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Ital Independence

Jamaica will celebrate its 44 years of independence from Great Britain on August 6, 2006. We truly do not have any specific foods to celebrate our independence, except traditional Jamaican foods and drinks, of course.

Because our Independence Day celebration is in the same vein as Emancipation Day, the day Queen Victoria of England abolished slavery in Jamaica 165 years ago, we tend to pay more attention to revelry and pageant. By default, the foods come into play…every celebration calls for food, you know.

Our entire island of approximately 3 million people spends independence like no other across the world…my bias. The beaches are crammed with all sorts and every sort. Food vendors along the beaches vie for a “bligh” to attract passers-by with their festival (fried dumpling) and fish, among other foods and drinks.

Parities galore, food festivals and stage shows abound on the island. To say this is loudest little island in the world during our independence celebrations is an understatement, indeed.

Also, the local festivals and fairs bring out some of the not so traditional cooking and cross-culinary experiments that are too many to mention. Back in the old days, my friends and I used to walk to the local annual Independence Day Fair held at the Spanish Town Prison Oval. On our way there, we would buy roast corn and peanuts.

Since Independence Day has to do with freedom and emancipation, I feel it is fair to honor one of our most prominent groups that are in the forefront of the struggle for Jamaica’s cultural identity…the Rastafarians.

Although the Rastas are misunderstood with regard to their cooking style, many Jamaicans have now wholly embraced the Rasta diet (Ital) as a healthy and rich addition to our culinary tradition.

So please join me in celebrating our independence on the first Monday in August (the 7th) as we commemorate the life and times of our ancestors, some of whom paid dearly with their lives to make us who we are today.

And big up the Rastas who hold steadfast with the Ital foods.

This is a recipe from Rasta Lloyd for Ital Gungo (pigeon) Peas and Rice…modified just a little for convenience.

1 lb. White Rice

1 ½ can Coconut Milk

1 Scotch Bonnet Pepper (chopped)

3 sprig Thyme

1 Plum Tomato

½ lb. Dried Gungo Peas

8 Pimento balls

In a saucepan, bring water to boil on a high fire or heat source. Add the gungo peas to the boiling water and allow peas to boil until soft. Use a fork to check the peas and then add the coconut milk, pepper, pimento, and thyme to the pot. Allow the ingredients to boil for five minutes. Taste the boiled mixture now to make sure that it is to your liking.

Remember, there is no salt in the mixture so you’ll have to slowly acquire the taste of this Ital food. So, when you taste the mixture you are checking to see that the pimento and thyme flavor are dominant with the coconut milk. The scotch bonnet pepper will add its unique flavor, and heat.

If everything tastes all right, estimate the amount of the mixture in the pot with amount of rice in a one-to-one ratio. Add the amount of rice to the mixture, turn the fire down to medium, and add the plum tomato. Allow the rice to cook for three minutes, and then turn down the fire to low and allow the rice to simmer. At the simmering stage, do not take the cover off the pot.

When the rice is cooked, serve it just like that, or with any other ‘salting’ vegetables.

Another very delicious drink you could enjoy on your Independence Day celebration is Ital Beetroot Drink. Beetroot is known to be a blood builder and tonic when accompanied with coconut water.

Ital Beetroot Drink

2 Large beetroot (peeled and chopped)

1 cup soy milk

1 pinch Nutmeg

2 drops Vanilla flavoring

1 tbsp Brown Sugar

Add beetroot to an electric blender with enough water to cover the beetroot. Turn the blender switch to puree and allow the vegetable to process to a pulp. Remove the pulp and strain it through a fine strainer into a large bowl. Add all the other ingredients to the bowl and mix until the sugar dissolves. Taste the juice. If it tastes good pour into glasses on cubes of ice and serve your guests.

In the rasta camp we did not drink out of glasses; we use the dried coconut shells as eating bowls and drinking cups. If you would like to make coconut bowls to create some authenticity, do like this:

Get one large dried coconut with the husk removed. Use a hacksaw to saw the coconut in half and then remove the coconut meat from the nut. Use a coarse sand paper to smooth the edges of the coconut brim…when the brim is satisfactory, your bowl is ready.

Yah Mon




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