When in Rome, do as the Romans do - right? Experiencing local food is not only a great way to learn about a culture, but it is incredibly cost effective as well. What do you think is cheaper down here: a veggie burrito or a heaping plate of "oil down"? The heaping plate will win, every time. But I am getting ahead of myself...
What the heck is "Oil Down" anyway?
Oil Down is the national dish of Grenada and has absolutely nothing to do with a lavender infused massage (thought that does sound nice). It's what people in the South might refer to as "comfort" food and is a hearty combination of vegetables, dumplings, fish, pork (sometimes snouts and tails), beef, callaloo, spices and coconut milk all cooked together in a big pot over an open flame. The namesake comes from the fact that the coconut milk - as it simmers - releases a fragrant oil that rises to the top and, once it reaches the bottom of the pot (get it? oil down), it is ready to serve.
The meal is nothing short of a feast - a tour de flavor if you will - and your belly will sing you praise (especially if you did a pretty rugged hour long hike to get to the oil down!). Oh - and another bonus? It's all cooked in one pot. We love one pot meals over here!
Want to make your own oil down and get a little taste of the Caribbean? I have copied a recipe below. And remember - feel free to add or omit ingredients (we'll skip the meat when we make it) - the beauty of the oil down is that just about anything tastes good in it. Sweet potatoes, squash, carrots, and more. Get creative. But remember - a true oil down must have in it callaloo (substitutions: swiss chard, spinach or collard greens), coconut milk and saffron (substitution: turmeric). There are about a million different variations of oil down and it seems everyone has their own special version, but I found this one to be most comprable to what we had...
• 2 Onions, chopped • 4 Spring onions, chopped • sprig Thyme, leaves picked • 4 cm Ginger, grated • 3 cloves Garlic, crushed • 8 Chicken thighs, skin on (optional) • 1 small seasoning Pepper, or mild green chili, finely chopped • 2 tsp ground Saffron/Turmeric, or 1 tsp fresh turmeric, finely grated • vegetable oil, for frying • 225 g callaloo leaves • 450g salt beef, pre-boiled until tender to remove excess salt, cut into 3cm slices (optional) • 225g Pumpkins, or butternut squash, peeled and diced into 1cm cubes • 1 small fresh breadfruit, peeled, core removed and cut into 4cm cubes (or substitute 2 large potatoes, cubed) • 500ml coconut milk • 1/2 tsp coarsely ground black pepper • 2 Spring onions, chopped
1. Combine the onions, spring onions, thyme, ginger and half the garlic to make a marinade. Mix with the chicken and leave overnight in the fridge, if possible, or for a couple of hours.
2. Add the remaining garlic to the chicken along with the seasoning pepper and turmeric. Stir well.
3. Heat a splash of oil in a large pan. Add the marinated chicken pieces and fry for a few minutes to brown.
4. Meanwhile, remove the stems from the callaloo and pare off the outer layer. Roughly chop the prepared stems and shred the leaves.
5. Add the callaloo and the salted beef to the pan and stir well. Add the pumpkin and breadfruit and stir again. Leave to cook for a couple of minutes.
6. Pour in 400ml of the coconut milk and season with black pepper. Cover with a lid, bring to the boil then reduce heat and simmer for 20–30 minutes without stirring. Top up the pan with the remaining coconut milk during cooking, as needed.
7. Scatter with spring onions before serving.
Note: Our version also had lovely Caribbean-style dumplings in it - I would highly recommend adding these, especially if you make the vegetarian version!
Brittany & Scott
P.S. If you would like to see our entire photo album of this incredible day, check out this link.