NANA'S KITCHEN: COOKING WITH 'CULANTRO'
There's a herb that Jamaicans call "spirit weed". Rumour has it that you are not meant to harvest this herb up after dark. While in Jamaica, most consider it as a weed, cut it out and toss it out, in neighbouring Trinidad and most of South America, spirit weed is a cherished fragrant herb cooks rave about. It goes under different names depending on where you're from. Spirit weed (Jamaica), Culantro (parts of South America), Recao (Puerto Rico) and Chadon Beni (Trinidad)- just to name a few.
Anyway, I was lucky enough to get a bunch of spirit weed not too long ago. This being the first time I interact with this ingredient, I spent a day nibbling on the leaves, raw, to see what I could make with it. I was told it would taste like "cilantro on steroids", while in reality I found it to be a crossover of arugula and cilantro. It's a lovely somewhat bitter herb with a citrusy, peppery flavour-- just like I like them. As I nibbled on each leaf, my brain scanned all sorts of potential recipes- from curries to desserts. At the end of the day, I decided to stick to good old basics that are affordable and within anyone's reach. Here are two great ways to enjoy spirit weed:
1 tbsp coconut oil
Pinch of salt
Handful of fresh culantro, chopped
Nana's cumin-hot sauce (optional)
Place coconut oil in a pan, over medium heat. Crack eggs into pan. Cook until the tops are white and the yolk is to desired texture (I like mine semi-runny). Toss the chopped culantro all over. Cook for another minute. With a spatula, remove eggs from pan. Place on a plate and sprinkle with salt. Serve with toast, cheese, caramelized onions, pepper sauce... the works! Whatever you want!
2 tbsp coconut oil/olive oil • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 cups chicken/vegetable stock • 1 cup cornmeal
3 tablespoons unsalted butter (or oil if you prefer)
1.5 tsp salt • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 ounces Parmesan (or any other cheese), grated
3 cups of culantro, chopped • Onions, caramelized
Preheat oven to 350F. The first steps are with the stove: Heat oil in a large oven-proof pan over medium heat for 2 minutes. Reduce heat to low, add garlic and sautee for a short minute. Then add the chicken/veg broth and turn heat to high. Start to gradually add the cornmeal while continuously mixing for another 2 minutes. Then remove pan and place in oven (already preheated to 350F) and bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven mid way and stir carefully to avoid any lumps. Lumps are easy to form with polenta, so be careful! Once the mixture is creamy, remove from the oven and add the butter, culantro, salt, and pepper. Finally, add the Parmesan.