Friday, August 5, 2011

Trinidad Doubles, Cucumber Chutney, Trinidad Pepper Sauce Paired with 2010 Cupcake Vineyards Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc

Trinidad Doubles-1

At the time of this post, the most viewed pairing/recipe to date is “Curried Chicken and Potato Roti Paired with Chenin Blanc.”  The Roti post is so popular that it triples the next most popular post “Shrimp and Grits Paired with 2009 Cuvaison Chardonnay.”  The clear message is that there are a boatload of Trini food lovers out there.  With this in mind, I decided to press on with my next favorite Trini culinary delight – doubles.

Barra

For the uninitiated, doubles are a favorite street food among Trinidadians as well as the many visitors to Trinidad.  Next to roti, doubles are a bucket list worthy experience for anyone visiting Trinidad.  In my opinion, your gastronomic adventure in Trinidad must also include “shark and bake,” coconut water fresh from one of the Savannah vendors, corn soup, and cow heel soup.  Back to the double – doubles consist of two rounds of fried dough served with channa (curry spiced chick peas) and traditionally topped with cucumber chutney and the ever present Trinidad pepper sauce.  If you are visiting Trinidad and have not experienced the wonders of Trinidad pepper sauce, I recommend caution.  Doubles vendors will offer a slight, medium, or spicy option for your double.  I suggest starting with the “slight,” and work your way up the heat chain.  While on the subject of pepper sauce, it is interesting to note that Trinidad pepper sauce is a matter of national pride and every family has their favorite secret recipe for “the best” pepper sauce.  Sampling these highly guarded recipes is a sensational experience – in the truest sense of the word.

Peppers-1

Like roti, doubles vendors pepper (pepper, get it?) the Trinidad landscape.  Although doubles are a relatively simple dish with little variation in the ingredients and preparation, ask any Trini and you will promptly be directed to their favorite vendor.  The origin and history of doubles are clouded in myth.  The apparent best accounts track doubles to the valleys of the Ganges in Northern India where many Trindadians can trace their roots.  Over the years, and as these East Indian laborers were released from indenture, small shops and stalls were established by entrepreneurs and the evolution of the double became a Trinidad staple.

Trinidad Pepper Sauce

Doubles are constructed by by placing two of the fried dough rounds (barra) on a piece of thin waxed paper, adding a serving of channa and topping with cucumber chutney and pepper sauce.  The waxed paper is then folded up at the corners bringing the double into somewhat of a taco type configuration, then expertly spun by the corners to hold everything together.  I have witnessed two primary methods for eating a double.  The first method involves carefully opening the waxed paper, using the waxed paper as a way to hold things together and eating the double in taco fashion.  The second method involves fully opening the waxed paper, removing the bottom barra and using it to scoop or pinch the channa while leaving the second barra to act as a kind of plate supported by the waxed paper.  When you are done with the bottom/scoop barra, enough of the channa sauce will remain to accompany the remaining barra.  Clear as a rainbow leading to a pot of gold, right?

Trinidad Doubles

As you might expect, the flavors in a double are dominated by the curry, tumeric and piquance of the pepper sauce.  These are supported by the deep buttery flavors of the chick peas and barra and a nice cool freshness of the cucumber chutney.  For such wonderfully simple food, this combination of flavors results in a wonderful layering for which each component can be readily discerned – as long as you use the pepper sauce in moderation.  Heavy use of the pepper sauce tends to overwhelm the other flavors and tips the balance in favor of the piquance.  This is not a bad thing – it just depends on whether you are in the mood for some serious heat, or desire a more balanced flavor profile.

2010 Cupcake Vineyards Marlborough Sauvignong Blanc

Like many of the spicy foods I have written about and paired, doubles require attention to overall balance in acidity, sweetness, body, and alcohol content.  In choosing the wine, I not only wanted to account for these characteristics, but also pay homage to the casual, street food heritage of the double.  In other words, I needed to find a wine with the right profile and keep it casual rather than something more pricey, complex, or extravagant.  For these reasons, I chose the 2010 Cupcake Vineyards Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc – a staple for many of my friends who look for an inexpensive wine they can enjoy regularly in the summer heat of Washington DC.  Here are the tasting notes from the winemaker:

“It’s the long cool season that allows the grapes to mature slowly, giving them levels of complexity and a vibrant zing, reminiscent of a lemon chiffon cupcake. It’s made up of integrated flavors of Meyer lemons, Key limes and a finish that awakens the appetite.”

2010 Cupcake Vineyards Marlborough Sauvignong Blanc-1

This wine features bright citrus flavors with lemon taking the lead role.  The citrus flavors are supported by healthy acidity which in combination makes this wine both very refreshing and a piece of cake for wine pairing.  It is not as sweet as many Sauvignon Blancs.  While not critical, a touch more sweetness would have helped balance the piquance of the Trinidad Pepper Sauce and the cucumber chutney.  Overall, the pairing was a rousing success.  Doubles remind me of standing in the streets of Port of Spain Trinidad – in temperatures not unlike our DC summers – and enjoying some doubles at one of the many stands.  The crisp freshness of the 2010 Cupcake Vineyards Sauvignon brought a cool invigoration to the memory of Trinidad, and the heat of the doubles. 

Recipes

Trinidad Pepper Sauce

The following recipe for Trinidad Pepper Sauce is very similar to others you will find around the web.  The big difference with my interpretation is using a variety of peppers.  I did this with the intent of adding some depth of flavor to the intense heat.  I think I succeeded, but I won’t really know until my tongue grows back.  Unless you are Trini through and through, this recipe makes enough Trinidad Pepper Sauce to last several years, if not a lifetime.

Ingredients

  • 5 Scotch Bonnet peppers
  • 5 Serrano peppers
  • 5 habanero peppers
  • 5 Jalapeno peppers
  • 5 Hot cherry peppers
  • 3 heads of garlic
  • 2 cups vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 tablespoon yellow mustard
  • 2 bundles fresh cilantro

Preparation

  1. Separate and clean garlic.
  2. Wash and coarsely chop cilantro, removing large stem pieces.
  3. Add garlic, cilantro, and 1 cup of vinegar to a blender. Blend until nearly smooth. Pour into bowl and set aside.
  4. Remove stems from peppers and add to blender with one cup of vinegar. Blend until nearly smooth.
  5. Add pureed peppers to garlic and cilantro mixture. Add salt and mustard; stir until thoroughly combined.
  6. Pour into a clean bottle or jar, cap, and store in a cool place or the fridge. Don’t forget to label with "XXX," skull and crossed bones, or a toxic warning sticker. This stuff if potent and could do untold damage in the wrong hands.

Cucumber Chutney

Ingredients

  • 1 large cucumber
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro
  • 1 tablespoon finely diced fresh chives
  • 1 tablespoon Trinidad Pepper Sauce
  • 4 cloves garlic finely diced
  • Juice from 1/2 of a freshly squeezed lime
  • 1/2 teaspoon - brown sugar
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preparation

  1. Julienne cucumber. If it is a long cucumber, cut to lengths of about two to three inches. Do not discard the center section with the seeds - julienne this as well - it will add moisture to the chutney.
  2. Place cucumber in a bowl and add garlic, cilantro, Trinidad pepper sauce, and chives.
  3. Adjust flavor with salt, pepper, brown sugar, and additional Trinidad pepper sauce. I would recommend using a light hand with the pepper sauce - you can always add more later.

Barra

Ingredients

  • 4 cups - all purpose flour
  • Dash of saffron powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric root powder
  • 3 teaspoons - yeast
  • 1 teaspoon - brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon - salt
  • Canola oil for frying

Preparation

  1. Put 1 cup of lukewarm water in a small bowl, add sugar and stir to dissolve. Sprinkle yeast over water and let sit until the yeas has activated and formed a thin cohesive mound over the surface of the water.
  2. Combine flour, salt, saffron, 1 cup of water, cumin and yeast in a large bowl or the bowl of your Kitchen Aid.
  3. Mix into a slightly firm dough - it will be plenty sticky. Adjust with water or flour to arrive at a consistency a bit less firm than peanut butter. Cover and let rise to double original volume.
  4. Form dough into balls just a bit larger than golf balls. Coating your hands with oil will ease the process.
  5. While assembling your golf balls, put a pot of oil (just an inch or so deep with oil) on to heat.
  6. After you have assembled your golf balls, pat and roll the balls into thin circles roughly four inches in diameter. The thinner, the better.
  7. Fry in hot oil, turning once. The dough turns a nice golden brown quickly, so pay attention.
  8. Drain on plate with paper towels and cover to keep in the moisture. Stacking as you produce the barra is acceptable, and even encouraged.
  9. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Channa

Ingredients

  • 1 (16oz) can of chick peas or garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric root powder
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 medium sliced onion
  • 4 cloves finely diced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons finely diced fresh chives
  • 1 tablespoon Trinidad pepper sauce
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation

  1. Sautee onions in the vegetable oil over medium high heat until translucent.
  2. Reduce heat to medium and add all remaining ingredients. Stir until thoroughly combined.
  3. Add water to cover the chick peas by about one inch, then raise the heat and boil chick peas until soft.
  4. Remove about 1/4 of the chick peas and crush with a potato masher. Recombine and stir to incorporate. This should leave you with mostly intact chick peas, with the small part that was mashed becoming a thick sauce.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.

Craig

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