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The In-Law Test

It's a Guyanese Tradition--Pork With 12 Heads of Garlic

September 17, 1997|CHARLES PERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"Do you smell it?" asked Fran Tise, opening her front door with a bit of a flourish. A rich, intoxicating wave of garlic fumes rolled over us. "This is Christmas to me," she said with a sigh.

Tise--raised in England but born in Guyana--had asked her visiting mother to make a Guyanese Christmas specialty, Garlic Pork. And rarely has any dish been better named. It calls for 12 heads of garlic.

Guyana is on the South American mainland about 150 miles west of Trinidad; culturally, it's part of the Caribbean. Though she's spent most of her life in London, Tise's mother, Maureen Lepps, still speaks with a bit of the 17th century English lilt we associate with Jamaica.

The country is a cultural checkerboard. Claimed by Venezuela and first colonized by the Dutch, Guyana changed hands repeatedly between England and France in the Napoleonic period. Half the population is descended from laborers imported from India to work on the rice and sugar plantations. The rest are mostly Afro-Guyanans, Chinese, Lebanese, Portuguese, Dutch and indigenous people known as Amerinds.

Guyana's tangled history shows up all over the country's map. Maureen Lepps grew up in a village with a Dutch name, Spaarendam, right next to a village with a French name, Plaisance. She married a man of German, Portuguese and Amerind ancestry from Beter Verwachting, which means "better expectation" in Dutch--perhaps as a swipe at the nearby plantation La Bonne Intention.

Her own family was Portuguese, and Garlic Pork is one of the Portuguese contributions to Guyanese cookery. It's descended from carne de vinho d'alhos, a dish of meat marinated and then stewed in wine and garlic. Particularly in tropical countries, where wine was unavailable, Portuguese cooks often substituted vinegar.

We're already familiar with one tropical descendant of this dish. The Portuguese introduced it to their Indian colony, Goa, where, with the addition of lots of spices, vinho d'alhos turned into vindaloo. At Indian restaurants, you may get the idea that a heavy dose of red pepper is the essence of vindaloo, but it's actually the fact that the meat is cooked in its vinegary marinade.

Unlike vindaloo, Garlic Pork uses no spices, but Lepps' recipe raises the vinegar and garlic to heroic levels: two quarts of vinegar and 12 heads of garlic for 4 pounds of meat. When told that in Portugal this dish might be made with a cup of vinegar and two cloves of garlic, Lepps laughed heartily.

"It's supposed to be strong," she said. "On Christmas morning, when we walked back home from church, we'd smell Garlic Pork at every Portuguese house along the way."

About 25 years ago, the family moved to England, where the houses weren't built on posts to survive tropical floods, with large gaps between the walls and the roof for ventilation. English people cooked on ranges rather than over wood in brick fireplaces. Coconut, plantain and tropical roots such as cassava and eddo play little part in the English diet.

Above all, the English were absurdly squeamish about garlic. But the family didn't stop making Garlic Pork. "We called it the potential in-law test," says Tise.

*

GARLIC PORK

4 pounds boneless pork

12 heads garlic

Salt

8 cups vinegar

2 bunches thyme

8 rolls

Two quarts of vinegar sounds like a lot, but the result isn't intolerably sour. You could substitute 2 cups of water for 2 cups of vinegar if you want, though. But if you're finicky about garlic, don't even consider this prodigiously aromatic dish.

Cut pork into egg-sized chunks. Peel garlic and chop roughly. Dissolve salt to taste in vinegar. Mix pork, garlic, vinegar and thyme sprigs in nonreactive pot. Cover and marinate in refrigerator 1 to 3 days.

Bring to boil, covered, then uncover and simmer until pork is tender, 30 to 45 minutes.

Remove meat from pot and keep warm. Reduce sauce to 1/3 over medium heat, 20 to 30 minutes. Slice rolls in half and use to sop up sauce. Remove thyme sprigs from pot and serve meat and contents of pan with sopped rolls.

8 servings. Each serving:

676 calories; 1,150 mg sodium; 126 mg cholesterol; 42 grams fat; 41 grams carbohydrates; 34 grams protein; 0.70 gram fiber.

*

PUMPKIN PONE

2 cups cornmeal

2 1/2 cups water

2 1/4 cups self-rising flour, plus extra for preparing pan

1 cup milk

2 eggs

1 tablespoon butter, melted, plus extra for greasing pan

1/4 cup canned coconut milk

3/4 cup canned pumpkin puree

1 cup raisins

1/2 cup brown sugar, packed

1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

This Guyanese dessert is a sort of moist pumpkin-flavored corn bread. Ripe yellow plantains could substitute for the pumpkin.

Combine cornmeal with water and bring to boil over medium heat, stirring constantly, about 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from heat, transfer to large bowl and let cool. Stir in flour, milk, eggs, butter, coconut milk, pumpkin puree, raisins, sugar and pumpkin pie spice.

Bake at 350 degrees in 9 1/2-inch buttered and floured springform pan until top is golden and cracked, about 1 1/2 hours. Let cool on rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

10 to 12 servings. Each of 10 servings:

342 calories; 424 mg sodium; 47 mg cholesterol; 5 grams fat; 69 grams carbohydrates; 8 grams protein; 0.82 gram fiber.

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