OK. So a Belgian-Caribbean connection may sound far-fetched, but if you think about it, it isn’t really all that bizarre. After all, being right next door Holland, we’re directly exposed to the culture of its territories overseas and the culinary melting pot that is Suriname and the Dutch Antilles.
Furthermore, I’ve been blessed to work in the travel industry for roughly 20 years now and have always been exposed to a broader world view in that capacity. My very first job was at the much coveted chain of adventure travel stores named ‘Joker Toerisme’, a company exuding a laid back REI-kinda atmosphere. To this day, ‘Joker Toerisme‘ holds fast to its deep-rooted values of promoting sustainable travel with the utmost respect for local culture & customs, and ensures that the many tourist dollars spent overseas directly benefit the local population. I remember that the people who walked into our store were firm believers in fair trade and genuinely seemed interested in the cultural heritage of their planned destination.
Despite my desire to relocate to the USA, I absolutely loved my job there. My colleagues were among the coolest, most caring & well-traveled people I’ve had the pleasure to meet in my life. Even though I amicably quit that job heavy-hearted when an opportunity to relocate arose 13 years ago, I can pick up the phone today and talk to any of them as though no time has passed… My visits back to Belgium always include a few dinner invitations from former colleagues, which are traditionally evenings that are filled with great travel stories, reminiscing about the old times with laughter and fantastic home-cooked meals from recipes that were collected from all corners of the world.
No matter how many hours pass, these cozy evenings seem to fly by quickly. Belgians are known to be a gregarious, hospitable folk. We take great joy in welcoming guests and providing a warm, cozy atmosphere. Like many Europeans, most of my Belgian friends have traveled extensively and their homes are eclectic havens of exotic textiles & interesting knick-knack’s that were collected throughout their many adventures overseas. I remember that many years ago, my friend Griet put on a slide show about her trip to the Caribbean she had literally just returned from. To set the proper tone, her massive oak wood table was adorned with Caribbean-style stoneware, set neatly on banana-leaf placemats, and she had cooked a scrumptious spicy fish stew from the island of Aruba. The aroma greeting me at the front door was as though I had set foot ashore the Dutch Antilles… Reportedly, she had collected the recipe from the innkeeper’s cook of a small bed & breakfast in Oranjestad. Rumor has it, the cook in question fancied Griet’s fair skin & blue eyes, but let’s not go there, shall we?
SPICY CARIBBEAN FISH STEW
(Adapted from a recipe by the ‘Arubiana Inn’ in Oranjestad, Aruba)
– 1 lbs of firm white fish (cat fish or halibut work great in this recipe)
– 1 lbs of large shrimp, shell-on
– 1 red onion, finely chopped or diced
– 2 cloves of garlic, minced or grated
– 2 whole cloves
– 2 laurel leaves
– 2 Tbsp of sweet curry powder
– 1 Tsp of ground cinnamon
– 1+ spicy red pepper(s), choose as per your ‘heat’ preference (*)
– 1 cans of diced tomatoes
– 1 lemon, zested & juiced
– 3 Tbsp of sour cream
– 1/3 cup of coconut cream (or coconut milk)
– Salt & pepper, to taste
– Olive oil
– Fresh cilantro, for garnish
(*) My friend Debi over at ‘Life Currents’ wrote a great post about choosing hot peppers. Read her post here, so you can decide how ‘hot’ you want to go in choosing the kind of pepper and the quantity for this dish.
In a large heavy pan, sauté the diced onion until translucent and starting to brown. After approx. 3 min or so, add the minced garlic, curry powder, cloves, cinnamon and chopped spicy pepper(s). Continue to stir-fry the spices and onions for 3-5 min to bring out their flavors. Add tomatoes, lemon juice, sour cream & coconut milk and season with salt & pepper to taste.
Chop fresh fish into large chunks, and place chunks in these in the sauce. Make sure to submerge them in the sauce as much as possible, so they cook evenly. Let them braise for about 15 min, then add shrimp and cook for 3-5 min more until shrimp are pink and fish is cooked through.
Sprinkle some chopped fresh cilantro over the top and serve with fried plantains, bread or rice.