The inspiration for this recipe came from watching a farmer harvesting his sweet potatoes. They look really beautiful coming out of the ground, their terracotta skin mirroring the colour of the soil, lying there baking in the warmth of the sun.
Martinique, an island in the eastern Caribbean Sea, is part of the French Caribbean. The first European to encounter the island was Christopher Columbus in 1502. Its official language is French, although many of its inhabitants also speak Créole Martiniquais.
Martinique has a hybrid cuisine, mixing elements of African, French, Caribbean and South Asian traditions. One of its most famous dishes is a unique curry with chicken and vegetables, made with a distinctive masala (spice mix) of Tamil (Indian) origin called Colombo.
The original curry recipe uses tamarind, coconut milk, yam (cassava) and rum. Martiniquan desserts and cakes incorporate pineapple, rum, and a wide range of local fruits.
I first came across this curry while watching Levi Roots Caribbean Food Made Easy. You may have noticed that I have a slight Caribbean food obsession going on at the moment, it all started with the mountain of scotch bonnet chilli peppers I have growing on a bush on my roof terrace that are now in my freezer. The plant is now producing its second harvest of the year.
In Levi’s version he uses butternut squash, aubergine and potatoes with his chicken and adds some mango and papaya too. I thought sweet potatoes would be a lovely substitute for the original yams and went with Levi’s aubergine as well. The aubergine just melts into the sauce, thickening it and bringing everything together, it’s genius. In the absence of mango or papaya I added some fresh pineapple and it works.
This is a spicy, sweet, exotic tasting curry with a real taste of the Caribbean..
Martinique Sweet Potato Coconut Curry with Aubergine & Pineapple
Serves 4, vegan, gluten-free. Adapted from Levi Roots Caribbean Food Made Easy
For the Colombo Spice Mix: makes about 3/4 cup can be halved. Store in an airtight container
- 3 tbsp cumin seeds
- 3 tbsp coriander seeds
- 1 tbsp mustard seeds
- 1 tbsp fenugreek seeds (I didn’t have any so left it out)
- 1 tbsp black peppercorns
- 1 tsp whole cloves
- 3 tbsp ground turmeric
In a large frying pan over a medium-high heat, toast all the whole spices (not the turmeric) until fragrant and lightly browned, 2 or 3 minutes. Don’t take your eyes of them, they will burn. Remove from the heat and tip into a spice grinder or mortar & pestle and grind to a powder.
Toast the turmeric in the same pan over a medium hight heat until fragrant & lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Combine the turmeric with the rest of the spices and store in an airtight container.
For the Curry:
- 1 tbsp Colombo powdered spice mix (see above)
- 2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 onion, roughly chopped
- 3 scotch bonnet chillis (mine are small) use 1 large one, finely chopped
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 large aubergine, cut into 2 cm cubes
- 1 large sweet potato, scrubbed and cut into 2 cm cubes
- 3 small green peppers (the long small frying peppers) deseeded and 2cm diced
- 1 tin coconut milk (400 ml)
- 400 ml veg stock
- 1 tbsp tamarind paste
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/2 small pineapple, core removed, cut into 2 cm cubes
- 1/2 lime, juiced
- 2 tbsp dark rum (optional)
- a handful of fresh coriander, chopped plus leaves for garnish
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat then add the onions and cook for about 5 minutes until softened. Then add the garlic and chilli and cook for a further 2 minutes.
Add in the aubergine and sweet potato cubes and cook for about 4 minutes until just softening and turning golden brown. Stir the spice mix through to coat all the vegetables, cook for a further 2 minutes and season with 1 tsp salt.
Pour in the coconut milk and veg stock then add the tamarind paste and bay leaves. Stir well and bring to the boil then reduce the heat to a simmer, cover with a lid and continue to simmer for 30-40 minutes until the aubergine has melted into the sauce and the sweet potato is soft.
Add in the pineapple, lime juice and rum (if using), stir well, cover and simmer for another 5 minutes. Taste for seasoning, add more salt if necessary and stir through the chopped coriander.
Serve with plain basmati rice or roti bread to scoop up the delicious sauce.
Close you eyes and you can almost hear the waves gently lapping at the shore and the warm breeze in the palm trees.