rasta pasta aka jerk shrimp pasta in cream sauce

It’s fair to say that this dish is not traditional nor is it a marriage of cultural traditions. It owes its origins both to Jamaica (the jerk seasoning) and to Italy (a cream pasta sauce). Unlike the hummingbird cake which was invented by an anonymous Jamaican chef at the Jamaica Tourist Board, the invention of the “rasta pasta” is credited to Chef Lorraine Washington (jamaica-gleaner.com, October 29 2012). The recipe also includes an ingredient called green seasoning which is also fairly recent and fairly popular, as every island in the Caribbean seems to have a version. Whether it is the result of pure invention or merely a happy fusion, green seasoning is basically pesto with scotch bonnet peppers. In my version, I make it with whatever greens are on hand, minus the Parmesan cheese and pine nuts. How rasta pasta got its name is unknown, but I am quite sure it is not a riff on something Rastafarian, since believers are vegetarian. Nevertheless, rasta pasta is a bold dish that holds nothing back. Its flavour profile is Jamaican with the smooth creaminess of sauce in the background. This version was adapted from Terri-Ann’s Kitchen.

Rasta Pasta (Jerk Shrimp Pasta in Cream Sauce)

Yield: 4 servings

For the Pasta:

300g penne pasta


Large pot of boiling water

Cook the pasta in boiling salted water according to the package directions. Drain, rinse, and drain again. Set aside.

For the Shrimp:

500g to 1kg jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined with the tails on

1 tablespoon jerk seasoning

1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning (preferably home made)

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon green seasoning

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon rice bran oil

Season the shrimp in a large bowl with the jerk seasoning, Old Bay, black pepper, green seasoning, and salt. Toss to coat. Heat oil in a large skillet until it shimmers. Sauté shrimp in the hot oil until just pink. Remove shrimp to a plate or bowl and set aside.

For the vegetables and the cream sauce:

1 tablespoon rice bran oil

1/2 red and green sweet pepper sliced in strips

6 sprigs fresh thyme

2 scallions, chopped

3 garlic cloves, ninced

2 cups heavy cream (can substitute milk)

1 teaspoon Old Bay (homemade is best)

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

2 teaspoons sweet paprika (can substitute hot paprika)

1 teaspoon jerk seasoning, optional

1 teaspoon adobo seasoning, preferably home made (can substitute all-purpose seasoning)

1 1/2 cups -2 cups grated cheese (mozzarella, cheddar, Parmesan or a mix)

Cilantro, chopped, for garnish (can substitute parsley)

After cooking the shrimp, no need to wipe out the pan. Add oil over medium-high heat and heat until shimmering. Turn down heat to medium. Sauté peppers, thyme, scallions, and garlic until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add cream or milk. Add Old Bay, black pepper, and paprika. Mix well to combine. Don’t add the jerk just yet. Add the adobo or all-purpose seasoning, then the cheese. Mix well. Taste the sauce. If more heat is desired, add the jerk seasoning here. Add the cooked pasta and half the shrimp and juices. Mix well. Garnish with chopped cilantro or parsley and top with the reserved shrimp. Serve at once.

jamaican black bean soup



Soups in Jamaica are hearty. Black bean soup can be as thin or as thick as you desire. Serve it thick like a stew as a main meal with ham or sausage, or serve it thin as a soup course. The scotch bonnet pepper (or habañero can be a substitute) adds flavor as much as it adds heat, which is very mild actually, so don’t be afraid to use it. When they are available in Bangkok I buy them, and freeze the extra for future use.

Jamaican Black Bean Soup (adapted from ethnic spicy food and more)

1 tablespoon canola oil
1 small red onion, diced
1 small red bell pepper, diced
2-4 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons minced ginger
1 small scotch bonnet pepper, slit twice to release the flavors
1 1/2 cups vegetarian broth (substitute: chicken broth)
2 teaspoons dried thyme
2 15-ounce cans black beans, drained and rinsed (1 1/2 cups dried)
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/2-3/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk (shake well before opening)
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, minced fine

Cook vegetables. In a large stockpot, bring the temperature to medium heat. Swirl in the oil. Add the chopped red onion, red bell pepper, garlic, ginger and scotch bonnet pepper. Sauté for 3-5 minutes until the vegetables are somewhat tender. Add the broth, thyme and beans. Bring the soup to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 15-20 minutes to allow the flavors to develop. Sprinkle in the salt and adjust seasoning if necessary.

Purée cooked vegetables. Pour half of the soup into a blender or food processor. Pulse the soup to create a chunky mixture. Pour the puréed mixture back in with the remaining soup. Add the coconut milk and stir in the cilantro. Serve hot.


  • For a main meal, grill two sweet or hot Italian or Kielbasa sausages or turkey ham. Chop coarsely. Add to soup with the purée.
  • Use dried black beans instead of canned. Put 2 cups of beans, 6 cups of water, 3 tablespoons oil in pressure cooker. Cook 25 minutes. If beans were soaked overnight in the refrigerator, cook them 3-6 minutes.

jamaican pepperpot soup with dumplins


It’s winter in Bangkok, which means the temperature dips from a sweltering 30 degrees Celsius to a relatively mild 23 degrees. So naturally, my thoughts turn to a spicy soup from Jamaica to brace both body and soul. In texture a pepperpot is thicker than a soup but not as thick as a stew. It’s in between. We eat it with dumplins and a side of rice, but that’s up to you.

Jamaican Pepperpot Soup with Dumplins (adapted from Cooking the Caribbean Way)

Servings: 6-8
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 60-75 minutes

2 lb stewing beef or pork shoulder, cubed
8 oz. salt beef, pork or bacon, chopped (I used bacon)
1 1/2 cups okra, chopped
1 bunch kale, chopped
1 bunch callaloo or spinach, chopped
2 scallions, chopped (I used 3/4 of a large onion, sliced)
1 lb yellow yams, sliced (I used 1 1/2 carrots, sliced)
1 coco or large potato, sliced
1 sprig thyme (2 teaspoons dried)
1-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 Scotch Bonnet pepper, optional (I substituted 2 Thai chilies)
Salt and pepper to taste

In a Dutch oven, brown the salt meat in a little oil or brown the bacon until some oil is released. Add the meat and brown. Add enough water to cover, and bring to a near boil; simmer 30 minutes. Add yams or carrots and coco or potato. Simmer 15 minutes, then add okras, kale, spinach or callaloo, scallions or onions and simmer 15 minutes. Add 2 cups water to the pot. Add thyme, garlic, chili peppers, and salt and pepper to taste. Dumplins can be added to the soup. Stir and simmer another 15 minutes.

Mom’s Dumplins

2 cups self-rising flour
1 cup hot water
2 tablespoons vegetable shortening

Put flour in a large bowl. Dissolve the shortening in hot water. Pour the shortening mixture into the flour and combine. Pinch off about an inch of dough and roll between your hands to make a cigar shape. Repeat until all the dough is used up.

Heat a small pot of water to boiling and add the dumplins in batches. When they float, they are done. Drain dumplins and add to the pepperpot soup. Continue until all dumplins are cooked and added to the pepperpot.

plantain tartelettes

I’m on a mission. A mission to make morsels of dessert that satisfy a sweet tooth without causing serious  overindulgence! After getting a plantain tart recipe at Easter from my cousins Peter and Karen, I was anxious to try it out. I had an idea to make tartelettes, mini-tarts filled with plantain. So I patiently waited for a plantain to ripen. Diana says they ripen on Jamaica time–it takes 7-10 days in a paper bag. My patience paid off and I finally got a ripe one.

Traditionally, the filling for plantain tarts is bright red. Unfortunately, the recipe  did not say how much red food coloring to use, so I decided to be conservative and try for a “dusty rose” shade. I merely succeeded in making it brown. Still, if it tastes like a plantain, then it must be a plantain. I did leave out the raisins–to me it’s sacrilegious to add any to a plantain tart.  The pastry, I must say,  is exquisite. It came out tender and flaky. However, I think  this filling could be more flavorful to go head to head with this pastry.

Plantain Tartelettes

2 cups sifted flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup vegetable shortening
2-4 tablespoons iced water

1 cup ripe plantain, peeled and cut up
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon chopped raisins, optional
Red food coloring, optional

To make the filling:

  1. In a saucepan combine plantain, sugar, and water
  2. Cook over low heat until plantain is cooked through, about 5 minutes. The plantains will change from pinkish-orange when raw to deep yellow when cooked.
  3. Remove from heat and mash lightly. Add nutmeg, vanilla, butter, raisins if using, and red food coloring, if using. After adding 12 drops red and 4 drops blue, the plantain mixture turned dark brown.
  4. Allow filling to cool before filling tartelettes.

To make the pastry:

  1. Combine flour and salt with shortening and cut into pastry until flaky. Add iced water to bind together. [I used 2 tablespoons iced water.] Form dough into a ball, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate, about 30 minutes.
  2. Preheat oven to 450˚F.
  3. Roll out chilled dough on a lightly floured board to about 1/8 inch thickness. Cut into 40 two-inch rounds. Cake Baker’s Tip: If the dough warms it may become difficult to handle. Wrap it in plastic and refrigerate it for at least 15 minutes. Use a flat blade spatula to lift each round off the cutting board.
  4. Spoon about 1/2  tablespoon cooled filling in the center of each round. Top with another pastry round and gently press the edges together. Crimp one side with the tines of a fork.
  5. Place tartelettes on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
  6. Brush tops of tartelettes  with a little milk.
  7. Bake for 10 minutes at 450˚F. Reduce heat to 350˚F and bake for 15-20 minutes. Pastry should be delicately brown.  Makes 20 tartelettes.

mate chocolate tea with Jamaican bun and cheese

I had read about drinking chocolate tea to satisfy food cravings–especially the late-night kind! To me, anything chocolate is good. I noticed that a new gourmet spice and tea shop opened on Broadway called Spices and Tease (between 97th  and 98th Streets) so I wandered in to check it out. Maxim, the proprietor, introduced me to mate chocolate tea. It was his last stash for the next two weeks but he sold it to me. He promised me that it would get darker the longer it steeped but it would not get bitter. He’s right. It has the most wonderful guilt-free chocolate smell and a slight bitter taste reminiscent of dark chocolate. A mate (pronounced ma-teh) is a South American herbal tea made from the leaves of the yerba mate. And I discovered it’s a wonderful accompaniment to bun and cheese, an Easter tradition in Jamaica.

Speaking of which, my cousin Anne Marie contributed this recipe for a stout bun. She writes: “SweetPea LOVES this bun recipe which I got from my cousin Debbie, so I have not made it in several years because he tends to eat all but the one or two slices I manage to save for myself!!!  Sweetie says that if I don’t make it, he won’t be tempted but you know, I think I’ll surprise him with it next month for his 65th!!!!!!!!! Birthday.” So, as an added bonus, here is Anne Marie’s recipe for

Jamaican Spice Bun


1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar;
2 teaspoons melted butter;
2 teaspoons golden syrup or honey;
2 teaspoons mixed spice (cinnamon, nutmeg & mace in equal parts.  I made up a small jar to save myself the trouble for future buns);
1 cup of stout (I love Guinness);
3 cups all purpose flour;
3 tsp baking powder;
1 cup mixed glacé fruits (I add extra glacé cherries);
1 large egg (or 2 medium eggs)


1.  Preheat oven to 400˚F
2.  In a small saucepan, dissolve sugar, butter, syrup/honey & spices in the stout on low heat
3.  Mix flour, baking powder and fruit
4.  Beat eggs & mix all ingredients together
5.  Put in greased and parchment lined (9×5 inch) loaf tin
6.  Bake approximately 1 hour

This recipe makes one loaf of spice bun. Sam, I hope Anne Marie makes this for your birthday next month– and for any other occasion.

Jamaican Easter bun and cheese

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What you don’t eat, you miss. I never really liked bun and cheese when I lived in Jamaica but now that I’m no longer living there, I miss it. I miss the sticky sweetness of the raisins and cherries contrasting with the salty tang of cheddar cheese. So I decided to try my hand at a stout bun; a quick bread, really. It seemed the easiest one to make, requiring no yeast. However, I did face a couple of challenges. First of all, I had to hunt around liquor stores on the Upper West Side for stout, a dark beer. To be truly patriotic, I should have looked for Dragon Stout but I settled for Guinness. After the fourth liquor store I was glad to find any stout. The second problem was that I couldn’t find mixed peel, the sugared citrus rind that is used in making fruitcakes. Well, this is the wrong holiday for that, so I did without.

How did the Jamaican Easter Bun come about? Some writers say it is a variation on the hot cross bun that is traditionally eaten at Easter in Europe. If so, that hot cross bun has undergone quite a transformation. No longer decorated with a cross, the Easter Bun in Jamaica is a spice bread redolent of cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. In the case of the stout bun, it has a cup of dark beer added to it. It also gets its distinctive dark color from molasses.

I adapted this recipe for Jamaican Easter Bun from one I found on keepitjiggy.com.

Jamaican Easter Bun


6 oz or 3/4 cup stout (It must be fresh not flat stout)
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons unsulphured molasses
2 tablespoons softened butter + 2 tablespoons butter for melting
3 cups unbleached all purpose flour + 1 tablespoon flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 tablespoon allspice or mixed spice (e.g. apple pie)
2 eggs beaten
1 cup milk
1/2 cup raisins, softened in enough water or rum to cover, drained
1/2 cup mixed peel, chopped (increase raisins to 1 cup if mixed peel is unavailable)
1/3 cup maraschino cherries, drained and stems removed, coarsely chopped


Preheat oven to 300˚F. Melt 2 tablespoons butter and mix it with 1 tablespoon flour.  Brush butter-flour mixture onto the bottom and sides of the loaf pan(s). Use one 9×5 inch (8 cup capacity) loaf pan or two 8.5×4.5 inch (4 cup capacity each) loaf pans. If using non-stick pans with a dark finish, reduce the oven temperature to 275˚F and test for doneness five minutes sooner than the recommended baking time.

Warm the stout on a low flame. Add brown sugar, molasses and softened butter. Stir until dissolved. Cool.

In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and spices. Mix in the fruit. In a medium bowl, mix together the beaten eggs and milk.  Add to the flour-fruit mixture. The mixture will be the texture of coarse crumbs. Add the cooled stout mixture. Blend until all dry ingredients are just moistened.

Scrape batter into prepared pan(s). Tap pan(s) lightly on the kitchen counter to eliminate air bubbles. Bake for 1 to 1 ¼ hours. I used two 8.5 inch loaf pans, so mine were done in 55 minutes. Remove from oven when a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool 10 minutes in the pan on a wire rack. Invert the bun(s) onto the wire rack. Re-invert and cool thoroughly. When cooled, cut the loaf in ½ inch thick slices. Serve with cheddar cheese slices sandwiched between two slices of bun. Mm-m! It takes me home again!

jerk beef and beans

My cousin Anne Marie is a wonderful cook. Because of our Chinese-Jamaican heritage we both share this obsession with food and its preparation. Anne Marie also loves animals. At last count she has five dogs (mostly pugs) and two cats. Anne Marie lives in South Carolina with her husband Sam, affectionately called Sweetie Pie. She shared this recipe with us, her cousins, and I am sharing it with you.  Anne Marie notes: “Because Sweetie watches his carb intake, lots of times I do not serve this with white rice but with raw [ripe] bananas and roasted veggies.  Tonight’s roasted veggies were carrots and turnips.”  Cut the veggies into 1/4 inch rounds. Roll the veggies in olive oil and season with garlic powder, black pepper, and dill.  Spread on a baking tray and bake until browned and caramelized. I think 30 minutes on the upper rack of the oven ought to do it while the casserole is bubbling beneath it. This is a hearty dish, very filling, and a tad spicy if you aren’t used to jerk seasoning. A note about jerk seasoning:  jerk seasoning is available from West Indian markets but some supermarkets in urban areas do carry it. I am partial to the Walkers Wood brand. Jerk seasoning key ingredients are  allspice (called pimento in Jamaica) and  Scotch Bonnet pepper, a relative of the better known habeñero pepper. If you love the strong earthy flavors of Jamaican cooking, try this. You’ll love it!


3 lb beef shin with bone in, trimmed of excess fat
2 tins black beans with liquid
1 can butter beans, drained
1 large onion, chopped
1 scant teaspoon Walkers Wood Jerk Seasoning plus 1-2 teaspoons more for seasoning meat
2 sprigs thyme, fresh or dried
Salt and pepper


Wipe meat clean with a paper towel.  Set aside.  In a large casserole pot with a lid, add two tins of black beans with liquid, chopped onions,  and a scant teaspoon of Walkers Wood Jerk Seasoning.  Sprinkle moderately with salt, black pepper and thyme.  Mix it up.  With rubber gloves on, smear meat on both sides with additional jerk seasoning.  Push down into the black bean mixture.  Cover and place in 350 degree oven for two hours.  Remove casserole from oven when the two hours are up and add drained butter beans. Gently stir into and over the meat.  Cover again and cook another hour. [Cook’s Tip: if you prefer a thinner sauce, add a 1/4 cup of water to the bean mixture and stir.]

Caribbean island lime shrimp

I have a pet peeve when I talk about the Caribbean.

The word is Car-rib-bee-an, not Ca-rib-bee-an. I’m from the Caribbean but I’ve never had this dish before. Despite its dubious provenance (about.com), I can say that it was not bad at all; unusually sweet, salty, spicy, tart, and sour–which surprises the mouth rather like the first time one eats Pad Thai. One thing I don’t understand is why a recipe calls for alcohol and then notes you can leave it out. Since I don’t drink, I don’t have alcohol on hand, so I was happy to leave it out.

1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lime juice (about 2 limes)
1/2 cup orange juice concentrate
1/8 cup tequila, about half a mini-bottle (optional)
1 tablespoon Triple Sec or Cointreau orange liqueur, about half a mini-bottle (optional)
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1/4 cup minced sweet onion
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or more to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 to 1-1/2 pounds fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails left on for presentation if you wish

Measure 1/4 cup olive oil, lime juice, orange juice concentrate, tequila (if using), Triple Sec (if using), cilantro, garlic, sweet onion, curry powder, salt, turmeric, cumin, cayenne pepper, and black pepper into a large zip-top bag. Seal and squish contents to mix. Add shrimp to marinade, squeeze out all the air, and seal. Turn bag to coat shrimp. Refrigerate for 1 hour. (Do not over-marinate or the citrus acids will “cook” the shrimp.)

Heat a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to the hot pan and swirl to coat. Remove shrimp from marinade, reserving marinade, and place in a single layer in the hot pan. Cook for 1 minute, then flip the shrimp to the other side. Do not overcook the shrimp or it will become rubbery. Add the reserved marinade to the pan. Cook 1 minute, then remove shrimp and keep warm. Continue cooking the marinade until it reduces two-thirds to a thick sauce. Turn off the heat, return the shrimp to the pan, and toss in the sauce.

Cook’s note: If using medium shrimp (31 per pound), don’t cook for 2 minutes. Cook for 1 minute then remove from the pan. To cook all the shrimp at the same time, and to prevent overcooking, I turned off the heat while putting them in the pan. It’s important to work quickly so don’t be squeamish;  stick your hand in the bag and grab a handful of shrimp and sprinkle them in the oil. That’s why it’s safer with the heat off.

Serve Caribbean Island Lime Shrimp over white rice. Another serving idea, and low calorie too, is to serve it with romaine lettuce leaves. This dish is also good as a room temperature appetizer for parties. I made this dish last night so other good accompaniments are roasted yams (American sweet potato–yam in the Caribbean is a different vegetable), and of course,  the strawberry, spinach, hearts of palm salad.

Yield: 4 servings

lopetban: Hakka Chinese Jamaican steamed buns

Labor intensive and a labor of love, making lopetban is a challenge without exact measurements. I’m still working on that recipe. In the meantime, here’s a slideshow featuring my sister-in-law Lorraine making these savory buns. They are great for a snack or a light breakfast.

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