Selwyn Ryan: Professor in the Kitchen

A leading Caribbean social scientist and pollster reveals his favourite cook-ups

One of the Caribbean’s leading academic writers and researchers, professor Selwyn Ryan is known for his book on social and political issues and for his opinion polls, which regularly assess political feeling in Trinidad and Tobago. He has been Director of the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of the West Indies in Trinidad since 1987. Here he presents recipies from Africa and South America, with a Caribbean twist.

‘My first effort at cooking were driven by the need to eat for survival during my first year at the University of Toronto. Thereafter, cooking was something that i did and continue to do when the spirit moves me. I enjoy experimenting with exotic dishes, particularly those which involve a basic African or Indian motif. These two recipes, which are my favorites, were inspired by gastronomic experiences in Ghana and Brazil. I hope you enjoy them too!’


2 cloves garlic, pressed

2 lbs raw shrimp, peeled and deveined, or 2 lbs firm, white fish cut into large pieces

2 or 3 serrano or jalapeno chillies, seeded and minced

2 to tbps palm oil, or 1 tsbp palm oil and 1 tbsp olive oil

1 large onion, thinly sliced

1 1/4 cups coconut milk

Juice of 1lemon

1 tbsp chopped cilantro

A maqueca is a stewa like dish of fish or shellfish or a combination of the two. Sometimes it is made with chicken. It is a good example of the mingling that took place between the Indian and African cuisines in the kitchens of the Big House on the sugar plantations, with results that are thoroughly Brazilian and particularly Bahian. Specifically, miquecos are the Africanised descendants of the native Indian pokekas – ragouts of fish and shellfish combined with oil and seasonings and originally wrapped in banana leaves and roasted over glowing coals. Today’s stove-top cooking method is less quaint, but far easier, and the results do not suffer. Rice is the traditional accompaniment.

Combine the garlic and shrimp or fish in a glass or stainless steel bowl and let them stand for 15 or 20 minutes. Combine the onion, chillies, lemon juice, cilantro, tomatoes, and 1/4 cup of the coconut milk and cook them over low heat for five minutes. Add a little water if necessary. Add shrimp or fish, the olive oil and palm oil this mixture and continue to cook over low heat until the shrimp or the fish is cooked- about 2 to 5 minutes. Add the remaining cup of coconut milk and heat through. Do not over cook.

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2 lbs chicken

1/2 lb onins

4 ozs ochroes

1pt cooking oil

1 tsp ground red pepper

1 oz shrimp powder (or shrimps)

1/2 lb groundnut paste (or peanut butter)

1/2 lb fresh tomatoes

1/2 lb garden eggs (W.A. eggplants)

4 hard-boiled eggs

1 oz tomato paste

Piece of root ginger

3 pts water


Wash and cut up chicken into pieces. Boil for about 20 minutes in a little salted water with a few onion slices and a piece of ginger. Remove the meat from the stock and fry to golden brown. Fry the rest of the onions, tomatoes, shrimps and pepper. Add the groundnut paste diluted with a little water and pour the mixture over the meat. Add morewater, adjust seasoning and simmer for about 3/4 hour until the meat is tender and the stew cooked (when oil starts to rise). Prepare and boil separately garden eggs, ochroes and hard-boiled eggs (shelled), and add before serving in the traditional black pot. Serve with a dish of plain boiled rice. For groundnutsoup, add more water (1 pt) tot he stew and serve with fufu (boiled yam, plantain, cassava or coco-yam pounded to a puree in a heavy wooden mortar). Fried slices of ripe plantain are an extra delicacy.

From the Men Who Cook cookbook produced by the Women’ Organization for the underprivileged (WOUP) in Trinidad and Tobago. In 1988 WOUP started and annual “Men Who Cook” event to raise funds for its assistance programmes; this has become a major social event, held at the Trinidad Hilton, with over 80 prominent men preparing their favourite recipes.