With a distinctive blend of African, Indian, Chinese, and indigenous influences, the cuisine of Trinidad infuses the sensual environment of ‘Til the Well Runs Dry with its resplendent sights, smoky aromas, and rich flavors. From the stewed chicken that Marcia ladles into her children’s bowls at dinner, to the rum punch that Patsy mixes at the Five Rivers’ snackette, here Lauren Francis-Sharma shares three of her favorite recipes with Bookish readers—no opossums involved.
No poems can please long or live that are written by water drinkers ~ Horace
Food in literature has the power to ground a reader, comfort a reader, and feed a reader’s soul. A writer, through the use of food, is able to convey social status, identity, place, and most important, mood. Gravy, chili peppers, red wine, glazed shallots… food is the essential thread of the human experience.
‘Til the Well Runs Dry is a story that is as much about place as it is about humanity. Trinidad is a country of immense cultural diversity from the native Caribs and Arawaks, to the descendants of Spaniards, French, and English, to the progeny of enslaved West Africans and the offspring of indentured East Indians, Chinese, and Portuguese. There is no better way to illustrate this cultural tapestry than through the rich flavors of Trinidadian cuisine.
This brown-sugar-based stew has its origins in the many brown stews of West Africa, though it is hard to imagine this now, as the flavor profiles today are quite dissimilar. Though it takes some practice to achieve the perfect balance of salty and sweet, when the skill is developed, the result is delectable. If I were ever on death row and had to choose my last meal, my mother’s version of this recipe would be on my plate! (I shouldn’t be excited about this thought, should I?)
6-8 small pieces of chicken OR 3 lbs sliced or cubed (dark, light or both)
2 tsp garlic powder or minced garlic
2 tsp lemon juice
1 tbsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 tbsp vegetable or canola oil
3 tbsp sugar (preferably brown) OR thick soy sauce
½ cup chopped onions
¼ cup chopped tomatoes
1 ½ cups water
- Toss rinsed chicken pieces with garlic, lemon juice, salt, black pepper. Let sit for 5 minutes.
- Heat oil in large pot, add sugar (or thick soy sauce) to middle of pot and allow it to brown and bubble. Add chicken, onion, tomatoes, water. Cover pot and cook on medium heat (stirring occasionally) until chicken is tender and gravy thickens to desired consistency.
- Add a little more water for additional gravy and adjust to taste with salt.
- Serve with rice.
Curried Potato and Channa
In the mid-19th century, after the abolition of African slavery, there was an increase in demand by plantation owners for labor. Escaping poverty, many Indians arrived to the Caribbean as indentured servants. In time, these first Indo-Trinidadians lived amongst and intermarried with Chinese immigrants and Blacks who had already begun to reproduce with Europeans and indigenous peoples, and there began the diverse milieu of Trinidad. This recipe, with the inclusion of chickpeas and curry, gives homage to the vast influence of East Indians in Trinidad’s cuisine.
1 cup of chickpeas soaked overnight
2 tbsp vegetable or canola oil
1 ¼ cups of water
2 cups of sliced or cubed potatoes
2 tsp minced garlic
2 tsp salt
2 tbsp curry powder (taste will vary depending on variety and freshness)
1 cup diced onion
1 tsp black pepper and/or Caribbean pepper sauce to taste
1 tsp ground cumin (optional)
- Boil chickpeas until tender and drain.
- In large pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add garlic and onion. Sautée.
- Heat 1 cup water and set aside.
- In separate bowl, mix curry powder (and ground cumin, if desired) with ¼ cup water. Add curry/water mixture to pot and stir constantly. Add potato, ensuring that all pieces are coated with curry. Add the cup of heated water, salt, pepper and/or pepper sauce.
- Cover and cook for approximately ten minutes.
- Stir in chick peas (careful not to break peas). Cook until gravy is thicker and potatoes are tender. Add water for additional gravy.
- Adjust for taste with salt.
- Serve with rice.
(Editor’s note: Like many writers, we love our booze at Bookish, but encourage all readers to drink legally and responsibly.)
I will admit that I was one of those kids who sipped from my father’s drinking glass. Sometimes the contents were bitter, like beer, but other times his tumbler held out the promise of rum punch, which had all the trappings of a tipsy childhood! The chest-burning taste of a black label rum and the slight grit of nutmeg and sugar crystals on your tongue, will transport you to the Caribbean oceanside, replete with dampened skin, sun-dried hair and a good book that has sand between its pages. Sweet, tangy and marvelously dizzying!
6 tbsp dark rum
½ tsp very fine nutmeg (dust)
4 tbsp lemon juice
¼ tbsp Angostura bitters
1 ½ cups of water
2 cups sugar
- Boil sugar and 1 cup of water in small pot for 5 minutes until syrupy.
- In small pitcher, combine sugar/water mixture with lemon juice, Angostura bitters, rum, ½ cup of water. Stir well. Sprinkle with nutmeg.
- Allow to sit overnight (in direct sunlight when possible).
- Serves 2 over ice.
After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations ~ Oscar Wilde
Lauren Francis-Sharma, a child of Trinidadian immigrants, was born in New York City and raised in Baltimore, Maryland. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English literature with a minor in African-American Studies from the University of Pennsylvania and a J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School. She lives in the Washington, D.C., area with her husband and two children. ‘Til the Well Runs Dry is her first novel.
Excerpted from ‘Til the Well Runs Dry, published in paperback September 2015 by Picador USA. Copyright © 2014 by Lauren Francis–Sharma. Published by arrangement with Henry Holt and Company, LLC. All rights reserved.