When I was in 7th grade, I met my longtime best friend. She was interesting looking, with a dark complexion and a long black-haired braid and could practically run the rest of us in circles with her “backwards” way of doing long division (what I came to know as the British way). My first words to her were on the playground. I looked at her carefully and said “Do you speak English?”. I still giggle to myself 35 years later that I said that. She answered in perfect English with a lovely lilt I hadn’t heard before, “Well, of course I do. I’m from Trinidad.” That was the beginning of our life-long friendship.
I practically spent 50% of my time during elementary and high school with her family in her house. As an only child of my parents, I think I relished the noisy, everyone goes places and does things together way they had going on. I still get longings once in a while when I am at the airport or Niagara Falls and I see a large group of Indian family together. I remember lots of trips to pick up relatives or dropping the Maharajh clan off at the start of summer to the BWIA airport gate when they left for the whole summer back to Trinidad.
I grew up being surrounded not only by my own culture but that of a West Indian Hindu culture. I attended many Hindu Pujas, prayed to many different Gods, dressed up for many weddings, took part in many special events like Diwali, and ate and ate and ate so much good Trini food over the years. I still remember going to a Trinidadian Puja event in Trinidad and eating good off of a banana tree leaf – now THAT was cool.
As an adult I look back at my immersion into a different culture and a different religion as helping to make me the person I am today. I have a high regard for other cultures, other religions, other ceremonies. I have never thought that MY religion was the only one, that MY God was the only one or that any race was “better” than the other. I see the beauty in all of the world’s religions and cultures and we are teaching our children to grow up to feel the same.
to this day, I can still pull off a mean Trini accent when asked (My kids LOVE it, I think they both have a thing for accents now as I heard Mekai the other day speaking with a Jamaican accent – uh no. I don’t know why) and I still take her mother’s recipes and cook them today. Her mother was like a second mother to me – a warm, beautiful woman named Rose who took care of everybody, cooked like a Trini chef and gave me as much love as any of her children.
Sometimes on a Saturday morning, we would wake up and come downstairs after a sleepover and smell the roasting tomatoes, the garlic and the baigan (eggplant) already being made. “Mom” would be in the kitchen with her hands and elbows covered in flour as she rolled out the sada roti. Sada roti is the plainest of the West Indian rotis. So plain that most restaurants don’t even sell it BUT OMG it was the BEST thing ever for breakfast! Cooking could be an all day event some days. But breakfast? My favourite memories are sitting around her table with her brother and sisters, her mom and dad and eating fresh made baigan choka and tomatoes choka with hot sada roti. Then as a second course, melted cheese in a slice of roti. My mouth still waters at these memories!
Today, I still make baigan and tomatoes choka. In fact, I recently made them for a party I had and both were a big hit! I admit I have attempted several times in my life to make sada roti but sadly….let’s just say these attempts were not particularily successful and leave it at that…
For the last month and a half, I have been eating mainly raw vegetarian with some cooked foods. Some of my staples have become Rose’s Tomatoes Choka and her Baigan Choka (with a few changes) and I want to share them with you. Make them, tweak them for you own family and enjoy! Side note that Choka means a dish of pureed or mashed fire-roasted vegetables. Both can be eaten with rice (preferably basmati) or you could always find a local Trinidadian or Guyanese bakery and buy some paratha roti which is delicious too! Happy eating Trinidadian style!
There are lots of ways to make this. You could just use fresh uncooked tomatoes then put them into the pot with everything else and sautee them this way. My personal preference is to roast the tomatoes first as it just gives the dish more flavour.
6 tomatoes (I prefer roma tomatoes for the flavour and texture)
I small yellow onion, finely diced
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp coconut oil (the only oil you should use to fry because of its high smokepoint. Other oils get damaged at high temps but that’s for another story…)
salt and pepper to taste
Hot pepper (scotch bonnet, chili, etc) finely chopped only to taste. (I usually don’t add this as I like to make this dish family friendly!)
Another option in how to make this dish is to fry the oil, garlic, pepper AND the onions then add the tomatoes to the pot and let simmer for 15 mins. I really like it this way too!
Now onto Baigan Choka, another one of my favs!
Again, there are two main ways to make this. One is to peel the raw eggplant here and there, slice it then dice into small bites and soak in H2O and put it into pot from there and cook. The other way (and trust me its even more delish) is to roast the eggplant whole. It brings out the gorgeous smoky flavour into the dish.
2 medium size eggplants
I small yellow onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 small potatoes – peeled, diced and boiled
1-2 small tomatoes, chopped
2-3 Tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
2 Tbsp fresh chives, chopped (optional)
2 Tbsp coconut oil (oh yes, you already know why)
salt and pepper to taste
I so hope you all enjoy these Trini recipes like we do. Feel free to share the recipes with your friends and family and spread the love.