Trini Roti – Flavour from the West Indies
In a catering kitchen we’re not bound by static menus, each event we do has it’s own unique flavour, covering the globe from one side to the other. One day I could be making a French Rillette, the next a West Indian style curry Trini Roti from the deepest regions of the Caribbean.
Roti is street food, the West Indian answer to the sandwich, unleavened flat bread filled with a savory curry stew, also known as a ‘wrap roti’. Curry cooked low and slow over a charcoal fire loaded with goat, lamb, chicken or seafood will wait, hot all day long, while the roti bread is cooked at the last minute and filled to make the curry equivalent of fast food.
It’s not often I shoot and share a recipe from the big, shiny commercial kitchen. For one thing it would be something of a conflict of interest to share trade secrets and Executive Chef Devin Marhue’s recipes en mass. But sometimes, when cooking a dish that really turns my taste buds on, I ask if I might share it with our readership and spread a little flavour joy.
This is a family recipe straight from Chef Devin’s diverse roots, in his recipe book it’s known as ‘Uncle Kalo’s Trini Roti’. A rich blend of spices complimented by typical Caribbean ingredients like taro root and coconut, that filled the kitchen with West Indian aroma, to make Uncle Kalo proud. Nothing like being trusted with a family recipe and asked to make it from scratch with only a flavour outline and a little travel knowledge to go on. This challenge made my day and, with permission, I’m sharing a little taste with you.
I’m no stranger to the Caribbean having explored Cuba, Jamaica, Belize, Barbados and ventured as far south as Roatan, just a stone’s throw from Trinidad and Tobago. Each country has a distinct way of using ingredients, some add more heat, some favor salt and curing and others lean toward curry and chutney. The cuisine of Trinidad and Tobago blends the influences of it’s peoples; Indian, African, Creole, Amerindian, European, Chinese and Lebanese to a counter balance of sweet, heat, savory and spicy.
In the West indies Taro is called “dasheen”; and is cultivated and consumed as a staple. In Trinidad & Tobago, the leaves and stem are most often cooked and pureed into a thick liquid called callaloo, the country’s national dish, quite similar to creamed spinach. The root is starchy and mild, depending the variety, when it’s cooked it turns blue, or remains creamy white.
Taro and potato starch act as a natural thickener in most Caribbean dishes, so there’s no need for flour or cornstarch to make a thick, creamy curry sauce. It also fries nicely and makes a terrific crisp or chip, we used taro sticks as a garnish for our Trini Roti, in the top photo.
In Uncle Kalo’s traditional version of the Trini Roti, the cumin used is roasted cumin, making the curry sauce a darker yellow-brown and lending a slightly more pungent taste and aroma. You can pick up roasted cumin at your local Indian or Caribbean specialty store, or roast cumin seeds at home, in a saute pan over a low heat until toasty brown, then grind with a mortar & pastel or coffee grinder when cool.
OK, let’s cook us a West Indian curry!
- 1½ pounds of chicken thighs
- 2 cups plain yogurt
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon curry powder
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- ¼ cup cooking oil (corn or sunflower)
- 2 onions, chopped fine
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon ginger, minced
- 2 tablespoons curry powder
- 1 tablespoon cumin (or roasted cumin)
- 2 teaspoons turmeric
- 2 red birds eye chili peppers, minced
- 1 teaspoon of salt (to taste)
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 1 12-ounce (398 ml) can of coconut milk
- 2 large potatoes (about 2 cups), peeled & cubed
- 2 cups taro root, peeled and cubed
- 1 – 2 tablespoons fresh coriander, chopped
- Roti Wraps:
- 3 cups all purpose flour
- pinch fast acting yeast
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoon baking powder
- ¾ – 1 cup water (see note)
- 5 tablespoon vegetable oil (for brushing as you cook)
- Marinade: In bowl, combine yogurt, minced garlic and spices. Season chicken thighs well with salt before adding them to yogurt curry marinade, and covering to rest in the fridge for eight hours or (preferably) overnight.
- Curry: Remove chicken from fridge and with hands, wipe away most of marinade and cut into good sized strips/chunks and reserve wet and cold. Heat good sized pot with about half the oil and sweat onions until tender. Add remaining oil, garlic, ginger, spices and chilies and cook, stirring constantly to prevent burning and create a thick curry paste, allowing flavors to release.
- Saute the chicken in hot curry paste to seal the flesh, about 5 minutes, then cover with stock and coconut milk and stir to coat and cover. Add potato and taro root and bring to a boil (add water if needed to cover) and reduce heat to a low and simmer – an hour or more.
- As the sauce thickens check seasoning, add additional heat (chilies) if needed add salt to taste. As roti wraps are finishing, add fresh coriander and stir, removing from heat to serve.
- Roti Wraps: In a large bowl sift together flour, salt, yeast and baking powder, and begin adding water, about a ¼ cup at a time. Knead in as much water as required to come to a firm dough, then cover with plastic wrap or a clean tea towel and let it rest for about 20 minutes in a warm spot. Note: depending on your flour you may need more water, dough should be springy, not tough.
- Knead rested dough for about 90 seconds. Divide dough into six even balls, pat each into a round, flat disk. Move dough on to a floured surface and roll into round sheets with a rolling pin until they are roughly 10-inches wide and a ¼ inch thick.
- Lightly brush flat roti wrap with oil and place on a hot, flat skillet. Cook each side for about 2 minutes until brown bubbles begin to appear. Remove and cool.
To assemble: Place a scoop of of curry (about a half cup) in the middle of the roti and fold, left over right then top and bottom, to form a rectangular bundle. Serve fold down, allowing curry to weight down the seams and seep ever so slightly into the folds of the roti, holding it perfectly in place.
Gypsy Quickie: If you’re not up to mastering the art of roti wraps, pop by your local roti hut, they’re often willing to sell you a few wrappers for a roti night at home. It will be our little secret.
Serve, hot with an ice cold cola and it’s just like being in the streets of Port of Spain, or the Chef’s office.