bowl as shown to cut the excess dough and make the famous empanada moon-shape.
Use Empty Bowl

11. Open the Cling Wrap and remove the excess dough, which you can add to the remaining dough to make the rest of the empanadas.
Empanada Shape
Empanada Shape
Open Cling Wrap
Open Cling Wrap
Remove Excess Dough
Remove Excess Dough
Empanada Shape Done
The Perfect Empanada Shape
12. Carefully remove the empanada from the Cling Wrap, so you can make the rest of them.
Carefully Remove from Cling Wrap
Carefully Remove from Cling Wrap
Set Aside13. You can begin to fry them or you can grease a baking tray and bake them at 375 degrees for 20 minutes immediately.
16. Once they are golden, take them out and lay them on paper towels to remove the excess oil (if they were fried).
17. Serve and enjoy.   Be careful, they are hot!
Venezuelan Empanadas

Churros in Trinidad

Gigio's Churros on Mucurapo Road, Port-of-Spain is the place to be if you are interested in trying churros. What are churros? Churros are sometimes referred to as a Spanish doughnut, are  fried-dough pastries—predominantly choux—based snacks. Churros are popular in Spain, and  Latin America (including Spanish-speaking Caribbean islands) and the United States. There are two types of churros in Spain, one which is thin (and sometimes knotted) and the other which is long and thick (porra). They are both normally eaten for breakfast dipped in hot chocolate or café con leche. However, most people who go to Gigio's have churros as a snack.



Trinidad Pastelles (Venezuelan Hallacas)

In Latin American cuisine, an Hallaca (alt. spelling, "hayaca") typically involves a mixture of beef, pork, chicken, raisins, capers and olives wrapped in a dough made from yellow pre-cooked yellow cornmeal, folded with fig leaves, tied with strings, boiled or steamed afterwards. Harina PAN yellow pre-cooked cornmeal or Promasa yellow pre-cooked cornmeal are the most popular brands of cornmeal flour used in making  Hallacas. In, Trinidad and Tobago, because of our multiculturalism, and because of our respect for the Muslim, Seventh-day Adventist, and Hindu religions, we do not mix the beef, pork, and chicken together because Hindus do not eat beef and Muslims and Seventh-day Adventists do not eat pork. In Trinidad, the most popular Hallacas are Beef, Chicken and Soya, and  Fish is becoming quite popular nowadays. I enjoy making hallacas with lamb filling. Hallacas are traditionally made during the Christmas season. 

Pastelle-making in Trinidad is usually done by families around Christmas time and is a wonderful bonding experience. No two families Hallacas (Pastelles) taste the same. Below are some videos showing you how to make Hallacas.



Arepa is the national dish of both Venezuela and Colombia and is prominent in Latin American cuisine. In some countries it is even referred to as a tamale. The dough mainly consists of white pre-cooked  cornmeal flour. The popular cornmeal brand of choice is called Harina PAN and it is sold in Massy Stores, Ridgewood, Arima, Trinidad and Tobago.

Arepas can be bought at Tamryn's on Mucurpo Road, Port of Spain or at Antojostt at the San Antonio Green market in Santa Cruz. They are also usually sold at Indian Expos in the dome, opposite the Centre of Excellence in Macoya.

In Latin America, arepas are made for breakfast and are even sold on the streets by vendors. There are cafes in Venezuela called Areperas, where people can go and have arepas. Arepas can be filled, after they are cooked, with meat, cheese, scrambled eggs, chicken salad, tuna salad, fried plantain an cheese, and black beans and cheese. Below is a picture of an arepa stuffed with stew shredded beef and Queso Blanco (White cheese).

Arepa Recipe
1 cup pre-cooked white cornmeal
1 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. sugar
1 tbsp. margarine or butter
1 1/4 cup warm water


Put the flour, sugar an salt in a bowl; add water little by little while mixing with your hand.
When the dough is at a certain consistency, add the margarine and mix well, the dough should be smooth, firm but not dry and hard.
Form dough into three or six balls(depending on how big you want your arepas to be) of equal size.
Shape and flatten with the palm of your hands into round cakes; arepas should be 1/2 inch thick.Shape edges to smooth.
Pre-heat oven to 350°.
Heat a baking stone/griddle or frying pan on medium heat and coat with corn oil.
Cook for 2 minutes on each side until arepas begin to brown and form a crust.
Transfer arepas to baking sheet coated with corn oil.
Bake at  350° or until arepas sound hollow when lightly tapped.
Cut arepas open and fill with meat, eggs or cheese. Ketchup is a no-no; pepper sauce however compliments it well.

Arepas are usually served for breakfast with a hot cup of coffee or chocolate.