June 25, 2022

Hualienrainbow

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How to cook more economically amid wallet shock

Although the degree varies, we are all reeling from sticker shock these days? A few days ago, I was surprised to see that the cost of chicken is increasing, again, but pork prices are coming down a bit. Beef prices seem stable — which is to say, high — and the price of lamb is heading upward, too.

From one week to the next, the milk I buy went from $2.89 a half gallon to $3.99. My morning cafe au lait is starting to feel like a luxury.

One way to view this is as an opportunity, especially if you have the luxury of time, which I do. The most time-consuming duties of motherhood are behind me now, so I do have time to explore and experiment in the kitchen, something I have always done, though never for my current reason: cooking more economically.

My first experiment is with green seasoning, which has a variety of names and is ubiquitous throughout the Caribbean. My first batch is quite traditional, but once it is gone, I will begin experimenting with French sorrel and spearmint, both of which are abundant in my garden, along with radish greens and poblanos, and by switching up the citrus.

There are countless versions of what is known as green seasoning throughout the Caribbean and in certain parts of Africa. There are many commercial versions, too. Most use an herb called culantro, similar to cilantro but stronger; I have not found it locally. Some have no citrus, others have no herbs other than thyme. All have a great deal of heat and a refreshing brightness that I can only describe as “green.” Green seasoning takes its place in my cooking arsenal right alongside Moroccan chermoula, Argentinian chimichurr and Italian salsa verde. It has myriad uses, so be as traditional and as inventive as you want to be.

Caribbean Green Seasoning

Makes about 1 quart

3 bunches (about 18) scallions, trimmed

2 large celery stalks, trimmed

1 bunch cilantro (about 4 ounces)

1 bunch Italian parsley (about 4 ounces)

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

1 white onion, trimmed, peeled, and cut into small dice

1 to 3 fresh hot chiles, such as serrano, Scotch bonnet or habañero, to taste, stemmed and minced

2 ounces fresh ginger, peeled and grated

1 large garlic bulb, cloves separated, peeled, crushed and minced

1 teaspoon allspice berries, crushed

Juice of 2 limes or 2 lemons, plus more to taste

Kosher salt

To make the seasoning by hand: rinse, dry, trim and crush all ingredients, as directed in the ingredients list.

Using a very sharp chef’s knife, cut the scallions into very thin rounds, no more than ⅛ of an inch and preferably thinner. Put them into a mixing bowl. Cut the celery into very small dice and add it to the bowl.

Chop the cilantro and parsley, using the stems provided they are not too thick. Add to the bowl, along with the thyme leaves, onion, chiles, ginger, garlic and allspice. Toss together well.

Add the lime or lemon juice and toss again. Season generously with salt, stir, cover and let sit 5 minutes. Taste and correct for salt, heat and acid.

To make the seasoning in a food processor: Coarsely chop the scallions, celery, cilantro and parsley and set them aside, along with the thyme leaves and the onion. Put the chiles, ginger and garlic into the work bowl fitted with the metal blade and pulse several times, until the ingredients are as small as they are going to get.

Use a rubber spatula to scrape the sides of the work bowl and to loosen the ingredients from the bottom of the bowl. Add scallions, celery, cilantro, parsley, thyme and onion, pulse several times, add the allspice and lemon or lime juice and pulse again.

Tip the mixture into a bowl, season to taste with salt and correct for heat and acid.

Store, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 7 days. Freeze for up to 3 months.

Suggested Uses

As a marinade: for fish, 2 to 3 hours before grilling or frying; for pork, up to 2 days before roasting; for chicken, up to a day before grilling or roasting; for eggplant, 1 or 2 hours before frying or grilling.

As a condiment: stir into soups right before serving; top stews and braises with a generous dollop just before serving; spoon over omelets and scrambled eggs; spoon over cottage cheese or plain whole milk yogurt; toss with spaghettini or a similar noodle; spoon over steamed rice, farro or quinoa; spoon over creamy polenta and congee; spoon over red beans and rice and similar dishes; serve alongside all types of roasted vegetables, fish, poultry or meat.

Here is an example of “green seasoning” being incorporated into a dish without even a mention. Anyone who loves heat but hates cilantro will enjoy this version.

Simple Jerk Pork

Serves 6 to 8

5 bunches scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced