Coconut curry and peppered tofu: Riaz Phillips’ vegan Jamaican recipes | Caribbean food and drink

There’s lots I crave about Jamaican food, beyond jerk and curried meat. At cook shops, tucked away in shopping plazas, on highway roadsides and up in the hills, the Rastafari and Seventh-Day Adventists alike serve a rotating daily feast of plant-based dishes that celebrate the island’s fresh produce, from leafy greens to starchy roots and bright fruits, combined with local herbs and spices.

Sweet potato, chickpea and coconut curry (pictured top)

Unlike Guyana and Trinidad, Jamaica does not have a large Indian community. This dish, then, is something of a Caribbean Sea melting pot, fusing chanaor curried chickpeas, with a Jamaican vegetable curry. The softened chickpeas are swamped in a silky coconut curry sauce, with the heat dialed up with fresh ginger and a whole scotch bonnet.

Transfer 20 minutes
Cook 40 minutes
Serves 4-6

75 ml rapeseed or vegetable oil
½ large onion
finely chopped
3 garlic clovespeeled and minced
2.5 cm piece of fresh gingerpeeled and minced
2 spring onionswhite and green parts separated, thinly sliced
1½ tbsp curry powder (mild or medium)
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 x 400g
tin of chickpeasdrained
1 x 400ml tin of coconut milk
1 tbsp all-purpose seasoning
½ tsp ground cinnamon
sweet potatopeeled and cut into 2.5cm pieces
1 large carrotsliced
1½ bell peppers (a mix of colours), deseeded and cut into 1cm dice
2 large tomatoesdiced (or 8 cherry tomatoes, halved)
4 sprigs of thyme
1 tsp sea salt

1 tsp black pepper
1 tbsp maple syrup or soft light brown sugar
1 tbsp desiccated coconut
scotch bonnet pepperwhole

For the okra
2 tbsp coconut oil
A pinch of dried chili flakes
5-6 okra
topped and tailed, halved lengthways

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the onion and saute for two minutes, add the garlic, ginger and the white part of the spring onions, then cook for another two minutes.

Add the curry powder, cumin and a tablespoon of water, and stir for a minute to combine. Stir in the chickpeas, coating them in the seasoning, then add the coconut milk, the all-purpose seasoning and cinnamon, and keep stirring for another minute or so.

Next, stir in the sweet potato, carrot, peppers, tomatoes and thyme. Add the salt, black pepper, maple syrup or sugar, if using, and the desiccated coconut, stir, then add the scotch bonnet. Turn the heat down to low, cover with the lid and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir, cover again and simmer for a further 10–15 minutes, until the sweet potato is tender.

Meanwhile, cook the okra. Heat the coconut oil in a frying pan over a medium heat and add the chilli flakes. Add the okra and fry until they start to brown slightly. Remove with a spatula and drain on kitchen paper. Add the okra and its spicy oil to the pan of coconut chickpeas or serve separately, if you prefer.

Serve with the green part of the spring onions.

Peppered tofu

Riaz Phillips' peppered tofu.
Riaz Phillips’ peppered tofu.

One of the dishes that has popped up at many Jamaican Italian shacks and restaurants is this sticky, sweet and sour vegan version of peppered steak, which is influenced by the country’s Chinese communities. Strips of beef steak are reimagined in the form of tofu, which sits in a thickened sweet soy-sauce blend that you’ll be hard-pressed not to enjoy every last drop of.

Transfer 20 minutes
Cook 25 minutes
Serves 4

400g tofu companydrained well, patted dry and cut into 2.5cm wide slices
5 tbsp light soy sauce
4 tbsp cornflour
2 tbsp dark (AKA black) soy sauce
or tomato ketchup
5 tsp apple cider vinegar
3 tbsp maple syrup steed soft light brown sugar
1 tsp browning (optional)
4 tbsp rapeseed oil
½ onionthinly sliced
2 spring onionswhite and green parts separated, thinly sliced
3 sprigs of thyme
½ scotch bonnet pepperdeseeded and thinly sliced
3–4 garlic clovespeeled and minced
2.5 cm piece fresh gingerpeeled and minced
½ carrotjulienned
1 red pepperdeseeded and sliced
½ tomatochopped (optional)

Put the tofu in a shallow bowl and add the soy sauce. Gently turn it until coated, taking care not to break up the slices. Add three tablespoons of the cornflour, then turn to coat all sides of the tofu and set aside.

In a bowl, combine the dark soy sauce or ketchup, vinegar, maple syrup or sugar, the browning, if using, and 90ml water, then set aside. In a separate bowl, mix three tablespoons of water with the remaining cornflour.

Heat three tablespoons of the oil in a large wok or frying pan over a medium heat. Fry the tofu, in batches, for a few minutes on each side until golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper while you cook the rest of the tofu, adding more oil when needed. Drain and set aside.

Wipe the wok or pan clean, and heat the remaining oil over a medium-high heat. Add the onion, spring onions, saving some of the green part to garnish, thyme and scotch bonnet. Stir-fry for three to five minutes, then add the garlic and ginger, then cook for another two minutes.

Add the dark soy sauce mixture and stir to combine. Next, add the cornflour-water and cook, stirring, for one to two minutes, until the sauce starts to thicken.

Add the carrot, pepper and tomato, if using, and three tablespoons of water, then stir until combined. Cover with the lid and cook for two minutes. Add the tofu and heat through, adding an extra two to three tablespoons of water if needed. Cover and heat through, then serve with a scattering of the green part of the spring onions.

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