Neither of us can believe the end of May is already here, as it’s time to share with you our newest Ethnic Exploration. In this edition, we venture into Guyanese cuisine. We had little knowledge of Guyana in general, so we were approaching this expedition a bit more “green” than usual. As always, however, whenever there is a culinary challenge or question in need of immediate attention, Chrystal reaches for her BlackBerry and the answer is just a tweet away. And like so many times in the past, the Twittersphere did not let her down. A couple of friends–Jehan from Jehan Can Cook and Cynthia from Tastes Like Home–hopped in with advice and lots of emphatic support! We now had some general guidance into the land of Guyana, as well as some food suggestions to help us begin our journey.
It is true the country of Guyana–located at the very top of the South American continent–is tiny in size, but after diving into all-things Guyanese for this exploration, there’s obviously nothing “small” about Guyanese culture. There are noticeable similarities and influences to Caribbean life, but overall Guyana is one large melting pot. This pot blends influences from all over the globe–from African, East Indian, and Creole to Chinese, French and even Portuguese, to name a few. With variety like this, there wasn’t any surprise we came across some fun, potential recipes to make–like curry and roti, dahl puri, cook-up rice, chowmein and a number of sweet and savory pastries. As you can imagine, the options kept growing and growing, and we didn’t know where to start.
We would need to enlist the guidance of some more folks. We wanted to have trusted sources from these specific regions of the world. As you probably already know, the Internet can lead you astray if you solely rely on Google. Jehan and Cynthia both offered up Guyanese pastries in their list of recommendations for our first time at bat. They are high on the list of hometown favorites that most people associated with strong memories of their culture. The three most popular ones are pine tarts, beef patties and cheese rolls–each one sounded equally delicious. In addition to blogger and Twitter friends Jehan and Cynthia, we reached out to Ramin Ganeshram. We first became acquainted with the Trinidadian author, journalist, editor and chef as she edited our essay submission for the America I AM Pass It Down Cookbook. She is an amazing resource for the culture and food of Trinidad and Tobago, as well as having knowledge about other Caribbean fare. We hoped she’d be familiar with the food of Guyana too. She offered some helpful suggestions, including the mention of pastries too. We were on to something. With three different people all singing the praises of different pastries, it seemed as though we had a winner!
“Pastries” refer not to the dough itself, but the whole dish. Fill a shortcrust pastry dough with a variety of options–from ground beef or chicken sauteed together with herbs and simple seasonings–bake it to a golden finish and voilà, you have a mouth-watering Guyanese meat pastry. Of course, you could do this savory treat with vegetables too. Most commonly, they are made with ground beef and, of course, known as beef patties. Not to be confused with Jamaican beef patties though. Guyanese beef patties have a distinctive round shape, and though the meat is well seasoned, they pastries are usually not spicy. We also stumbled upon cheese rolls, pastries made with a spiced cheddar cheese and mustard filling. Finally, there were the pine tarts. These sweet pastries are filled with a homemade pineapple jam, folded up into a triangular shape and baked until golden brown. All of these sounded incredible. We didn’t know which one to feature so we thought, “Why not make all three?” using one shortcrust dough recipe.
Cynthia is the author of Tastes Like Home, and she was kind enough to email us her own recipes for authentic pastries. She reminded us that the key in making Guyanese style pastries was to disregard what we know about Jamaican pastries, which have different crusts, different flavors and different shapes. Guyanese beef patties are round, not shaped like half moons. The beef filling is flavorful but not spicy. These were important distinctions we had to be diligent about if we were going to capture genuine Guyanese beef patties. The recipes appeared simple, but the ingredients and preparations in the dishes were intentional and specific. Thus, we did our best to leave our free form, go-with-the-flow, oh-just-throw-in-a-pinch-or-two-more selves out of this cooking session, as we wanted to honor the recipes and achieve as much authenticity as possible.
Before we continue, we must point out that there are no markets featured this month. We found some promising leads to Caribbean grocers in the Los Angeles area, but further research revealed all the ones on our very short list to be closed down, only a restaurant, or with unrelated and limited food offerings. We didn’t fret for long, though, as there weren’t any unusual, unique ingredients in the dishes we had settled on cooking. In fact, between Chrystal and myself, we already had the majority of the ingredients in our cupboards. Score!
We now had some deeper insight into Guyanese fare, we knew what we were going to make, and most of the necessary materials were already in hand. Our enthusiasm to taste the dish kept building. We were ready to cook! I made the beef filling for the patties and the pineapple jam for the pine tarts. Chrystal churned out the cheese filling and the shortcrust dough for our trio of pastries. All the fillings were made without any fuss, but the making of the butter and shortening shortcrust, proved to be tricky. In case you’re wondering, shortcrust pastry dough is usually made with two times the amount of flour than fat. The fat can be butter, shortening a mix of the two. As is the case with most doughs, the flour is sifted well with a little salt (and occasionally a bit of sugar), then very cold and tiny cubes of butter and/or shortening are cut into the flour until small crumbles form. Icey cold water is then mixed into the butter and flour, one tablespoon at a time, just until the dough forms. You can split the dough into smaller pieces, tightly wrap them in plastic wrap and chill for at least a couple of hours and up to a few days until you’re ready to use it. The dough came together well during its formation, and all seemed fine as it chilled in the fridge overnight. It was the next day, as we tried to roll it out, that we noticed the texture seemed crumbly and a little dry. Once baked, the dry texture that worried us initially did not improve. That’s also why our photos don’t look as appetizing as our friends.
It’s nearly impossible to add moisture to a dough once it’s at this stage, so we went ahead anyways–rolling, shaping and enclosing filling into each pastry. Unfortunately, the dough was a troublesome factor. Some patties split or cracked along the way, which wasn’t the end of the world, but it was very difficult to achieve the gorgeous pine tart triangle or cheese roll rectangle like our friends have produced time and time again. It’s unclear what may have happened, but this was the first time Chrystal had ever used a food processor to make pastry. She always uses a pastry cutter, but this time it was done by machine. That could have affected the outcome. Cynthia did offer suggestions once Chrystal emailed her with our plight. Pastry can sometimes be finicky, and making it in a food processor or by hand can vary results as can the moisture or humidity in the air. She also reminded us that sometimes pastry can crack when it’s too cold as well. the dough needs to be chilled well before rolling it out, but it also needs time to ‘warm up’, if you will, or cracks will appear once a rolling pin hits it. We are no newbies to dough making though, so we had to settle on this instance being an unexplainable mystery. The fillings proved to be delightful, and we can easily make all three of these guys again. You can use your own favorite shortcrust pastry dough recipe or try the version we’ve used for a number of pot pies and tarts.
Guyanese Beef Patties (A mix of Tastes Like Home and Jehan Can Cook)- Serves 12
Short crust pastry dough*
2 teaspoons canola oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1 pound ground beef
1 teaspoon black pepper
Leaves from 5 sprigs fresh thyme
2 scallions, chopped
Kosher salt,to taste
1 egg, slightly beaten
1. In a large pan, heat canola oil over medium-high heat. Saute onions and garlic until onions become translucent and tender, approximately 2 minutes. Add the ground beef, salt, pepper and thyme, and continue to cook until the meat is completely brown. Stir frequently to ensure even cooking. Mix in scallions and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool completely.
2. On a lightly floured surface, divide the dough into two pieces. Roll each chunk out until it’s about 1/8″ thick. Using a glass or cookie cutter, cut out twenty-four 4” circles. (You may need to re-roll out any scraps of dough.) Top half of the circles with about a tablespoon of the cooled beef filling, leaving 1/2” border around each circle. Gently cover each with another circle shaped piece of dough. Seal the edges completely with a fork. Carefully lay patties on a parchment lined baking sheet.
3. When all the the pastries have been made, whisk the egg with 1 tablespoon water. Use a pastry brush to lightly coat the top of each with the egg wash. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until browned on top. Cool slightly before eating.
Pine Tarts (A mix of Tastes Like Home and Jehan Can Cook) – Serves 12
Short crust pastry dough*
20 ounces canned pineapple chunks, drained
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Pinch of salt
1 egg, slightly beaten
1. In a blender or food processor, combine and blend all the pineapples, sugar, lemon juice and salt until smooth. Pour into a saucepan over medium heat. When mixture beings to boil, reduce heat to low. Cook for 25 minutes, or until it begins to thicken. Set aside and let cool completely.
2. On a lightly floured surface, divide the dough into two medium pieces. Roll each chunk out until it’s about 1/8″ thick. Using a large pastry cutter or bowl, cut out twelve 6” circles.
3. Place about 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons of the cooled pineapple filling in the center of each small circle, spreading the filling out evenly but leaving about 1/2” border between the filling and the edge of the circle. Form a triangle shape by folding one corner over like closing an envelope, then folder over the next corner gently overlapping the first flap, and folding over the last corner to fully enclose the pineapple filling. Gently pinch the edges closed to seal pastry. Repeat this for each circle and gently place on a parchment lined baking sheet.
4. When all the the pastries have been made, whisk the egg with 1 tablespoon water. Use a pastry brush to lightly coat the top of each with the egg wash. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 15 minutes or until browned on top. Cool slightly before eating.
Cheese Rolls (A mix of Tastes Like Home and Jehan Can Cook) – Serves 8
Short crust pastry dough*
2 1/4 cups shredded cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon mustard
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon fresh chopped parsley
1 teaspoon sriracha
1 egg, slightly beaten
1. In a medium bowl, mix the cheese, butter, mustard, garlic powder, onion powder, parsley and sriracha until you form a well combined paste. Set aside.
2. On a lightly floured surface, divide your ball of dough into eight pieces, then roll each one out into 4″ squares about 1/8″ thick. Drop 1/8 of the cheese paste onto one half of the square of dough and spread out leaving a 1/2″ border on one side. Fold the dough over and crimp the edges closed all the way around. Carefully lay on a baking sheet, and repeat with the remaining dough and cheese.
3. When all the rolls have been made, whisk the egg with 1 tablespoon water. Use a pastry brush to lightly coat the top of each roll with the egg wash. Bake the rolls in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until browned on top. Cool slightly before eating.
*The recipe for the shortcrust pastry dough used for each recipe comes from Cynthia Nelson’s book, Tastes Like Home. You’ll have to buy the book for her recipe, use your own favorite shortcrust pastry recipe, or try the one we use frequently. The best thing about shortcrust pastry is that it can be used for sweet and savory pies and tarts.
Click HERE for printable recipes.