Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Taste & Sounds of the Tropics Anytime

Lying on a tropical beach with a fruity cocktail in hand - no phone, no email, no worries.  I have at times stared at the Windows 97 "tropical" themed wallpaper and closed my eyes and wished I was basking in the sun on that computer-generated beach...  Alas back to reality - No Hawaii, Jamaica, or Kokomo trips for Z this year... but I did enjoy me some good tropical eating & listening - & just for a minute - that little day dream felt a bit less far away...    
On this lovely Labor Day weekend and as the Summer of 2011 begins to fade (although soak it up while it lasts - the Fall Equinox is a good 20 days away kids), the good news is that you can bring a little of the Islands right to your home with easy recipes containing ingredients found in your local super market all year long.

 Below are Z's picks for a healthy, cool, yet spicy, tropical dinner with many thanks to AG for conceptualizing and preparing this mini-vacation meal.

On the Menu:
Starter: Pineapple Gazpacho
Main Attraction: Curried Sweet Potato Roti wraps 
Dessert: Pineapple Buttermilk Sherbet
Beverages: Fruity Cocktails

Let's begin!

Tropical Pineapple Gazpacho (adapted from Moosewood Lowfat Restaurant Favorites) Serves 4-6

Here is what you need:

-4 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
-1 English cucumber, peeled and seeded (with extra slices for garnish)
-1 medium red pepper, diced
-1 small red onion, diced
-2 medium tomatoes, diced
-1 cup canned unsweetened pineapple chunks in juice (or use fresh if in season)
-2 tbsp. red wine vinegar (optional)
-generous pinch cayenne or chili powder, or more to taste
-1 tsp. ground cumin
-1 1/2 cups crusty bread, crusts removed, torn into chunks (can be old)
-3 cups tomato juice
-salt and pepper to taste

Here is what you do:

In a blender or food processor, combine the garlic, 1/2 the cucumbers, 1/2 the bell peppers, the red onion, 1/2 the tomatoes, the pineapple and its juice, vinegar (if using), cayenne or chili powder, cumin, bread chunks, and tomato juice and puree until smooth. If using the blender, it will be quite full so be sure to hang on to the top when you turn it on.

Transfer to a bowl, then stir in the remaining vegetables. Add salt and black pepper to taste. Garnish with cucumbers, lemon slices, or cilantro. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 1 day.

Onto the main course - Curried Sweet Potato Roti (adapted from Moosewood Lowfat Restaurant Favorites) Serves 6-8

"Roti" is the name used in the Caribbean for rolled or folded dough turnovers that have a variety of fillings. Here we wrap flour tortillas around a smooth, curried sweet potato filling made more substantial and chewy by the addition of either chicken, beef, seitan, or soy meat products - chef's choice!

Here is what you need:

For the potato mixture:
-4 cups peeled and cubed sweet potatoes
-1 tablespoon canola oil or 1 tablespoon other vegetable oil
-2 teaspoons black mustard seeds
-1 cup chopped onion
-1/2 cup chopped bell peppers

For the spice mixture:
-1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger root
-1 teaspoon ground cumin
-1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
-1/4 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
-1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
-1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
-1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

-2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
-1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
-8 ounces chopped beef or chicken, soy -meat, or seitan
-6-8 eight inch flour tortillas (depending on your filling amount preference)

Here is what you do:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a covered saucepan, bring the sweet potatoes and enough water to cover them to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes, or until soft.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a saucepan and add the mustard seeds. Cook, stirring for 1-2 minutes, until they begin to pop. Stir in the bell peppers and the spice mixture ingredients and cook for about 5 minutes, until the peppers are tender, adding about 3 tablespoons of the sweet potato water to prevent sticking.

When the sweet potatoes are soft, drain them and mash them with the lime juice. Stir in the cilantro and meat or non-meat, then add the cooked onions and peppers and mix well. Sprinkle in salt to taste.

Prepare a baking dish with a light coating of oil or cooking spray. Place about 1/2 cup of filling on each tortilla, roll it up, and place it, seam side down, in the baking dish. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until heated through.

And finally, serve hot, topped with a dollop of nonfat sour cream or yogurt, if desired, and some chopped parsley or cilantro.  AG and I added side of TJ's mango ginger chutney which was a perfect sweet spicy compliment!  Yum!

No tropical daydream is complete without a summery beverage.  AG and I made our take on a Tequila Sunrise, but summer cocktail varieties are endless, and for other options check out this blog posting from Summer 2010 serving up the 7 cocktails shown below.  
Lastly, time to indulge the sweet tooth with a cool (fairly figure friendly) easy tropical dessert:
Pineapple Buttermilk Sherbet (Serves 8; makes 5 - 6 cups) (adapted from Moosewood Lowfat Restaurant Favorites)

Here is what you need:

-2 cups nonfat or regular buttermilk
-2 cups undrained canned crushed pineapple (20-ounce can) or fresh pineapple
-2/3 cup sugar
-A couple ounces finely sliced and chopped ginger root (optional for an extra refreshing blast)

Here is what you do:

In a bowl, stir together the buttermilk, pineapple, sugar, and ginger (if using) until the sugar has dissolved.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place it in the freezer. After about an hour, when the mixture has begun to harden, stir it with a fork until it becomes slushy. Cover and return to the freezer for another hour or two, until it is very stiff but not frozen solid. Stir it again with a fork and serve. If the sherbet has frozen hard, remove it from the freezer to soften for about 30 minutes before serving or whirl it in a food processor, scraping down the sides several times, for about 2 minutes, until well blended and smooth.  And that's it - No fancy gadgetry required!  Our sherbet came out a hair on the runny side, albeit tasty and smiling, so best to freeze this for about 5 or 6 hours for solid consistency. 

Onto the music selections for our dreamy tropical mini-getaway evening.  Since AG gets the credit for this dinner, we mutually selected music for your listening pleasure... From Mr. AG - The Bomboras - An all-instrumental LA surf band formed in the summer of 1994, sharing a love of 60’s Surf/Garage such as The Ventures, Booker T, and The Sonics.  Check out this live rendition of "Garage Grinder" and feel free to bob your head up and down quickly and repeatedly. 

And from Z: To go with our Caribbean inspired main-course - Jamaican reggae from Mr. Bob Marley, and to end with a relaxing finish - the beautiful serene voice of Hawaii's great - Israel Kamakawiwo'ole. 

Sigh... I can practically feel the gentle breezes and warm sun on my face...

Hugs and kisses friends.


  1. Z, the pineapple gazpacho looks amazing! I can't wait to try it. And I love the rest of the menu too. It's even...vegetarian! Wow! Did you have me in mind when you created this fantasy dinner? Hugs, Julie

  2. The Rockin' FoodieSeptember 06, 2011 5:14 PM

    Thanks Juls! I really can't take credit for this meal as Mr. AG conceptualized and cooked the whole thing - I was just happy eating participant. The whole thing is from the Moosewood cookbook so its all super low calorie!! Miss you!! Z

  3. Love this post! Love Tropical recipe. The Sherbet seems like an easy recipe!