Cooking Traditional Meals from Another Country: Haiti

I love to cook homemade meals but I must admit I am guilty of sometimes playing it too safe. What I mean by that is if I find a recipe that calls for too many ingredients or if it’s something I have never eaten before I will usually shy away from making it myself. Over the last year I have made it a goal to start being a little more brave and adventurous in the kitchen. I first started by venturing into more Asian inspired dishes and I recently started making some Mediterranean meals as well. I was trying to think of a new type of cuisine to try when I got inspired by chef Gregory Gourdet on the most recent season of Top Chef to try and make a Haitian inspired meal. 

There were a couple of times this season that Gregory made Haitian cuisine but it was really during the restaurant wars episode that I became intrigued. During that episode Gregory and three fellow Top Chef contestants set up a small version of Gregory’s Haitian restaurant concept, Kann, and made several traditional dishes to serve to the judges. The idea behind his concept was to bring his childhood memories to life through food and shed light upon Haitian cuisine because it is so under represented in the states. All of the judges raved about how great the food was and Judge Tom Colicchio even said the dishes made him want to travel to Haiti.

I immediately jumped online to try and find a Haitian restaurant near me but unfortunately there are none. So the next option was for me to find a recipe and make it at home.  After a little research I had a decent list of some Haitian dishes I wanted to try and make. 

  • Griot – Slowly braised pork that is then fried to create a crisp exterior while the interior remains tender. 
  • Pikliz – Fiery cabbage slaw that is preserved in vinegar and seasoned with scotch bonnet chiles.
  • Soup Joumou – A puree of Caribbean pumpkin made with beef stock, cabbage, plantains, root vegetables and more. Like most Haitian food it is seasoned with scotch bonnet chiles. 
  • Bannann Peze– Fried slices of pressed green plantain. 
  • Pate – Puff pastries with savory fillings like spiced ground beef, salted cod, ground chicken, turkey or smoked herring. Unlike french puff pastry this dough is commonly made with margarine, lard or shortening and it tends to have thicker, chewier layers.

I ultimately decided to attempt to make pork grito with pikliz and I used this recipe that I found from NY Times. For the most part all of the ingredients were easy to find at my local grocery store or I was able to find a substitute. Scotch bonnet chiles are used in most Haitian recipes but I was not able to find them at my grocery store so I used habanero instead. For grito I followed the recipe exactly and it ended up making about 4 servings. I thought the pikliz seemed like it would make too much so I cut the recipe in half and I was still able to completely fill a large jar. 

There are definitely a lot of ingredients and prep work required so this meal is best to do over the weekend or sometime when you have quite a bit of time on your hands. I made the mistake of not reading through the directions first and I didn’t realize the pikliz needed to be made 3 days ahead of time and the pork needed to marinate overnight. Luckily I was able to throw something else together to serve for dinner the night I had originally planned to make the grito and I wasn’t scrambling to order take out instead.

In the end I was definitely glad that I followed the marinating directions completely because the flavor was phenomenal! I chose to use coconut oil instead of olive oil and I think it added just a hint of coconut flavor that tasted great and really gave it a bit more of a Caribbean flare. My husband’s favorite part of this meal was the pikliz. He said he really enjoyed the acidity from the vinegar and the heat from the habanero. 

I will definitely continue to explore other countries’ cuisines and I can not wait to be able to travel again and hopefully visit a city that has some good Haitian restaurants so I can try the real deal. Miami is said to have some good Haitian restaurants and if you are as inspired by Chef Gregory as I was he has plans to open his Haitian restaurant, Kann, in Portland Oregon soon.

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