A West Indian-Inspired Gratitude Menu

by Emily on November 24, 2010 · 4 comments

in Food,Recipes

Food transports us to faraway places, but it also helps us put down roots.

Calabash & Apple Squash Soup with Greek Yogurt and Bacon

Calabash & Apple Squash Soup with Greek Yogurt and Bacon

I’ve been thinking a lot about the culture of generosity, and the part food and hospitality play in that culture. I have so many generous friends who are not only talented cooks and bartenders, but they also really enjoy having people in their homes and nurturing others using their talents. These are some of the friends I feel closest to. We really connect with each other and relax. The great food and cocktails help us let our guard down and feel more bonded to each other.

Good food equalizes people across races, cultures, gender and economic class.

You can get the motley-est crew together over a fine meal and just sit back and watch that common ground between them unfurl as they pass plates and serving spoons. I’ve seen it happen over and over again at my friends’ supper clubs – people who didn’t know each other two hours beforehand leave the dinner arm and arm or with a fist bump and a mutual Facebook friend request.

As we approach the Thanksgiving and December holidays, I wanted to share a meal I put together on Monday night for a few friends at my home.

I hope you have an opportunity to try out the addictive phulourie; the warm, decadent soup; the homey baked macaroni and the simple but sophisticated dessert. Happy Thanksgiving, from my food world to yours!

West Indian Inspired Gratitude Menu

We’ve spent nearly a year here on MOTB exploring what goes into West Indian food. Before we transition to another culture, I wanted to see if I could throw some things together to see if I’ve mastered some of the basic elements that define the meals of the West Indies. I had a couple of girlfriends from Trinidad over for dinner on Monday night, along with my roommate and another friend. Here’s what we ate.

Appetizer: Phulourie



Why: These are a traditional snack in the West Indies. My friend picked these up on the way over, and we enjoyed them with a sweet, spicy dip. They feature chickpeas, which show up in several West Indian foods including the doubles we snacked on in one of our first posts. I can’t take credit for cooking them, but I did include the recipe below.

First Course: Calabash Squash & Apple Soup with Greek Yogurt and Crumbled Bacon

Calabash Squash Soup, all ready for the eatin'

Calabash Squash Soup, all ready for the eatin'

Why: I intended to make butternut squash soup. But since it’s so close to Thanksgiving, my local grocer was out of butternut. Calabash (or Calabaza) squash was an even better fit given the theme of the dinner, as it’s also referred to as West Indian pumpkin. I saw it all over the markets in 2009 when I was first getting familiar with Crown Heights.

I had a feeling it was a little less dense than butternut squash, and a bit sweeter too. So, I used more potato and carrot than the original recipe calls for to keep the soup from being watery. When I told my Trini friends that night that the soup was made with Calabash, they shared stories with us about how kids in Trinidad would throw the small, hard squash at each other (ouch) when they were playing dodgeball.

Main Course: Macaroni Pie

Macaroni Pie, Mmmmmm

Macaroni Pie, Mmmmmm

Why: Every Sunday meal in Trinidad includes Macaroni Pie. You can’t mess it up. It’s a baked macaroni & cheese dish that’s both homey and comforting. You can add whatever you want to it, so this is a great meal to whip up when you have some meats, random cheeses, roasted vegetables or other produce to use up.

One thing to note is that, while you can make this with elbow macaroni, it is really yummy and easier to slice if you can find the pasta I mention in the recipe below. It’s a thick noodle closer to what we would call spaghetti, and the noodles have a hole in the center.

Dessert: Pumpkin Coconut Panna Cotta with Honey


Panna Cotta

Pumpkin Coconut Panna Cotta with Honey

Why: Because I love panna cotta, and because squashes and root vegetables are a hallmark of West Indian cuisine. Add the toasted coconut on top, and you’ve got yourself a culinary ticket to the islands, spoon in hand.



From: “Naparima Girls’ High School Cookbook: The Multi-Cultural Cuisine of Trinidad & Tobago & The Caribbean”
Serves 6-8 as an appetizer
2 c. ground split peas or channa (chick peas)
2 t minced garlic
1/2 t turmeric
4 t baking powder
2 c flour
1 t salt
1/2 t hot pepper, minced
1 c water (or more)
2 c oil for frying

Gluten-free version: Substitute your favorite flour mix for the wheat flour here.

1. In a large mixing bowl, combine everything except the water and oil.
2. Make a well in the center of the mixture and add 1 c. water to start. Beat mixture vigorously until batter become dropping consistency (able to drop off the back of the spoon). Add water little by little if necessary to achieve desired consistency.
3. Heat the oil to medium-high heat, and drop the dough by the teaspoon into the oil. Turn frequently to ensure even cooking. Deep-fry until golden brown.
4. Drain on paper towels and serve with chutney or a sweet/spicy dip.

Calabash Squash & Apple Soup with Greek Yogurt and Crumbled Bacon

Adapted From: Butternut Squash Apple Soup, courtesy of Gourmet Live.

Serves 8
6 slices bacon, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces (vegetarian alternatives below)
2 celery ribs, chopped
1 1/2 carrot, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1/4 tsp cinnamon
4 medium Yukon Gold potatoes
2 medium Granny Smith apples, chopped (reserve 1 apple half, and cover with lemon juice to prevent browning)
2.5 lbs (3 1/2 to 4 cups) calabash squash, (can substitute butternut or acorn squash) peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 cups reduced-sodium chicken stock or broth
2 to 2 1/2 cups water

  • Garnish: Greek yogurt (can substitute plain yogurt or sour cream)
  • Vegetarian variation: Substitute 3-4 tbsp of vegetable oil in place of the bacon fat for cooking, and top with crispy fried sage leaves in place of the crumbled bacon.
  • Special Equipment: 6 quart pot or stockpot and a blender or immersion blender

1. Be sure to have all vegetables chopped and measured, and other ingredients at the ready.
2. Cook bacon in a 6-qt heavy pot or stockpot over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until crisp, then transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain, reserving 2 tablespoons fat in pot. (You can add vegetable or other high-heat suitable oil if the bacon doesn’t yield enough fat.)
3. Cook celery, carrot, and onion in fat in pot over low heat, covered, stirring occasionally, until softened but not browned, 10 to 12 minutes. Add cinnamon and cook, uncovered, stirring to mix, 1 minute.
3. Stir squash, potato, chopped apple, stock, 2 cups water, 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper into onion mixture, then simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are very tender, 15 to 20 minutes.
5. Puree soup in 4 batches in a blender, or use your immersion blender to blend in the pot. Please note, when blending hot liquids in a blender, leave at least 2 inches of space between the top of the liquid and the lid of the blender. Remove the center of the blender lid and cover almost all the way (leaving a small space for steam to escape) with a clean, doubled dish towel.
6. Return soup to pot or a clean pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally. (Add additional 1/2 cup water to thin, if you like.)
7. While the soup is heating, cut enough of reserved apple half into thin matchsticks (about 1 1/2-inches long) to measure about 1/2 cup.
8. Serve soup topped with a generous dollop of Greek yogurt, a tablespoon of crumbled bacon and apple matchsticks.

Macaroni Pie

Adapted From: “Naparima Girls’ High School Cookbook: The Multi-Cultural Cuisine of Trinidad & Tobago & The Caribbean”

Serves 8

16 oz (1 box) bucatini or perciatelli
2 eggs
2 c grated cheese
1 1/2 c evaporated milk (you can use light evaporated milk, as well)
1 t salt
1/4 t pepper

  • Additions/Variations: You can also add 1-2 oz. goat cheese or cream cheese, some additional grated cheese or whatever cheese you have lying around. You can also add (as I did) fresh or canned diced tomatoes and mix in some chopped ham or pancetta.
  • Gluten-free version: Substitute your favorite brand of gluten-free thick spaghetti noodle in place of the bucatini. (MOTB recommends Trader Joe’s Organic Brown Rice Pastas if you have one nearby.)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Boil pasta, cooking to al dente (subtract 1-2 minutes from suggested cooking time on the box – taste for firmness about 6-8 minutes into cooking)
3. While pasta is cooking, beat eggs until fluffy in a bowl large enough to hold the pasta. Add the cheese(s), salt, pepper and whatever additions you would like to the beaten eggs.
4. When pasta is finished cooking, add to large bowl with cheese mixture and mix to combine.
5. Pour into a large greased baking dish or two ceramic pie plates and bake at 350 until firm (approximately 30 min.). Slice into portions and enjoy.

Pumpkin Coconut Panna Cottas
From: Alexis Touchet for Gourmet Live

Serves 8

  • Note: Total prep time for this recipe, including time for the desserts to chill and set is 6 1/4 hr. It only takes 15 minutes to prep these, though, so you can make them a day or two beforehand.
  • Tip from Emily: Have the pumpkin mixture ready before you heat and dissolve the gelatin, that way it doesn’t cool or change texture before you add it to the other ingredients.
  • Vegetarian Alternatives: Vegetarians can substitute and equal amount of kosher gelatin in place of traditional gelatin in this recipe. You can also use 1 T of agar agar in place of gelatin. There are instructions on how to dissolve this ingredient here.

2 1/2 t unflavored gelatin (more than 1 (1/4 oz) packet)
1/4 c water
1 c heavy cream
1 3/4 c unsweetened coconut milk (13.5 oz can)
1 c canned pure pumpkin
1/2 c sugar
3/4 c sweetened flaked coconut
1/2 c mild honey, heated to liquefy if solid

Special Equipment: Eight small (8 oz) ramekins (can also use small, decorative drinking glasses or small bowls)

1. Sprinkle gelatin over water in a very small saucepan and let stand 1 minute to soften. Heat over medium heat, stirring, until gelatin is dissolved, then remove from heat.
2. Pulse coconut milk, cream, pumpkin, sugar, and a pinch of salt in a blender to combine, then add gelatin mixture and blend until smooth. Strain mixture through a fine sieve into a bowl with a spout or transfer to a 4-quart measuring cup.
3. Pour mixture into bowls and chill, covered, until firm, at least 6 hours.
4. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Spread coconut on a rimmed sheet pan and stirring once or twice bake until golden, 8 to 10 minutes, and cool.
5. Just before serving, sprinkle desserts with coconut and drizzle with honey.

Cooks’ Notes (From Gourmet Live):

  • Panna Cottas can be chilled up to 2 days.
  • If you want to serve your panna cottas unmolded, use 6-oz ramekins or glasses and lightly oil them before pouring in the pumpkin mixture. To unmold, run a thin sharp knife around side of each ramekin to loosen, then dip ramekin briefl in a small bowl of very warm water, about 10 seconds. Invert panna cotta onto a plate and gently lift off ramekin.


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  • Sassykeewee

    Maybe I will host my own West Indian night at my apartment. Full menu right here on the page. Expose some people to more ethnic than Mexican food items. Can you make the Calabsh soup without the cinnamon and it not affect the flavor? I have a friend out here who is epi pen allergic to cinnamon.

    • http://www.mouthoftheborder.com emilyspearl

      You can definitely skip the cinnamon. You may want to try replacing it with a smidge of nutmeg or cloves.

  • Anonymous

    Dinner was AMAZING, Emily. We are so lucky to have a friend like you who appreciates the little things in life, a hearty laugh over good food and a glass of wine. Your passion and dedication is admirable and contagious; I’m super proud of your success with MOTB and I will continue to support you. Let me know when you want to have a one on one with my grandma on how to make shark LOL. Love you tons!

    • http://www.mouthoftheborder.com emilyspearl

      You bring so much joy and laughter to my life, Whitney! I am very lucky that Zahra brought you into my life. Thank you for coming to dinner. And I ALWAYS want to make shark and bake. And baked bake. And everything else! Love you.

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