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 doesn’t have a big Indian community. This dish, then, is something of a Caribbean Sea melting pot, fusing chana, or curried chickpeas, with a Jamaican vegetable curry. The softened chickpeas are swamped in a silky coconut curry sauce, with the heat dialled up with fresh ginger and a whole scotch bonnet.

Prep 20 min
Cook 40 min
Serves 4-6

75ml rapeseed or vegetable oil
½ large onion
, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2.5cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
2 spring onions, white and green parts separated, thinly sliced
1½ tbsp curry powder (mild or medium)
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 x 400g
tin chickpeas, drained
1 x 400ml tin coconut milk
1 tbsp all-purpose seasoning
½ tsp ground cinnamon
250g
sweet potato, peeled and cut into 2.5cm pieces
1 large carrot, sliced
1½ bell peppers (a mix of colours), deseeded and cut into 1cm dice
2 large tomatoes, diced (or 8 cherry tomatoes, halved)
4 sprigs thyme
1 tsp sea salt

1 tsp black pepper
1 tbsp maple syrup or soft light brown sugar
(optional)
1 tbsp desiccated coconut
1
scotch bonnet pepper, whole

For the okra
2 tbsp coconut oil
A pinch of dried chilli 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 Ital 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.

Prep 20 min
Cook 25 min
Serves 4

400g firm tofu, drained well, patted dry and cut into 2.5cm wide slices
5 tbsp light soy sauce
4 tbsp cornflour
(corn starch)
2 tbsp dark (AKA black) soy sauce
or tomato ketchup
5 tsp apple cider vinegar
3 tbsp maple syrup or soft light brown sugar
1 tsp browning (optional)
4 tbsp rapeseed oil
½ onion, thinly sliced
2 spring onions, white and green parts separated, thinly sliced
3 sprigs thyme
½ scotch bonnet pepper, deseeded and thinly sliced
3–4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2.5cm piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
½ carrot, julienned
1 red pepper, deseeded and sliced
½ tomato, chopped (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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