The barfi queen | Cookup

Natasha Laggan — once described as the “Caribbean’s top food influencer” — has been making mouths water through her Trini Cooking with Natasha brand. Shelly-Ann Inniss learns more

  • Photo courtesy Natasha Laggan
  • Natasha’s funfetti barfi made without sugar syrup. Photo courtesy Natasha Laggan
  • Red dragon fruit barfi with slivered almonds. Photo courtesy Natasha Laggan
  • Photo courtesy Natasha Laggan
  • Seasonings ground with a sil and lorha. Photo courtesy Natasha Laggan

The more than 2,000 recipes created by Trinidad-born Natasha Laggan on her Trini Cooking with Natasha platforms have one thing in common: they’re all made with love. From the comments left on her videos by her 1.1 million Facebook followers and 278,000 YouTube subscribers, it’s clear they too understand that love is at the heart of her cooking.

Trinidadians especially might remember her videos among the doubles-making clips that went viral during the height of the Covid-19 restrictions. Her videos about quintessential Trini dishes like roti and doubles and many more mouth-watering recipes earned her recognition from Forbes as the Caribbean’s Top Food Influencer.

Travelling and tasting food from other cultures deeply fuel her enthusiasm to create and recreate recipes. Dubai, the Maldives, Bora Bora, the United States, and the Caribbean are just some of the destinations which have heavily influenced her palate. But her recipes make a strong statement about her roots too.

“In Trinidad, we have the Naparima Girls’ Cookbook, and I’m the Naps cookbook of the internet,” she says in reference to a venerated source of authentic Trinidad & Tobago and Caribbean recipes. Her own cookbook is also in the pipeline.

Scrolling through her recipes, you’ll find ones some of us take for granted (like Caribbean green seasoning), but also unusual twists on dishes we know well like bake and pastelles, which are transformed into carrot bake with pimento peppers (episode 2,176) and pastelle nachos (episode 1,036).

Using regular ingredients in her multicultural recipes, she effectively bridges Indian, Chinese, African, Caribbean, Arabic, Creole, and other culinary traditions. Many of those recipes have themselves been passed down through generations, with love. Because our favourite foods can be like a warm hug — maybe something made by the grandmother who spoils you, or the aunty who loves you unconditionally like no-one else.

Natasha herself grew up observing the ladies in her family cook in large quantities for weddings and prayers. Additionally, before migrating to Florida, she’d also assist her mum in her family’s restaurant back in Trinidad.

“My mum makes a nice dhalpuri roti, but it’s not like granny’s. One thing I regret not learning is her dhalpuri because when I tell you: thin and silky … You didn’t need curry chicken or anything on the side to eat it. You just want to eat it alone,” she remembers.

Natasha’s paternal grandmother did, however, teach her to knead flour, unbeknownst to Natasha’s mother — who was afraid she’d spill it. It was only after she mastered the technique that her mum gained confidence in her kneading abilities.

Although Natasha has no formal cooking training, she knows old school techniques, and uses all the knowledge and skills she acquired growing up as a base for experimentation in her own cooking. Even the way she kneads dough is a technique learned from her grandmother.

“Many people would pull the dough and bring it into the centre — but that makes it tough, so you do that in the last bit. Initially you punch with your knuckles and press down and hold the dough, press and turn, squeeze and flip,” she says, demonstrating with passion and aplomb.

Using regular ingredients in her multicultural recipes, she effectively bridges Indian, Chinese, African, Caribbean, Arabic, Creole, and other culinary traditions

Having a one-on-one conversation, she’s comfortable and very chatty, yet her viewers may not know she’s shy.

So shy, in fact, that when Natasha started her channel in 2015, her hands and voice were her only identifiers. Collaborations with other food channels such as Eat Ah Food, founded by Baidawi Assing, forced her face to be revealed.

Since then, she’s joined other YouTube channels like Foodie Nation and David’s Been Here, and she’s become a brand ambassador for Karibbean Flavours and Big Green Egg (a United States brand).

It’s been a wild ride, especially since she started her YouTube channel simply for her family and friends to access recipes without constantly calling her.

“I feed them everything,” she says, “even the ones who can’t cook.” She refers to these same folks as her guinea pigs — among the perks of knowing her!

Although she spends eight hours in the kitchen daily for her channels, she still dines out occasionally and dissects the cuisine — if she really loves it — with hopes of recreating it at home. “Most of the time I do a pretty good job. The only huge disaster I had was trying to make eggless puffs,” she recalls.

Puffs are choux pastries (or pâte à choux) — savoury hors d’oeuvres requiring eggs, flour, milk, butter, and water as the main ingredients. The high moisture content makes the dough fluffy and puff out when baked. When completely cooled, they’re filled with either a chicken or cheese paste.

“Vegans can’t have [traditional] puffs, but sometimes I feel like I’m wasting ingredients trying to get eggless right,” she admits. Nonetheless, she continues to experiment — not least with barfi. With a dragon fruit barfi recipe on her page, it’s clear Natasha is unstoppable.

Barfi is an Indian dessert and an expression of generosity. If it’s not served at Divali, weddings and other special occasions, something is missing. “It’s one thing you really look forward to,” she says.

People make it differently, and Natasha is the “Barfi queen” — an honour bestowed on her by the founders of Foodie Nation. Her barfi is really creamy, spicy, not too chewy, and not overly sweet either.

There’s an old saying that necessity is the mother of invention. When people encountered challenges with the consistency of simple syrup, Natasha took an idea from her white chocolate barfi to solve the problem — thus also creating a version of the recipe for children that doesn’t require it.

White chocolate binds the milk to make the barfi squares, so she successfully used icing sugar as a substitute. Furthermore, to cut down on time needed to set the barfi, she recommends incorporating powdered milk because the barfi will set quickly and be ready to eat.

With countless barfi recipes on her channels, one would think it’s her favourite food. Sadly, you’d lose a trivia game if that was your answer. She loves cassava pone, especially at Christmas time. Sponge cake — no. Fruit cake or black cake — no. Cassava pone — yes!

For Natasha, sharing tips and cooking with purpose is her focus. And she does all this while juggling roles as a wife, mum, influencer, social media manager and all-round powerhouse making a name for herself.

Still, traditional items like her sil and lorha (traditional Indian tools for manually grinding seasonings) are kept close. And she can’t live without pimentos and green seasoning — powerful connections to her Caribbean roots.

As a child, Natasha dreamed everyone would know her name for cuisine and lifestyle content. From pretending to be the Caribbean’s B Smith with Style to having her own successful YouTube and Facebook channels — who knows, the Food Network and The New York Times might soon be calling!

Barfi kingdom

Some barfi recipes featured on the Trini Cooking with Natasha YouTube channel:

Barfi cheesecake Coconut cherry barfi bars Dragon fruit barfi Pistachio barfi without sugar syrup Almond rose barfi without sugar syrup Icing sugar barfi Barfi fudge Rainbow barfi Sugar-free barfi Barfi cookies Barfi tartlets with coconut kurma crust Barfi tres leches (eggless) Matcha barfi

Chicken pelau

Serves six


3 lbs chicken cut into small pieces (cleaned and washed) 1 cup chopped carrots 2 tbsp minced garlic 1 tbsp ketchup 1 small onion chopped 1 scallion chopped 1/4 cup celery chopped 2 tbsp green seasoning 1/4 tsp black pepper 1 tsp salt 1 tsp roucou powder or liquid 1 tsp dark soy sauce 1 cup chopped pumpkin 1 cup pre boiled pigeon peas 1 tsp Cook-up or other seasoning 2 cups par boiled rice (washed) 3 tbsp brown sugar 4 cups coconut milk 2 cups water 1 tbsp margarine/butter (optional)


1. Season chicken with the carrots through seasoning (on the ingredients list) 2. In a pot on medium heat, add sugar and allow to melt until golden brown and bubbly 3. Add the chicken. Don’t toss immediately — allow to brown on one side before turning for the other side to brown 4. Add the rice, coconut milk, and enough water to cover the rice and chicken. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally 5. Cook until the rice is tender and the water has evaporated 6. Mix in margarine/butter (optional) 7. Taste and adjust salt then serve.


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