Lentils are a staple in the Caribbean
By Ari LeVaux
The tiny island nation of Dominica, population 70,000, isn’t blessed with the blinding white sand beaches of many of its Caribbean neighbors. This has spared it from the tourist hordes and deprived it of the income they would have brought in. The narrow roads are potholed and unmarked. Old men pass their evenings playing banjo on dimly lit street corners.
With its stunted tourist economy, and few exports, Dominica is a living laboratory for how a Caribbean culture might evolve with minimal outside influence. Subsistence farms dot the steep volcanic hillsides. While the supermarket shelves of neighboring islands are stocked with imports, Dominica is a place where local food isn’t a buzzword. By and large, it’s the only option, which makes it something of a locavore’s paradise.
One noteworthy exception to the local foods rule-of-thumb is the widespread use, and love, of lentils. It’s actually a Caribbean-wide phenomenon, especially in the English-speaking countries like Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados and of course, Dominica. A legacy of the British and African involvement in the Caribbean, lentils have hung on, in part, because they are one of the cheapest forms of protein on Earth. Being dried and shelf-stable, they can be shipped with a minimum of expense, as there is no rush, and no refrigeration required. They could be imported by sailboat, as they once were, for a virtually carbon-free import, making them about as environmentally friendly as they would be if grown on-site. And being legumes, they require no fertilization. If farmed properly, they can leave the soil better than it was before they were planted.
Tapa, who runs an Airbnb in the tiny village of Castle Bruce, gave me a lentil recipe. He learned it from a Jamaican woman who once rented him a room in London. The recipe calls for two specialty ingredients which can be purchased online, or easily substituted for.
“When she cook,” Tapa reminisced about the Jamaican woman, “you leek ya fingas.”