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Queens Chronicle

Caribbean Christmas recipes for the holidays

Add some Caribbean flair to your Christmas

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Posted: Thursday, December 20, 2012 10:30 am | Updated: 12:35 pm, Thu Dec 20, 2012.

Christmas in the Caribbean is a time to put a fresh coat of paint on the house, hang new curtains and seasonal decorations and listen to holiday music. It’s also a time to serve up some wonderful food.

But you can prepare the same dishes whether you’re in this Jamaica or that Jamaica, Glendale or Guyana, Astoria or Aruba, thanks to several Chronicle readers with island roots who were kind enough to share their recipes for the traditional dishes and sweets that make their Yuletide so memorable.

All you have to do is follow their recipes and some basic principles.

“It’s very important for us to cook it from scratch,” said Vickie Malvo, a native of Kingston, Jamaica now living in Jamaica, Queens. “You have to do everything from the beginning, well almost. You know how to use your own ingredients, it tastes good when you cook it.”

Malvo added that in her tradition, the holidays are dedicated to spending time with family, dancing, playing card games and dominoes — and of course, cooking. She shared her recipes for rice and gungo peas and a sorrel drink.

“That’s our culture,” she said. “In New York it’s Thanksgiving, but Christmas is our time.”

Shauna Noel, the owner of MyMommyAndMe Catering Service in St. Albans and Ozone Park, expressed similar sentiments and supplied the recipes for two staples that were on the treat table every year at her house — black cake, also known as West Indian rum cake, and sponge cake.

“Growing up in Guyana was best at Christmas time,” she said. “The aromas from my mom and grandma’s kitchen were glorious to say the least. I thought I’d share these two recipes with you in hopes that it brings cheer to your house this holiday as it still does for me.”

Jamaica resident and community activist Adjoa Gzifa, who traces her family’s roots to Guinea-Bissau, Africa, provided the recipe for her late mother’s two-layer banana-coconut cake and buttercream frosting — a favorite at her home during the holidays.

“My mother, Eva Alice Henry, used to make this cake every Thanksgiving and Christmas,” Gzifa said. “It is made from scratch, not box cake mix or artificial ingredients.”

Time moves differently in the Caribbean than it does in New York, but we hope you can find the time to make these delights from scratch too. Give it a try, and Happy Holidays!

Rice and gungo peas

Gungo peas are also called pigeon peas and are in season in Jamaica in December.


2 cups gungo peas (or red beans if you cannot find gungo peas), cooked

2 teaspoons vegetable oil

1 onion, minced

1 hot pepper, chopped (remove seeds)

2 cups coconut milk

2 cups long-grained rice (uncooked)

salt and pepper to taste

Heat vegetable oil in a frying pan and add onions. Saute until fragrant and golden. Put onion, hot pepper, coconut milk, salt, pepper and rice into a large, heavy baking dish. Add 4 cups water. Cover and simmer on low heat for 30 minutes or until rice is tender. Add cooked gungo peas.

Black cake (West Indian rum cake)

1 cup dried raisins

1 cup dried prunes

1 cup dried currants

4 cups rum or red wine

1 1/2 cups brown sugar

1 cup butter

1 1/2 cups flour

10 large eggs

3 tablespoons burnt sugar or caramel

1/4 cup citrus zest

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon mixed essence

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup chopped peanuts (optional)

For the fruits:

Wash fruits. Using a food processor or blender grind fruits and about three cups of rum or red wine and place in an airtight container. Rum- or wine-soaked fruits can be stored for 10 days to 1 year (Add more wine for longer storage).

Preheat oven to 315 degrees:

In a large bowl combine butter and sugar. Mix until sugar is dissolved and butter is white and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, mixingthoroughlyafter each addition. Combine soaked fruits (and optional nuts), essence and zest and mix well. In another bowl measure flour and ground spices and salt. Combine well. Add dry ingredients to wet batter in three parts, mixing well after each application. Mix in burnt sugar or caramel and combine until uniformed color forms. Grease two 8-inch baking pans and pour cake mixture into them evenly. Bake for approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes or until firm to the touch or a stick inserted in the center of cake comes out clear. Let cake rest for 1 hour, remove it from pan then pour 1 cup rum or red wine over it. Add more alcohol once per week or as desired.

Sponge cake

1 cup sugar

1 cup butter

1 1/2 cups flour

6 eggs

1 teaspoon mixed essence

1 teaspoon citrus zest

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/5 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees:

In a medium mixing bowl combine butter and sugar. Mix until sugar isdissolvedand butter is white and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, making sure each egg is fully incorporated in the batter before adding another. Now add essence and zest and stir. In another bowl measure flour, spices, salt and baking powder and combine.

Add dry ingredients to wet batter in three parts, making sure you mix well after each addition. Grease a 9-inch baking pan and pour cake mixture into it. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 40 minutes or until top is golden brown and test stick inserted in center of cake comes out clear.

Sorrel drink

Sorrel is taken from the sorrel flower. Look for it in supermarkets with a large section of ethnic foods. Begin preparations one day ahead.

2 fingers of ginger, sliced

1 cup dried sorrel petals

1 teaspoon cloves

1 cup water

1 pound brown sugar

splash of dark rum (optional)

Boil ginger in water. When the water is boiling add the sorrel leaves and cloves. Allow mixture to boil for 30 minutes. Cover and let steep overnight. In a separate saucepan, boil 1 cup water and the brown sugar to make a syrup. Strain the sorrel mixture. Add syrup to taste. Rum can be added if desired. Serve chilled.

Two-layer banana-coconut cake

1 cup of butter (room temperature)

2 cups of sugar

4 eggs

3 cups of sifted self-rising flour

1 cup of liquid milk and coconut water

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease and flour two cake pans and line them with wax paper, grease and flour the wax paper. Using a mixer, cream butter until fluffy. Add sugar and continue to cream for about 7 minutes. Add eggs one at a time. Beat well after each egg is added. Add flour and milk (alternating to creamed mixture), beginning and ending with flour. Add vanilla flavoring to mix; until just mixed. Divide batter equally into the cake pans. Bake for 25-30 minutes (depending on your oven) until done. Cool in pans for 5 to 10 minutes. Cool completely on wire racks.

Buttercream frosting

1 cup butter (room temperature)

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 pound confectioners’ sugar

1-3 teaspoons coconut water


grated coconut

Using a mixer, cream softened butter and vanilla until smooth. Add sugar gradually, allowing butter and sugar to cream together before adding more. Assemble the cakes on cake plate. Add frosting to bottom layer covering completely. Slice bananas on the first layer cover with grated coconut. Place second layer on the cake and continue frosting the top and sides. Cover the top and sides with grated coconut. If you don't like bananas, you can substitute pineapple. It is best when you use fresh coconut and grate it yourself.

Welcome to the discussion.