Mix African, Indian influences for Jamaica tastes | TheUnion.com

Mix African, Indian influences for Jamaica tastes

Eileen JoyceAl Lauer sits with his children Colin (left), William and Hope as they dig into the Jamaican-themed meal he prepared Thursday.
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

Al Lauer can brew up a tropical storm with music or in the kitchen. Since he established Cherry Records in Auburn 19 years ago, his reputation has grown for being the source of vintage recordings from all genres while specializing as a source for reggae and other Caribbean-based music.

“The music gets into you,” Lauer says. “You can trace the beginning of reggae back to 1968 and Bob Marley.

“Jamaicans could hear broadcasts coming out of New Orleans, and they picked up on the R&B sound of the time and fused it with indigenous music from the sugar-cane cutters from Brazil and Cuba. Just as there was a fusion of cultures on the island, the music has had a worldwide influence and fusion everywhere. For instance, there is Japanese reggae and Israeli reggae.”

Thirteen years ago, Lauer began broadcasting his radio program, “Tropical Storm,” on KVMR-FM (89.5). It currently airs Friday nights from 7 to 9 p.m. It’s a tasteful way to enter the weekend transitioning from the beat of the work week to rock steady and beyond.

Just as there is fusion in the music, Lauer says, “There is fusion in the food of Jamaica. Two of the main influences are from the African and Indian migrations.”

He is the main cook in his household. “I pick the kids up from school and usually end up fixing dinner.” His wife, Heather, busy as a kindergarten teacher, and their kids – Colin, 12; William, 10; and Hope, 8 – are the critics of his efforts.

Jamaican Squash Soup

“The sweetness of the squash and the hot of the pepper is what makes Jamaican Squash Soup really good.”

6 medium scallions, trimmed

6 sprigs fresh thyme

1 medium butternut squash (about 2 pounds) peeled and seeded, cut into 1 inch cubes

3 cups chicken stock

1 small habanero or jalapeno chili

Salt and ground pepper to taste

Tie scallions and thyme together with kitchen twine. Place squash, stock, chili and scallion bundle in medium saucepan. Bring to boil, reduce heat, and simmer until squash is extremely tender, 15 to 20 minutes.

Remove and discard scallion bundle and chili. Puree soup in blender or food processor. For very smooth soup, press through sieve. Season with salt and pepper and serve. Serves four.


1/2 pound dasheen leaves (or substitute fresh spinach)

21/2 tablespoons butter

1 onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 fresh chile, seeded and minced

1/4 pound okra, trimmed and sliced crosswise

1 sprig fresh thyme

31/4 cups chicken stock

11/4 cups coconut milk

Salt and ground pepper

1/2 pound crab meat

Dash pepper sauce

Wash, drain and shred dasheen (spinach). Melt butter in large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic; saute five minutes, stirring occasionally. Add chili, okra and thyme; cook five more minutes.

Stir in dasheen (spinach) and cook three minutes, lifting and turning to ensure even cooking. Pour stock and coconut milk over all, season to taste, and bring to boil. Lower heat, cover pan, and simmer 30 minutes.

Add crab meat; cook five more minutes. Stir in pepper sauce. Serve in warmed soup bowls. Serves six.

Baked Pawpaw (Papaya)

Papaya is used as a vegetable when green and as a fruit when ripe. Be sure to use green papaya for this recipe.

1 green papaya (about 5 pounds)

4 tablespoons butter

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 medium tomatoes, peeled and chopped

Salt and ground pepper to taste

1 cup bread crumbs

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Cut the unpeeled papaya in half lengthwise. Scoop out and discard seeds. Drop papaya into boiling salted water; cook until tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Lift out and drain. Carefully scoop out the flesh, reserving the shells.

Heat half the butter in a frying pan and saute onion until tender but not browned. Add tomatoes, salt and pepper, and mashed, cooked papaya; mix thoroughly. Stuff shells with mixture, sprinkle with bread crumbs and cheese and dot with remaining butter. Place on a baking sheet and bake in 400 degree oven until browned. Serves six.

Rice and Peas

“Remember that in Jamaica, what they call ‘peas’ are really beans. Although some people use kidney beans, I prefer pink beans.”

1 cup pigeon peas (or sub pink beans)

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 fresh hot red pepper, seeded and chopped

2 cups coconut milk

1/2 teaspoon thyme

Salt and ground pepper to taste

2 cups long-grain rice

Put beans in Dutch oven with enough cold water to cover by about 2 inches. Bring to boil, cover, reduce heat and cook at gentle simmer until beans are tender, adding hot water during cooking if necessary.

Drain beans, measure liquid, and return both to kettle.

Heat oil in frying pan and saute onion until golden. Add to beans along with hot pepper, coconut milk, thyme, salt, pepper and rice. Add enough cold water to bring liquid amount to 4 cups.

Cover and cook over very low heat for 20 to 30 minutes or until rice is tender and all the liquid is absorbed. Serves six.

You can cook the beans a day or so ahead or use canned beans. If you do so, start from the point of adding the rice

Coconut Milk

Lauer has fun demonstrating how to make coconut milk, but he says, “Frankly, it’s a lot of work, and I usually buy the canned stuff. It works just as well.”

1 coconut

Pierce two of the three eyes of the coconut and drain out the coconut water. Strain and set aside. Put the coconut, eyes down, on a very hard surface and whack it with a hammer. Use a knife to separate the white meat away from the shell.

Grate coconut as fine as possible or grate in blender with reserved coconut water. Pour 1 cup boiling water over grated coconut and let stand for one hour. For a very rich milk, squeeze the grated coconut in a damp cloth, twisting to extract as much liquid as possible.

The average coconut weighs about 11/2 pounds and yields between 3 and 4 cups of grated meat. When mixed with coconut water and hot water, this should yield about 3 cups milk.

For coconut cream, allow coconut milk to stand until cream rises to top. This is very thick and rich and wonderful for desserts.

Coconut Bread

3 cups all purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup sugar

2 cups finely grated coconut

1 egg, well beaten

1 cup evaporated milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

4 ounces butter, melted and cooled


Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9-inch-by-5-inch loaf pans. Sift flour, baking powder and salt together. Mix in sugar and coconut. Add egg, milk, vanilla and butter, mixing lightly but thoroughly. Divide mixture between prepared pans.

Fill each about 2/3 full. Sprinkle with sugar. Bake about 55 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean. Let loaves cool partially in pans, then turn out on rack to cool completely.

Planter’s Punch

11/2 ounces dark Jamaican rum

3/4 ounce lime juice

3 ounces orange juice

1/2 cup crushed ice


Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake vigorously. Strain into tumbler and garnish with cherry.

Bette Worth writes a column for The Union on Wednesdays. You can write her in care of The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945; or she can be reached at

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