A Guyanese cook-up

  • Phillipa Burke stirrs the pot. Cooking is one of the ways she stays in touch with her roots in Guyana.

    Phillipa Burke stirrs the pot. Cooking is one of the ways she stays in touch with her roots in Guyana.
    (Photo by Glenn Tucker)

  • Ms Burke always keeps her table set for company and loves to cook.

    Ms Burke always keeps her table set for company and loves to cook.

  • Guyana cook-up dish ready for eating.

    Guyana cook-up dish ready for eating.

Guyanese cook-up recipe

Soak your peas overnight. Any kind of peas can be used including pigeon peas, or black-eyed peas. Season your meat (chicken, beef or pork) with garlic, scallions, onions, pepper salt and refrigerate up to 24 hours ahead of time.
The next day, boil peas until they are tender, sautee beef until a little tender and brown chicken. Add peas and meats salt fish is optional to a large cooking pot with fresh thyme. Cut up onions, scallions and celery and add to the pot, then add a package of powdered coconut milk to make around three cups of coconut milk. Put the powder in very hot water and mix until dissolved. You can use canned coconut milk, but it is very high in fat. The best flavour is derived from freshly grated coconut. In this case, dig flesh out of the shell, grate the coconut, add water and squeeze separating the milk from the husk using a strainer. Put in the rice, carrots, cabbage and any other vegetables and water or chicken broth. Bring to a boil, cover and let simmer for 30 to 40 minutes or until liquid is absorbed by rice.

1 ˝lb of beef
1 ˝lb of chicken
˝lb salt fish, such as cod (optional)
sprigs of thyme
2 ˝ c of pigeon peas
4 c of rice
2 onions diced
2 scallions
2 sticks of celery
˝ red pepper
˝ orange pepper
2 carrots
˝ small cabbage
2 packages of coconut milk powder
8 c of water or chicken broth

Typical ingredients in Caribbean food

tanias: a starchy tuber
dasheen: a form of taro, an Asian tropical plant, that flourishes in wet or damp soil. Tubers and leaves are used in cooking. Raw it is toxic.
cassareep: a thick black liquid which is made from cassava.
yams: a starchy tuber similar to a potato.
tamarind: pulp that comes from a tree that is in the pea family.
cassava: starchy tuberous root of a tropical tree.
ground provisions: this is a term used by West Indians to refer to a number of staples including yams, cassava, breadfruit or plantains.
breadfruit: a starchy fruit that is used as a vegetable and is sometimes used to make flour.
plantains: a type of banana containing high levels of starch and little sugar.

On a quiet Thursday afternoon, the inviting smell of a Guyanese cook-up wafted from Phillipa Burke's house across her Somerset neighbourhood.

It was probably a good thing that newly retired Ms Burke always has her dining room table set for company at least one neighbour stopped and asked her about the delicious smell.

Ms Burke is originally from Guyana, on the north coast of South America, and is a staunch member of the local West Indian Association. When we visited her house, she was preparing for a West Indian Association event that will showcase foods from all over the Caribbean, and provide an opportunity to dance to throwback music from the 1970s. She talked to The Royal Gazette about Guyanese food and shared her recipe for cook-up.

“Originally, cook-up was an African dish from when the slaves came to Guyana,” said Ms Burke, stirring a pot on the stove. “They introduced it to us. They had something called Jollof rice, but we Guyanese made it our own. You can put different types of meat in it such as fish, beef, chicken. It is called ‘cook-up' because everything is in it. You would serve it to your whole family.”

She thought it was good in recessionary times because you only had to “cook-up” one dish to make a meal. And because cook-ups contain different types of meat all at once, there's something to please everyone in the family.

Ms Burke, 67, has lived in Bermuda for more than 50 years. She first came to Bermuda at the age of 16 to live with her uncle, Clement Harvey.

“My parents died,” said Ms Burke. “I really wanted to come to Bermuda. I wrote and told my uncle I would like to come, and before I knew it a ticket was there for me to come. He was married and had four children. His wife was Rose Harvey, she was a school teacher.”

Her uncle's family became her family, she refers to her aunt as “mom” and her cousins as her sisters and brothers. Although Ms Burke has been in Bermuda for a long time, she still keeps in touch with Guyana. She goes back to visit regularly and also does charity work there through her church, St Anne's.

“I love to cook and entertain,” said Ms Burke. “I already knew how to cook when I came here as a teenager. I learned at home, probably around age ten. My mother died when I was four years old.”

She particularly enjoys cooking traditional Caribbean and Guyanese recipes such as metemgee, also known as metagee. This is another one-pot dish that is usually served alongside fish. It is known as ‘rundown' or ‘oildown' in other parts of the Caribbean. It includes bananas, tanias, dasheen and beef, pork or oxtail.

Ms Burke said: “We also have something called pepperpot, a stewed meat dish made with hot peppers, cinnamon and cassareep. Cassareep is a thick black liquid which is made from cassava. That dish can last a long time, and we usually have it at Christmas.”

She retired in March, after working in the accounts department at the Cabinet Office, and then as events coordinator at the National Museum of Bermuda. Now she keeps busy cooking up a storm for her daughter Janita, and her friends and family. She hopes to soon start doing volunteer work with the Bermuda Diabetes Association.

She is borderline diabetic, but stays medication-free by watching her sugar and her diet and walking four miles a day.

“I think Caribbean food can be healthy if you watch the ingredients,” she said. “Peas and rice can be healthy without the coconut milk, which can be high in fat. If you are going to have fish steam it; don't fry it.”

Dishes from all over the Caribbean including Bermuda will be available for tasting at the West Indian Association ‘Back in Time Dance' between 7pm and 8.30pm tomorrow.

From 8.30pm until midnight there will be dancing to music from the 1970s and performances by the West Indian folk singers. The event will be held at the Bermuda Industrial Union. Tickets are $25 and can be obtained from Ms Burke on 234-0919, or from other committee members. Part proceeds will go to help people in Haiti.

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Published Jun 10, 2011 at 8:32 am (Updated Jun 10, 2011 at 8:29 am)

A Guyanese cook-up

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