taste of the bahamas

When looking for crystal blue waters, soft sandy beaches, refreshing tropical drinks and fresh seafood that echoes the Caribbean, the Bahama Islands can provide all that you desire and more. While you may think of the fun and bright capital city of Nassau or the beautiful beaches of Grand Bahama, you may not realize that the Bahamas is actually an archipelago consisting of 29 islands, 661 cays and 2,387 islets with diverse geographies, a rich cultural heritage and cuisine that blends a variety of influences. We'll share a little of the cultural history of the Bahamas and some authentic recipes with you so you can discover and enjoy the real Bahama spirit for yourself.

First, the Bahamas is not one single place. It is a large group of islands, cays and islets. A cay is a small low-elevation sandy island formed on the surface of a coral reef and an islet, as you can probably guess, is a very small island. Some of the better known islands include New Providence Island, which has the Bahamas capital city, Nassau. Neighboring Paradise Island is known primarily for its huge and family-friendly "Atlantis" resort. Grand Bahama Island is appreciated for its mix of historic charm, modern attractions and natural beauty.

For those looking to venture a little off the beaten path the "Out Islands" offer a little less manmade activity and a little more natural allure with gorgeous beaches, exceptional dive and fishing sites and small villages that offer an alternative to the hustle and bustle of the more active main islands. The Abacos, Andros, Bimini, Eleuthra, the Exumas and others are among these out islands, with Treasure Cay, Green Turtle Cay, Sandy Cay and other lovely destinations among them.

  

The Bahamas, picturesque in so many ways, also captured the imagination of painter Albert Bierstadt, generally known for his Western American landscapes. In 1877, the artist's wife began going to the Bahamas because of ill health, and the painter frequently joined her there. The natural beauty of Nassau was not lost on him, and he added several works depicting the Bahamian landscape to his portfolio.

The cultural melange of the Bahama Islands comes from its diverse history. Each of the islands retains its individual character. From Christopher Columbus' discovery of the island named Guanahani (today's San Salvador) in 1492, the islands have had many influences providing various cultural personalities. The Arawak Indians were the first inhabitants of the Bahamas. The British first built settlements on the islands in the 17th century. Pirates on the high seas found plenty of loot in the Bahamas and made it their own bounty in the 18th century. The Bahamas then became a Crown Colony and after the American War of Independence, many pro-British loyalists brought their African slaves to the islands to set up a plantation economy. Slavery was abolished in 1834 and today the Bahamas are an independent nation.

With all those cultural influences, it's not surprising that the authentic cuisine of the Bahamas has an intriguing blend of influences too. The abundance of wonderful fresh seafood makes plentiful dishes of crawfish (the local rock lobsters) and conch, a large mollusk something like abalone, appear in local recipes of chowders, stews, salads and fritters. Johnny cake, a pan-cooked bread, and guava duff are also some local favorites. The "official" drink of the Bahamas is known as the Goombay Smash and, well, most of us have heard of the tropical Bahama Mama.

So if you're feeling like you want to bring home some authentic island spirit(s) and chow(der) here are a few easy recipes that should work well for you. Don't forget to add your own favorite music of the Caribbean and some tropical flowers to inspire you to sway with the breeze.


Conch Chowder

Ingredients:
1/2 cup onion, diced
1/2 cup celery, diced
1/2 cup carrots, diced
1/2 cup green pepper, diced
1 cup potatoes, chopped
2 small cloves of garlic, minced
1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes
1 pound Conch meat, diced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
1/4 cup oil
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 qt. water, clam juice or seafood broth. Salt to taste.

Directions:
Put oil in a large stockpot cook the vegetables and garlic in oil for 3 minutes to soften vegetables. Add the conch, tomato paste and chopped tomatoes and cook for 10 minutes. Add the water/clam juice or broth and white wine and simmer for 1-¬Ω hours. Skim occasionally and season to taste. If you have trouble finding conch, you may substitute clams, calamari, scallops or lobster. Makes 8 servings.

Conch Fritters

Ingredients:

1 cup Conch meat, minced or ground
1/2 cup onion, small diced
1/2 cup celery, small diced
1/2 cup green pepper, small diced
1 egg (beaten)
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 small cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste
1 quart oil for frying
3/4 cup all-purpose flour

Dipping Sauce:

2 tablespoons ketchup
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1 tablespoon hot sauce
salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Heat the oil in a large pot or deep fryer. In a bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, egg, and milk. Season with salt and pepper. Mix in the conch meat, onion, green pepper, celery and garlic. Allow to rest for 15 minutes prior to deep frying. Drop the batter by rounded tablespoons into the hot oil and fry until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Makes 8 servings. If you are unable to find conch, clams or calamari make a good substitute.

In a bowl, mix the ketchup, lime juice, mayonnaise, hot sauce, salt, and pepper. Serve dipping sauce on the side with the fritters.

Crawfish Rice

    
Ingredients:

1/2 pound crawfish meat
2 tablespoons oil
1/2 small onion, chopped
1/8 teaspoon thyme
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3 cups water
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon salt
 

Directions:

Heat oil in saucepan and saute crawfish, onion and thyme for five minutes. Stir in tomato paste and water, and bring to boil. Add rice, salt, and pepper, reduce heat and simmer covered for 1 hour or until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender.

Johnny Cake

Ingredients:

4 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup milk
1/2 stick butter, softened
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
water as needed

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 Degrees F. Sift the dry ingredients together in a large bowl and form a well in the center. Blend the the softened butter into the flour. Add milk and, as necessary, sufficient water to make a firm dough. Knead well then allow to rest covered for 30 minutes. Take dough from bowl and roll into a ball, then gently flatten until it is about 2 inches thick. Bake at 350 degrees F for approximately 35 minutes or until top is slightly stiff to the touch and inserted toothpick comes out dry. Makes 6-8 servings.

 

Guava Duff

Ingredients:

For the dough:

4 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 cups finely sliced guava

Directions: Combine all dry ingredients and mix together. Add oil. Knead for approximately 10 minutes until smooth and pliable. Place dough on a flat surface and roll out until about 1/4 inch thick. Spread the guava slices over the dough. Roll the dough with guava slices inside up into a long round loaf. Wrap the loaf in foil and cook in a double boiler for 1 hour.

Sauce Ingredients:
1 pound (4 sticks) butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 8oz. cans sweetened condensed milk
1 cup finely sliced guava
1/4 cup brandy (or if you prefer, substitute vanilla extract for brandy)

Directions: Blend the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the condensed milk and guava and blend until well combined, about 2 minutes. Add brandy (or vanilla) and blend for 1 minute.

To serve, cut the warm dough log into into slices so that you can see the spiral of guava in each slice. Pour the sauce over dough. Serves 8 - 10.

And, to cool you down with refreshing tropical drinks, here are two favorites from the Bahamas. The Goombay Smash, known as the national drink of the Bahama Islands, and the Bahama Mama, which really should need no explanation. Enjoy!

Goombay Smash

1 oz spiced rum
1 oz coconut flavored rum (like Malibu)
1/4 oz apricot brandy
2 oz pineapple juice
2 oz orange juice

Mix all the ingredients in a highball or hurricane glass with ice and stir briskly to blend. Garnish with an orange slice and maraschino cherry.

Bahama Mama (frozen version)

1/2 oz rum
1/2 oz coconut flavored rum
1/2 oz grenadine syrup
1 oz pineapple juice
1 cup crushed ice

Fill a blender with crushed ice. Add all the other ingredients. Blend until slushy (margarita-like) consistency. Garnish with pineapple or orange slice and maraschino cherry