guest post: Cynthia Nelson of Tastes Like Home: My Caribbean Cookbook +Giveaway

Today we’re happy to have cookbook author Cynthia Nelson of the popular contemporary Caribbean style cookbook “Tastes Like Home”. Cynthia, originally from Guyana currently living in Barbados writes and blogs about her Caribbean cooking at tasteslikehome.org. Cynthia also teaches broadcast journalism, writes a weekly column for stabroeknews.com an online newspaper based out of Georgetown, Guyana. She also contributes to caribbeanbelle.com (Trinidad) and citystyleandliving.com (Canada), U Magazine (a new Health Magazine produced and published in Trinidad & Tobago. Also, a contributing writer for Christian Science Monitor:- Culture (Food) and former Contributing Writer to About.com, a New York Times owned-company. Her passion for writing the cookbook Taste Like Home came from her travels in the Caribbean, tasting and experiencing West Indian food; creating diverse dishes of the region: Indian, African, Portuguese, Spanish, French, British, Dutch, and Chinese and putting them all in her cookbook/food memoir.


Read through the entire post to see about a giveaway to win one a copy of her cookbook Tastes Like Home: My Caribbean Cookbook.

Her cookbook is laid out first as a food memoir, describing childhood food memories, what she’s learned from the various markets she’s visited, how she creates a new dish, to what she’s eating. And the book goes into the Caribbean recipes: breakfast, entrees & special occasions, condiments & sides, and sweet treats; followed by a special “how-to” guide. Cynthia brings readers over 100 recipes from all over the Caribbean; all of which she has tried and tested herself and served to family and friends. But more than just recipes, Tastes Like Home is a conversation about food and how it connects and forms part of Caribbean identity. In the memoir section Cynthia shares personal memories which help us to understand Caribbean food and lifestyle. Some of the memories focus on food, some on events or special festivals, others are just recollections about life in the Caribbean. In the recipe section readers are treated to step by step guides on how to make roti, the perfect baked ham, Dhal puri, Christmas Cake and Coconut drops....

Minced -Meat Patties: "Patties can be filled with ground meat, chicken or vegetables. The true star here of course is the pastry. It is the same rich short-crust pastry that used to make the cheese rolls and pine tarts." Pg. 254


Your book, Taste Like Home, what in you said, “this is the book I want to write”?

The idea that this is the book I want to write was really in direct response to the many readers of my newspaper column who live in the Diaspora. In many ways, my column ties and connects them to a country and a part of the world that is no longer their day-to-day place of dwelling. I started my Tastes Like Home column because I too was living away from home and wanted a connection. Sure I was enjoying my new home and surroundings and so I wanted to merge my two spaces. I think readers connected with this and soon I was getting emails expressing the similarities of the food memories and if there was a way I could just compile all the memories and accompanying recipes. Hence the book.

I know one of your main focuses was the fact that you were tired of people seeing only Caribbean food as a garnish , a spice, or herb. But in reality Caribbean cooking is far more than the spices it’s comprised up of; there is real long time ancestral/melting pot history in there. Can you share with us some of that history?

I often think of the Caribbean as a “made-up” place. Of course the first persons to occupy these lands were the Indigenous Peoples who still live in these parts. Our fore-parents that came to the shores were forced (through slavery), fooled (through Indentureship) and then we have our colonial masters whose influence can be found throughout the length and breath of the Caribbean – in the way we talk, the way we live, the things we eat, the way we cook etc. It is like you said, a real melting pot.

The British, French, Spanish & Dutch were the colonial powers in the region and many countries/states changed hands, to and fro for decades. The slaves came from Africa and indentured labourers from India, China and Portugal. The constant changing of ownership resulted in each territory being having a real mix of cuisine. For example, in countries like Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad the variety of food is vast and varied. In some other countries, particularly the smaller island-states, you can find the food being predominant of a particular cuisine or particular influence.

In your biography for your book it states that you worked for Caribbean media for many years. Tell us about that.

My career in the media started off in my home country, Guyana and then I moved to Barbados to work at the Caribbean Broadcasting Union (now Caribbean Media Corporation). The Caribbean Broadcasting Union (CBU/CMC) is a regional media organization that covers news for the entire English-speaking Caribbean. It’s programming is not exclusive to news but also to documentary, sports, talk shows etc. Working there as a Journalist, primarily in the Television division, afforded me the opportunity to travel the region to cover stories, events, activities etc. So through my job, I got to see much of the Caribbean. It was amazing to see the similarity in terms of the culture and at the same time observe how different as nations we are. Each unique, each special, each different yet with a common connection. A real celebration of unity in diversity.

I love that in your About.com column, you state “west Indian food is not as well known as other world cuisines. It is often stereotyped as a garnish or reduced to a handful or ingredients….the diversity of the region is reflected in the food we make and eat everyday…” That’s true actually; there isn’t a whole lot out there in books in terms of West Indian cooking. I can see why you were drawn to it—to expose it many layers of diversity and break down the stereotypes that it isn’t just about certain ingredients, but rather what’s done with those ingredients. Am I on the right track?

You are very much on the right track. There are two things to note. Whenever Caribbean food is spoken of, it is always about the Spanish Caribbean and the cuisine is always that of Puerto Rico. Whenever the cuisine of the English-speaking Caribbean is spoken of, it is always Jamaican food, it’s as if the rest of the region does not exist. I’m not blaming any one or any entity for that. If we want to be seen and heard and acknowledged, well then we have to show up, stand up and speak up. Make our presence felt and known.

Mettagee: "Many Caribbean countries have their own one-pot dish of ground provisions (root vegetables) cooked with coconut milk, salt fish, meats and dumplings. In Guyana, it is called Mettagee. All the ingredients are cooked together in a large pot with coconut milk until the liquid reduces to a thick sauce...." pg. 169

At what age did you start cooking/baking? I was 9.

What was your first creation?

Curried pork and cooked white rice. The rice turned out fine and while the curry had good flavour, the meat was tough and needed to be cooked longer.

What are three things people don’t know about you?

1. I am somewhat of an introvert, the anonymity of writing and working in radio (back in the day) is such a warm cloak of comfort. You can be out there without being there, know what I mean?
2. I had actively started studying to become a Catholic nun.
3. Stationery stores make me very happy – particularly the pens section!

When trying out new recipes do you have good taste testers around?

Not all the time. There are some recipes that I have a good sense of how they will taste before hand and feel confident enough to invite taste testers the first time I make the dish. On other occasions, I refer to test the dish out alone, first. If the taste is as expected but it is not something that I really like but feel that others would appreciate, then I share with my taste testers.

Is there one area of cooking or baking that is hard for you to master? For me it’s mastering the art of croissants—it’s all about how you handle and keep the dough cold, and not to over-work the dough.

Nothing comes to mind off the top of my head but I’m sure that that is because there are things that I am yet to try making! (laugh)

What is your favorite Caribbean dish?

I get asked this question often and the truth is that it varies depending on my mood, the place and time. It really would have to be some sort of rice dish. I love rice.

Is there a fruit or vegetable you just don’t like?

A vegetable – eggplant, unless the flesh is fire-roasted and pureed. It has to be fire-roasted not oven roasted, the skin must charred from the roasting, burnt.

Are you a gardener?

No, but I do have some potted plants. I take instructions from the nursery and take care of them. I think I become overprotective and give the plants too much water and not enough sunlight.

I personally would love to know what types of herbs and spices you keep in your cupboard. Which ones get used the most and how?

This question made me laugh. Herbs – fresh thyme, cilantro and scallions (green onions). I buy these weekly. I buy the other herbs if I have something in particular that I want to make and flavor. I always have a bottle of blended sweet basil with oil and seasoned with salt and in my refrigerator.

Spices – I have quite a variety, mostly in the whole form. I have whole spice mixes that I assemble and store; I then toast and grind and necessary to replenish stock that has been depleted. So you will find whole spice mixes of various garam masala, tea masala, Chinese five-spice, Middle Eastern spice mixes etc.

I make my own ground cinnamon. The spices that get used often are cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice, star anise, fennel, cumin and mustard seeds.

Bajan Fish Cakes: "In essence this is a salt fish fritter. It is delicious when served hot with the addition of some Pepper Sauce or Sour on the side. When making these fish cakes to be served in Barbadian Rum Shops in particular, lots of hot pepper is added to the mixture. Long ago, instead of boiling and then frizzing the salt fish, it used to just be pounded and then added to flour and seasonings to create a batter..." Pg. 224

Your favorite place/country to visit solely for the food?

Ah, it’s a trio for me – Thailand, Vietnam & Malaysia!

Are there any chef celebrities that inspire you?

Yes and they are as follows in no particular order.
Lidia Bastianich – I think that she is an exceptional teacher. There is knowledge, authority and a commonsense down-to-earth-ness about Lidia’s approach to her cuisine that I really admire. Much of it for me is not what she is making or that she is cooking Italian food but it is more about her ability to communicate her passion and teach it so effectively.

Ruth Reichl – I’ve always had an interest in food and wanted my work in someway to be food related, however, it was not until I read one of Ruth Reichl’s editorials in Gourmet and her best-selling Garlic & Sapphires that I knew what it is that I wanted to do with food – write about it! The woman just has a way with words… more than anything else, I marvel at her ability to transport. Ruth takes you along with her – as a participant, as an observer, as a companion, as a taster. Her writing is so vivid. It captivates and it always leaves you wanting for more – of the scenery, of the atmosphere, of the food. I aspire to be such a writer.

James Oseland – James has an enviable palette! I love to listen to him evaluate and critique food. Moreover, he seems to have such an open mind when it comes to food and cuisine. I really and truly admire that quality in anyone and he is right there at the top of my list.

Rick Bayless – Rick’s unwavering and lifelong respect and celebration for the cuisine South of the border tells me that this is the kind of person I would want be around, all the time. Rick’s passion for Mexican food is infectious, I enjoy this series on PBS and he makes me hungry for Mexican food, all the time.

Favorite food guilty pleasures?

Only one – French Fries. I’m pretty good at controlling it though. The only time I over-indulge is when I am travelling.

Have you ever taught cooking or baking?

I did a private cooking class for someone about 3 years ago. While I enjoyed the class, I found the experience demanding. Perhaps it was because I was doing the class in my spare time away from my job at the college and amidst my writing. I think that to teach cooking/baking classes, it has to be a full-time thing. While the idea seems exciting, I’d advise people to try it out first before quitting your day job to do it. The type of recipe writing is different; there is a lot of planning and organization that goes into it, long before the actual class itself. More importantly, while you may know how to do something well, it does not necessarily mean that you can teach it and do so well. Fortunately for me, I drew on my skills as a teacher/facilitator.

If you could invite any three people to dinner (living or dead) who would they be and what would you make?

I’d invite my friend Tanita Davis – she doesn’t like okra but I’d cook it for her and show her that okra does not have to be slimy.
Ruth Reichl & James Oseland of course – for purely selfish reasons (I’d want to pick their brains), I make a plethora of Caribbean dishes so that they can return to their world and spread the word about Caribbean food (lol)

Will there be a second cookbook?

Yes and hopefully a third and fourth… though they may not be strictly cookbooks and by that I mean that they may not be recipe books but books about food. So, they will fall under the genre of cookbooks.

Any advice for food bloggers hoping to get a cookbook published?

Know what it is that you want to say. More importantly, HAVE something to say!
Ask yourself what will set your book apart from the others out there, particularly those with similar subject/areas. And ask yourself if there is an audience for such a book.
Don’t give up if a publisher does not immediately pick up your book.
Look at small publishers and imprints and not just the big names.
Don’t let anyone shake the faith you have in your project.

Thank you so much Cynthia. Wonderful getting to know you more. As well as learning more about Caribbean cooking. I highly suggest this cookbook. My favorite part of the cookbook? In the section, "Sweet Treats" there is a recipe for "Roat (roth), a sweet fried pastry made with cardamom. "Of all the goodies packed in the paper bag one gets at the end of a Pooja (Jhandi, a Hindu service), roat is my favorite. It's made of clarified butter, flour, sugar, and ground cardamom...." Pg. 304

If you would like a chance to win a copy of Cynthia's cookbook Tastes Like Home: My Caribbean Cooking, all you have to do is leave a comment here telling us your favorite Caribbean dish.
One entry per person
Please have a valid email address shown in the signature line or in with the comments.
We'll draw two winners on Wednesday June 20, 2012.


  1. Fave Caribbean dish = RUM CAKE! :) Seriously great interview & book and being that we have a home in Aruba, I can relate to so much of what she said!

  2. I haven't had enough of Caribbean food to really know! But I am going there soon!!

    everything always sounds so delicious!!

  3. i agree with Averie... rum cake.

  4. I have a lot of favorites, but Vaca Frita is way up there on the list. It's Cuban. It's flank steak that's first braised, then cooled and shredded, and finally stir fried with onions, peppers, and some spices. I like the looks of the sandwiches on the cover of "Tastes Like Home" and would make it the first recipe I try. lfmelcher @ gmail.com

  5. Not sure, haven't eaten much Caribbean food, but whatever is on the cover looks amazing!

  6. I'm not very familiar with Caribbean dishes, but I would love to learn more about them! Anything with seafood would probably be my favorite! email: passtheplate18@gmail.com

  7. Coconut shortbread looks appetizing to me!

  8. sofrito is good!


  9. I don't really know if this is considered Caribbean, but I LOVE Cuban sandwiches! Other then that, I haven't had to much!

  10. Growing up in a Guyanese household, I have tried so many types of dishes. My absolute favorite would have to be chicken curry with roti. Very classic dish! I would like to learn how to make these dishes for myself now. I have heard many people reccomend Cynthia's book!!!


  11. Love her recipes. I think cornbread or many of the rice dishes from the region. lisa AT supersmall.com

  12. I love pepper pot, but have still never attempted to make it! Hopefully, if I win the cookbook I can try Ms. Nelson's recipe!


  13. I like Caribbean jerk chicken and rum cake! Yum!

  14. I haven't had any expirence with caribean food, but i love her blog and would love to have her book so i can start knowing about the cusine more than i know now.

  15. This was a fun interview to read...

    My favorite dish is cod-fish period...I love it served with anything but my all time meal is; eggplant/spinach (chop-up) and duccana (an Antiguan local dish made of coconut, white sweet potato, flour, sugar, vanilla essence and some folks put in raisins. It is then steamed in fig leaf or if you can't find fig leaf, foil paper). The duccana is a bit tedious to make because of all the grating but if you have a food-processor, you're half way home. It is well worth it when you get to eat it with the cod-fish or by itself. I will say, after you're finished eating that meal, you simply want to go to sleep.

    I'm home-sick just thinking about it.

    I've had the chance to peek Cynthia's book online..The recipes are simple and diverse.


  16. There are so many to pick from but my all time favorite is simply oxtail stew the way my mom makes it :)

  17. debbi chappell6/13/12, 7:40 PM

    Oh wow where to begin...Rum Cake, sweet plantains, carribean chicken, oh and the soups, wait rice and beans yummmmmmmmmmmmmmmm! i cant choose!

  18. I am really craving Caribbean food after reading this! My favorite is tostones, Swoon.

  19. jerk chicken is Caribbean, right? if so, that's my favorite!

    pajamachef (AT) gmail.com

  20. No need to enter me in the giveaway, but sounds like an awesome book. Love the flavors of the islands.

  21. I love cookup rice (split peas, pigeon peas doesn't matter) with fish cakes.

  22. A wonderful guest post and interview! I really love Cythia's blog and would be so happy to win her book.

    Jerk chicken is definitely one of my fave dishes.



  23. Cynthia is one of my favorite bloggers (and now author) of all times. And she shows again on this post why I like her so much! Thank you for sharing so much with us!
    I don't know if being in Mexico qualifies me for the giveaway, but my favorite Caribbean recipe is patacones. Oh so good!

  24. Excellent interview. Makes me want to run right out and find this book and cook some great food. I love any of the curry dishes and the pasties.

  25. If you give me rice and peas, some fried plantain and a couple of johnny cakes I am in heaven!

  26. My favorite caribbean dish is perhaps "el chupe" a soup made out of chicken potatoes corn and cilantro. You may add a bit of heavy cream and avocado to enhance the flavors of the soup. it's a very filling meal! It's one of my favorite comfort foods.
    I also adore "cazon" a type of fish that you must shred and then cook with tomatoes, onions, peppers and other ingredients! it's great with arepas or empanadas!

  27. My favorite Carribean dish is Jerk Chicken! keshakeke@aol.com

  28. I enjoy this post so much and I love her blog. Believe it or not I have never eaten a Caribbean dish. Would love to try that cuisine.

  29. I looooove Aranitas! Definitely my favorite treat.


  30. My favorite Carribean dish is Jerk Chicken!
    Thanks, great giveaway!
    barbarapalermo at gmail dot com

  31. I really am not terribly familiar with Carribean food so I'm going to go with Leonor's choice - el chupe - sounds fantastic!

  32. I love all kinds of food - and I think I've seen banana fritter type recipes out there -- I would love to win this book will post in Cookbook Junkies too!

  33. I don't have much experience with Carribean food, but I would like to get started at some point (and I am willing to take risks in the kitchen) so this book sounds like the perfect place to get started!

  34. My favorite Carribean food is by far Jerk Chicken. There are endless variations of how to prepare it and whenever I eat it I feel more alive and happy!

  35. no favorite carribean food since i have never cooked any so i'm not familar w/ the spices or ingredients used - though i would expect it might be something along the rice and bean line or a bread made w/ tropical fruit.

    fruitcrmble AT comcast DOT net

  36. one more for the Rum Cake!! :-) but I'm sure the book has many many many delicious dishes to try. all the spices and smells and colors!

    farruska AT gmail DOT com

  37. Hands down....rum cake!!! Already had my fruits soaking from last year for this Christmas.

  38. Barry Bibby6/19/12, 1:31 PM

    I think the best Caribbean dish is stewed Ox Tail with dumplin' and boiled provision (dasheen, cassava, yam). This dish, when made well & with love of course, is like transcending this earth for the 20 minutes. I enter another world of just bliss! Best ever! P.S. Lots of gravy and the tender ox tail make this the ultimate Caribbean dish for me.

  39. Barry Bibby6/19/12, 1:41 PM

    My e-mail - barrybibby@gmail.com

  40. I haven't made too many Caribbean dishes. My favorite would be rice and beans, if I had to choose. However, I do love some rum cake!

  41. Jerk chicken is my favorite Caribbean dish! :)


  42. Rum Cake....yum!


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