First were the native tribes. Later the islands were fought over and claimed by several European countries. Next came African slaves and indentured servants. Finally, immigrants from East India and China arrived. Caribbean cuisine is more than anything a patchwork of cultures, a fusion of Amerindian, African, British, Spanish, French, Dutch, Indian and Chinese cuisine, all in play with the native food of those Amerindians, the Carib and Arawak. This ecletic combination of flavors is not unusual considering the location of the Caribbean islands and the number of foreign ships that touched upon those shores during the years of exploration in the New World when styles of cooking were brought from the homelands of the region’s visitors. Caribbean dishes include favorites such as seafood, chicken and steak, each flavored with the native ingredients of the islands, a beautiful blend of the aromatic, sweet and tart, piquant and mild citrus flavors. Some of the popular dishes that come from the region are coconut shrimp, chicken kabobs and Key Lime Pie…and a chicken salad in the Caribbean style.
Several days ago a pre-made packaged salad landed in my supermarket basket. It got there on name only, since the list of ingredients on the side of the package was too terrifying to read, a list of such length it surely challenged the market in fitting so many fifteen-letter words onto one slim sticker. Looking at that list later it was apparent that a background in chemistry would be helpful in understanding just what it was going into your mouth. But for better or worse, just like a McDonald’s burger or KFC chicken leg, those long-lettered chemical ingredients play some part in making it taste good. My packaged salad was one called Caribbean Chicken Salad and no surprise it turned out to be delicious. Still, all those nebulous ingredients raise a caution sign about artificial flavorings and preservatives. Studying the box for a few minutes convinced me that making a tasty Caribbean chicken salad from fresh ingredients couldn’t be all that difficult.
Caribbean-Style Chicken Salad
¼ cup of fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons honey
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
¼ cup olive oil
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breasts
1 ripe mango, peeled, pitted and diced
1 red pepper, seeded and cut into thin strips
1 stalk of celery chopped
2 tablespoons chopped pecans
A hearty sprinkle of cumin seeds
5 ounce bag of mixed spring greens
Blend the lime juice, red wine vinegar, minced garlic, honey, salt and pepper. Slowly incorporate the olive oil into the mix until thoroughly blended. Use half of this dressing as a marinade for the chicken breasts. Cover the chicken and marinade and refrigerate for one hour. Reserve the remaining dressing for later use. Grill the marinated chicken breasts—discarding the marinade—about 6 minutes per side and set aside to cool.
Toss together the mango, red pepper, celery and pecans, cumin seeds and remaining dressing in a large bowl. When the chicken has cooled, cut it into bite-sized pieces and toss it with the other ingredients.
To serve, layer a salad bowl with mixed spring greens and place a mound of the chicken salad in the center.
This salad is especially good served with small toasted pita pockets into which the greens and chicken salad can be stuffed. Toufayan whole wheat mini pita are especially good and are available at most supermarkets, but if not, any brand or size of pita will serve as well. No surprise that the packaged salad in comparison to the fresh is like trying to compare pop tarts and homemade apple turnovers.