When restauranteurs and cookbook authors Michelle Rousseau and her sister Suzanne aren't island hopping throughout the Caribbean, documenting the dishes native to each island—as they do in their book Caribbean Potluck—they're enjoying the ample fresh produce available in their native Jamaica.
But when I spoke to Michelle recently she conceded that there are some products found in the freezer aisle (and not just in specialized Caribbean or Central American grocery stores!) that work well in the recipes you'll find in their book, Provisions, which focuses on vegetarian cooking inspired by the diverse ingredients of the West Indies. And that's great news, because it means you can make these dishes too, even if you don't have access to a variety of just-picked Jamaican fruits and vegetables.
One note: On your way to the freezer section, you'll want to veer left into the hot sauce aisle to grab a bottle of Pickapeppa; Michelle calls it "the mother of all Jamaican sauces" and says she and Suzanne use it to wake up just about any dish they eat.
Cassava (aka Yucca, aka Manioc)
This tuber comes frozen in many forms—the Rousseau sisters are partial to the fries. (Who doesn't like fries?) In addition, Michelle says she likes to use whole cassava, which is usually peeled and cut into large chunks before being frozen, "in a mash, mixed with other provisions like sweet potato for a dense mixed-starch comfort food."
Cassava is also great blanched and tossed with a tangy mix of lime juice, vinegar, and garlic oil.
In Provisions, the sisters describe fire-roasted breadfruit as their absolute favorite Jamaican starch. It's a fruit, yes, but the spongy interior has been described as having the taste and texture of fresh baked bread, hence the name. The flesh can be roasted for a side dish, mashed into a dessert, or sliced thin and fried into chips.
Another fruit that's often treated as a vegetable, ackee has a nutty flavor and buttery texture similar to an avocado. When heated, ackee—which somewhat resembles lychee fruit—turns bright yellow and develops a melt-in-the-mouth quality which has earned it the nickname "vegetable marrow." Michelle says the fruit is lovely in quiche, blended into a dip, or sautéed with onion, tomato, and chiles for a delicious taco filling.
Goya sells an assortment of frozen plantains, including little fried cups that you could serve with a filling as a canapé or bake into a cute little tart. The Rousseau sisters' preferred frozen options, though, are tostones, which are flattened discs of plantain ready to be fried straight from the pack into a crispy snack; or fried ripe plantains, which Michelle says "make a nice addition to any meal as a side dish."
The fried or baked varieties can also be chopped up to incorporate in the sisters' recipe for a cornmeal-crusted pot pie.
That pot pie also calls for callaloo, which derives its name from a popular Caribbean stew. Depending on your location in the Caribbean, the term callaloo may refer to amaranth greens or the greens of the taro plant. Use either any way you like to use frozen kale: creamed with coconut milk, puréed into a soup or sauce, or as Michelle likes to do, "baked into a cheesy dip with crostini or turned into a decadent gratin."
Although okra may be more common in the Upper 48 than some of the other ingredients on this list, it's still pretty hard to find it fresh outside of late summer. Sliced okra is gold in vegetable soup, where its viscosity lends rich body to the broth. Michelle also likes to sauté sliced frozen okra with tomatoes, herbs, and spices; skipping the slicing speeds along the preparation.
Gungo Peas (aka Pigeon Peas)
A type of lentil, pigeon peas are often cooked with rice in a side dish seen throughout the Islands. Frozen pigeon peas can also go straight from the freezer into soup; in Provisions, the sisters recommend sautéing them before dressing them up with mint, tahini, and feta.
Frozen Fruit Purées and Juices
Stock your freezer with purées of guava, passion fruit, papaya, papaya, soursop (aka guanabana), and mango, and your morning smoothie will never be boring again. Beyond fruit shakes, Michelle likes to incorporate these purées into cocktails or simmer them down into glazes and sauces for main dishes and desserts alike.
Originally Appeared on Epicurious