- The Washington Times - Monday, February 23, 2004

Tropical travel is high on my list of winter fun. One of my best vacations was spent on a small yacht traversing the British Virgin Islands.

I had been hired on as a cook, and my job was to create a wonderful dinner each evening when the boat glided into night harbor.

Intrigued by the mixture of cultures in the islands, I began collecting recipes. The flavors combined influences from Indian curries and peppery foods; Mexican chilies; Central and South American Indian pea, corn, rice and bean dishes; and African meats and soups. Of course, there was a little European settler and shipboard pirate thrown in, as well. Every island has its specialties.

If you were to list the main ingredients, fresh fish and other seafood would be at the top. Spices come second because Jamaica and some of the other islands are primary suppliers to the world of nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon and ginger. Fresh fruits also star and include papaya, mango, coconut, pineapple, guava, lime and bananas, which all seem to be cheap and plentiful.

Vegetables are not as plentiful and often are imported, but home garden patches sometimes do supply certain root vegetables, such as potatoes, yams and sweet potatoes, garlic, onions, peppers in all shapes and sizes, avocado, cilantro, tomato, cucumber, and spinach.

Caribbean yam cakes.

1 (about 1 pound) unpeeled yam or sweet potato

3 eggs

2 tablespoons grated onion

2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley or fresh cilantro

2 teaspoons safflower oil, or more as needed

Coarsely grate unpeeled yam or sweet potato. In medium bowl, beat eggs; add grated yam. Add onion and parsley or cilantro. Stir well. Mixture should be consistency of pancake batter.

In 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, heat oil. Drop tablespoonfuls of batter onto hot pan. Fry cakes on each side until lightly browned and cooked through. Drain on paper towels before serving. Makes about 12 pancakes (about 4 servings).

Island vegetable salad with coriander dressing.

1 medium papaya, peeled, seeded and cut into strips

1 6- to 8-ounce can hearts of palm, drained and cut into small strips

1 6- to 8-ounce can unmarinated artichoke hearts, quartered

1 medium tomato, sliced thinly

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

Salt

Ground coriander

Allspice

1 cup watercress or torn leaf lettuce

In large bowl, combine papaya; hearts of palm; artichoke hearts; tomato; lime juice; and a pinch of salt, coriander and allspice.

Stir carefully to avoid breaking apart. Chill 30 minutes. Before serving, arrange salad on bed of watercress or torn lettuce.

Makes 4 servings.

Fresh mango pie

Use frozen whole-wheat or unbleached white pastry crust, or make your own.

The date sugar for the filling is available in health-food stores. It’s a wonderful fruity addition, similar to — but not as sweet as — brown sugar.

Pastry for a 9-inch top- and bottom-crust pie

6 cups fresh mangoes, peeled, pitted and coarsely chopped (about 4 pounds)

2 teaspoons lemon juice

½ cup date sugar

1½ tablespoons flour

1 teaspoon grated fresh lemon rind

1 teaspoon powdered mace

⅛ teaspoon salt

Line a 9-inch deep-dish pie pan with half of unbaked pie crust. Layer 3 cups mangoes on bottom of pastry, and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon lemon juice.

In a large bowl, combine date sugar, flour, lemon rind, mace and salt. Spread half of this flour mixture over mangoes.

Layer remaining 3 cups mangoes on top.

Top with remaining lemon juice, then remaining flour mixture.

Roll out top crust, and place it on top of pie. Pinch edges, and cut one slit in the top as steam hole.

Bake in preheated 400-degree oven until crust is lightly browned, about 40 minutes. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES INTERNATIONAL

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