Those of you who follow me on Instagram will know I was in Belize in Central America a couple of weeks ago. I can’t write much about that trip now because it will all be published in a magazine later this year but I came back feeling very inspired by the food, and I wanted to create something which incorporated Caribbean ingredients. Longtime followers will know that the food of the Caribbean has always attracted me and I learnt lots in Belize, where the cuisine combines many culinary influences.

I’ve used achiote in this soup – an earthy flavouring made from ground annatto seeds, also popular as a colouring agent. I was already familiar with it as an ingredient in Mexican pork pibil recipes but using it to flavour soups and stews was new to me. I added it to a base of homemade fish stock with pierced scotch bonnet chilli and some cassava – a total revelation. To be honest, I’d always dismissed cassava as a boring starchy root but it has a really interesting nutty flavour and the texture of a very waxy potato.

I used cod cheeks because they’re really good value and hold their bouncy texture well in soup, and splashed out on some massive, meaty prawns. On the side, I made fry jacks, which are deep-fried dough dumplings served with pretty much anything in Belize – eggs, refried beans and cheese are all popular toppings. I’ve added wild garlic to mine, which brings me just about to the end of the bin bag of wild garlic I’ve been working through for the past week.

This is a stunner of a recipe (even if I do say so myself) with deep flavour from the fish stock but a lightness, too. The corn brings pops of sweetness and the scotch bonnet a background buzz of tropical heat. The jacks were a perfect accompaniment while still warm – crisp on the outside, fluffy and garlicky inside and ready to soak up that soup. Heaven.

Belizean Inspired Fish Soup with Wild Garlic Fry Jacks Recipe

Serves 4

For the fish stock

1kg fish heads and scraps
1.5 litres water
Small bunch parsley stalks
1 sprig thyme
1 large onion, peeled and roughly chopped
Large knob of butter

For the soup

600g cod cheeks
8 raw, shell-on king prawns (you could shell these if you want to make the eating easier but I like to get messy and suck the heads once cooked)
2 scotch bonnet chillies, pierced and left whole
300g cassava, peeled, woody core removed and diced
1 teaspoon achiote powder
Handful wild garlic leaves washed and sliced
2 corn cobs, kernels sliced off (or you could use a tin)
Handful coriander

For the fry jacks

250g plain flour
30g butter
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
50g wild garlic leaves washed and finely chopped
Oil for deep frying

First, make the fish stock. Melt the butter in a large saucepan and fry the onion for a few minutes. Add the fish heads and scraps and fry a few minutes longer. Add the water, herbs and a pinch of salt and bring to the boil, skimming off the scum. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes, then strain. This is the base of your soup.

Make the dough for your fry jacks by mixing the flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Add the butter and mix with your fingers until it resembles crumbs. Add the wild garlic and milk and mix to a dough. Knead 30 seconds until smooth, then separate into 8 balls.

Add the stock to a large saucepan. Mix a tablespoon or so of the stock with the achiote powder until you have a red paste. Add this back to the soup with the cassava chunks and allow to simmer while you make your fry jacks.

Heat a couple of inches of oil to 180C in a heavy cast iron skillet or another suitable pan. Roll each ball out into a circle on a lightly floured surface and cut each circle in half. Make a slit in the centre of each (see photo to see what I mean). Deep fry each piece for a couple of minutes, then carefully flip over. They’re ready when puffed and golden. Drain on kitchen paper.

Once the jacks are done, finish the soup by dropping in the corn, wild garlic, cod cheeks and prawns and cooking gently for 4-5 minutes. Season. Finish with the coriander and serve with the jacks.

Curry Goat

Peckham is now so trendy it’s no longer cool. I haven’t even lived there for four years, yet just the other day I got a letter from the clothing brand Anthropologie addressing me as M. Peckham. Even they still think I own the place. I will always love the area, (I’m just down the road in Camberwell now), but the edges are softened, the archways fluffed. I can smell beard oil. Nigerian restaurants such as Delta Tavern have been replaced by hip spots like Pedler, all pineapple prints and jam jar glasses. I will miss their gelatinous cow foot stew and cans of warm Stella.

What I’d hate to see is the closure of those little West African restaurants on Choumert Road, the ones where you can catch a breath-snatching fug of scotch bonnet peppers three hours before they open for lunch. I once tried to approach one of these restaurants for an article and they basically told me to Do One, which was funny and made me love them more. I adored what Peckham used to be, however much I was guilty of romanticising it.

Curry Goat

A lot of people used to ask me (and still do) where they should go for Caribbean food in Peckham and I would reply that I’m sorry, but it’s not really a thing. The Nigerian population is much larger than the Caribbean, or Tasty Jerk in Thornton Heath. People ask me mainly about jerk chicken, but not so much curry goat.

Mutton is a fine substitute, just as long as you ask for some bony pieces which are important for the flavour and also that general ‘I’m eating curry goat’ feeling. I use peppers with the onions at the beginning which cook down to a sweet base, and then I finish the dish with a quick pickled sauce of lime juice, sugar, more chilli and spring onion. I think this really lifts it. Rice and peas are brilliant but I often just go with plain basmati rice, a fluffy, bland cushion for the sauce to soak into.

Curry Goat

Serves 4-6

1 kg goat meat (or mutton), diced into large chunks (get the butcher to do it)
2 tablespoons mild curry powder
350ml veg stock
1 onion, finely chopped
1 small green pepper, finely chopped
1 small red pepper, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed or grated
1 x 3 inch piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
8 allspice berries
Small sprig thyme
4 spring onions, green parts sliced
4 tablespoons vegetable or groundnut oil
1 scotch bonnet chilli, pierced

For the pickle

1 scotch bonnet chilli
1 spring onion
Juice 2 limes
2 level tablespoons sugar
Large pinch of salt

In a bowl, combine the meat and curry powder. Add the thyme, stripping the leaves off and then lobbing the stalks in too. Mix thoroughly and leave to marinate for at least two hours, preferably three or four.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan (with a lid). Cook the onions and peppers over a low heat for a few minutes, stirring, then add the goat mixture. Stir, turn the heat down very low, put the lid on and leave for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. The meat will make its own juice inside the pan.

Add the ginger, garlic, stock, allspice, scotch bonnet and spring onions. Simmer on very low heat for two hours with the lid on. Remove the lid and simmer for a further hour to reduce to sauce. Season to taste and serve with plain rice (or your choice of rice) and the pickle.

To make the pickle, just combine everything and leave it for an hour or so while the curry is cooking.

Brown Stew Chicken

Brown stew chicken is a common Caribbean dish, yet I don’t see it too often on restaurant menus around here. Well, not compared to jerk anyway. The stew takes its name from the colour of the sauce, which is made by caramelising the marinated chicken in brown sugar before adding the reserved marinade. This caramel flavour is essential to make a good brown stew and it’s important to spend time ensuring the chicken is properly sticky and golden before moving on. The sauce is then cooked down to an intense gravy; it’s sweet and damn spicy, depending of course on how liberal your hand is with the fierce yet fruity scotch bonnet pepper.

It’s a proper carnival of Caribbean flavours, with depth from the caramelised sugar and soy, plus fragrance from the thyme, ginger, spring onions and  lime. The smell carries like nothing else and will make your neighbours insane with jealousy. This is proper winter comfort food, Peckham style.

Brown Stew Chicken

(serves 2-3, depending on how many chicken thighs you fancy)

1kg bone-in chicken thighs (about 6), skin removed
Juice of 1  lime
4 spring onions, finely shredded, plus one extra to garnish
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 scotch bonnet chilli, de-seeded and finely sliced
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 regular onion, finely chopped
1 red pepper, finely chopped
4 sprigs thyme
1 thumb sized piece ginger, peeled and grated
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
Half a tin chopped tomatoes (I used the cherry ones)
Water to just cover the chicken pieces

Place the chicken pieces in a dish and add all the ingredients except the sugar, chopped tomatoes and water. Mix well and leave to marinate for an hour or overnight if possible.

When you’re ready to cook the chicken, remove them from the marinade, reserving the marinade to add to the stew. Pat the chicken dry with kitchen paper. Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a high-sided pan and add the sugar. When it begins to turn dark brown and caramelised, add the chicken pieces, taking care because it will splatter a lot. Fry them until you have nice caramelised bits on both sides, then remove from the pan and set to one side.

Add the reserved marinade to the pot and fry for a few minutes to soften. Add the chicken pieces back plus the tinned tomatoes and just enough water to cover the meat. Season, then simmer for 20 minutes until the sauce is thickened and the chicken cooked through. Serve with rice and peas, or plain rice, garnished with a little chopped spring onion.