Elements of West Indies Cuisine

Allspice: Also known as pimiento or Jamaican pepper, it'smade from the aromatic berries of a Caribbean tree. One of thedefining ingredients in Jamaican jerk and French West Indian fishsoups, allspice seems to encompass the tastes of cinnamon, nutmeg,and cloves?hence its name.

Annatto seed: Known as achiote in Spanish, this is arust-colored, earthy-flavored seed. Considered the poor man'ssaffron by some, it's used in Spanish Caribbean rice dishes andFrench West Indian stews.

Calabaza: This large, round Caribbean pumpkin has a dense,bright-orange flesh. The flavor is similar to that of butternutsquash, which makes a good substitute.

Coconut milk: The "cream" of the tropics, produced byblending freshly grated coconut with hot water. Taste of Thai makesa canned "lite" coconut milk that's great to use in healthyCaribbean cooking.

Conch: This giant sea snail's delicate, mild, white flesh isused in dishes ranging from salads to stews to steaks. You cansubstitute bay scallops if you can't find conch.

Guava: An egg-shaped tropical fruit with a musky, perfumyflavor. Because it contains numerous seeds, it's generally enjoyedas juice or jelly.

Pigeon pea: A brown, oval bean originally hailing fromAfrica; in the Caribbean, also known as the gunga (Congo) pea andthe pois d'Angole (Angola pea). Endowed with a nutty, earthyflavor, the pigeon pea is often paired with rice.

Plantain: A jumbo cooking banana that can be eaten at everystage of ripeness. When green, it tastes starchy, like a potato;when ripe, it tastes sweet, like a banana.

Scotch bonnet chile: This chile, shaped like a Chineselantern, is one of the world's hottest?50 times hotter than ajalapeno. Behind all that heat is a complex flavor that's earthy,floral, and apricotlike all at once. If you can't find the Scotchbonnet, you can substitute its Mexican cousin, the habanero.