Enjoy a taste of paradise with these recipes from the Florida Keys.
Cooking On The Go
By Janet Groene, F47166
“Going all the way” in your motorhome while traveling in Florida means taking the long, sometimes exasperating Overseas Highway (the southernmost leg of U.S. 1) from Miami to Key West. On the way you’ll pass roadside stands selling fresh produce such as avocados, soursop, guava, star fruit, and real Key limes (which are small and yellow when fully ripe, not to be confused with the familiar green Persian lime). Homestead, on the mainland, is an agricultural area and a good place to stock up.
In-the-know travelers realize that the Florida Keys are about the same temperature all year. During the summer, ocean breezes blow across the islands and cooling showers are more frequent. The sea is settled and more clear for snorkeling and diving. Fishing is fantastic and, best of all, campgrounds aren’t crowded with snowbirds.
Fine restaurants can be found throughout the Keys. In Key West you can revel in a carnival of cuisine ranging from inexpensive Cuban dishes, served from windows that open onto the street, to pricey gourmet restaurants hidden in jasmine-scented courtyards. Catch the maverick mood of the Conch Republic (which really did secede from the United States briefly in 1982), then try tropical treats like these.
Black Bean/Avocado Salsa
Tired of the same old salsa? Try adding creamy avocado for a change.
1 medium avocado, ripe but firm, peeled and diced
1/4 cup lime juice
1 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
½ teaspoon garlic salt
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 scallions, sliced white and light green parts
2 tablespoons finely minced cilantro or parsley
Hot pepper sauce to taste
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Combine the diced avocado and lime juice to coat well, then add the remaining ingredients and chill. Serve over meat, chicken, ham, or fresh fish.
Dilly Caper Dip
Capers pack a huge burst of taste, so keep them on hand for sauces like this one. Spoon this dip over fried or grilled Keys seafood, or serve in a small dish as a condiment for tail-on shrimp.
1 8-ounce carton sour cream
1 cup mayonnaise
1 8-ounce carton lemon-flavored yogurt
2 to 3 tablespoons capers, well drained
2 teaspoons Dijon-style mustard
1 teaspoon dried dillweed
Freshly ground pepper, optional
Mix everything together and chill. This recipe makes three cups of dip.
Sopa De Camarones (Cuban-Style Shrimp Soup)
Ultra-pasteurized half-and-half keeps for weeks, so it’s an ideal staple to keep in your refrigerator for the long haul. Make sure to check the use-by date.
1 pound shelled, deveined shrimp
1 medium onion, diced
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons butter
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 15-ounce can whole-kernel corn
2 or 3 large Idaho potatoes, peeled and diced
1 fish-flavored bouillon cube
1 cup water
1 bay leaf
Salt, pepper to taste
1 quart half-and-half
Thaw the shrimp; remove the tails, if any; and set aside. In a pot, fry the onion and garlic in butter. Add the tomatoes, corn, potatoes, bouillon, and water to the pot; bring it all to a boil; add the bay leaf; cover; and simmer over low heat until the potatoes are tender. Increase the heat and stir in the shrimp, cooking until it turns pink. Remove the bay leaf; reduce heat; season to taste; stir in the half-and-half ; and ladle into soup bowls. This recipe makes four to six servings.
This is the perfect side dish, a relative of polenta but with a West Indies spin that has spilled over into the Keys. Some cooks save a little of the okra water to add to the water used to cook the cornmeal.
1 10-ounce package frozen okra, cooked according to package directions
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups water
½ stick butter
After cooking the okra, drain it and set aside. Stir the cornmeal and salt into 2 cups of cold water and bring to a boil, stirring constantly, until thick, which should take approximately five minutes. The cornmeal should be the consistency of creamy mashed potatoes. Turn off the heat; stir in the butter and the okra; and serve hot as a starch dish with meat from the grill. This recipe makes four to six servings.
Key West’s Best Chicken Breast
6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1/3 cup Key lime juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup rum
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon minced garlic
3 tablespoons Dijon-style mustard
Put the chicken in a roomy, self-sealing plastic bag. Whisk together the other ingredients to make a marinade and pour into the bag. Seal and move the contents of the bag around so the chicken is completely covered with marinade. Refrigerate for eight hours, moving occasionally to distribute the marinade. To cook, prepare a medium-hot grill. Grill the chicken, turning several times, until it tests done. Discard the marinade.
1 small banana
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon flavoring (vanilla, coconut, lemon, or rum extract)
½ cup sugar
1 ½ cups self-rising flour
Small pinch baking soda
½ cup diced mango
Spray or line six muffin cups. Set the oven for 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, mash the banana and use a fork to mix in the oil, egg, and flavoring. Mix well. Combine the dry ingredients and dump into the wet mixture. Mix just until everything is evenly moistened. Fold in the diced mango. Fill the cups two-thirds full with the batter. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until the muffins are puffy, firm to the touch, and golden brown. This recipe makes six muffins.
Tastes Of The Keys
- Mix a teaspoon of curry powder into a stick of softened butter and chill in a mold. Serve on fish, shrimp, or steaks.
- Add beer to pancake mix to make a batter for deep-frying fish or shrimp. Prepare pancake batter with pineapple juice and a bit of rum flavor, then dip banana chunks into the batter and deep-fry them to make fritters.
- Make your favorite garlic whipped potato recipe using mashed, boiled boniato (also known as white or Cuban sweet potatoes) instead of potatoes.
- Instead of lemons, float thin slices of star fruit in fruit drinks or ice water.
- Discover the use of plantains or green bananas as a starch. Green bananas can be cooked like potatoes or saved until they ripen. Plantains look like bananas but are always served cooked, usually fried.
- Ask a native to show you how to plug a ripe coconut, insert a straw, and drink the coconut water. You also can crack a jelly nut (a young, green coconut) and spoon out the flesh.
- Occasionally you’ll find a wild orange tree on a remote cay. The seedless oranges we eat are actually grafted, while oranges found in the wild are likely to be extremely sour. The juice from these oranges is highly prized and used like vinegar. Fiery local peppers (habaneros, datils) are steeped in the sour juice to make a hot sauce that is added to dishes by the drop.
- A traditional Keys dessert that’s easy to make and not too sweet is saltine crackers spread with softened cream cheese and topped with guava paste.
- Use real Key lime juice in place of lemon or lime juice in recipes. Vive le difference!
I was a big fan of the “Impossible Pie” craze that Bisquick promoted some years ago. Now, reader Mickey Watterworth has developed two great pie recipes “” one savory and one sweet “” using a single base. The beauty of these pies is that everything is whisked together in one bowl and poured into a pie pan, yet a real pie comes out of the oven, because a crust forms as it bakes.
2 cups low-fat or fat-free milk
½ cup biscuit mix
4 eggs or equivalent
Half a stick butter or margarine, melted
For a sweet pie add
3/4 cup sugar or equivalent
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup shredded coconut
For a savory pie add
½ teaspoon garlic powder
Salt, pepper to taste
4 slices American cheese
½ pound bacon, cooked, drained, and crumbled
Mix everything in a blender or food processor, or combine in a bowl using a wire whisk (add the bacon after the mixing and lay the cheese on top). Pour the batter into a lightly greased pie pan (Mickey uses disposable pie pans when on the go), and bake for 35 to 40 minutes at 350 degrees. The savory pie makes a nice main dish with a side salad, and the sweet version is a delicious dessert when served with Media Crema, a canned Mexican sweet cream.
Karen’s Fruited Cheese Log
Reader Karen Allender sent this recipe for a delicious spread you can make ahead for a Keys cocktail party, which traditionally takes place at sundown. When the sun sinks into the ocean, you may see the elusive green flash. True Conchs don’t serve dinner until after dark.
½ cup snipped dried apricots
8 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
Half an 8-ounce package of cream cheese
3 tablespoons orange juice
1/3 cup golden raisins, chopped
1/4 cup pitted dates, snipped
1/4 teaspoon salt
Chopped toasted almonds
Assorted crackers and/or apple slices
If the apricots aren’t soft, soak them in a cup of hot water until they become puffy and then drain them well. In a medium-size bowl, bring the Monterey Jack and cream cheese to room temperature; add the orange juice; and beat until thoroughly combined. Stir in the fruit and salt; divide the mixture in half on waxed paper; and form each portion into a five-inch log. Wrap and chill in the refrigerator for four to 24 hours, then roll in nuts and serve with crackers or sliced apples.
Books for cooks
The ideal gift for the king or queen of your grill is Ted Reader’s amazing new book, Napoleon’s Everyday Gourmet Grilling ($25, Key Porter Books). Based on Napoleon brand grills and grilling equipment, this armchair read is filled with mouthwatering, full-page color photos. GQ magazine calls Mr. Reader the “crazy Canuck barbecue kingpin.” The book goes from basics about how to grill meats, fruits, and vegetables to ambitious projects such as grilling planked pizza made from homemade dough. It’s available in bookstores, through online booksellers, or at http://www.keyporter.com/. To learn about the “crazy Canuck,” who never goes anywhere without at least one of his 75 grills, go to http://www.tedreader.com/.