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Interview with Caribbean Vegan author Taymer Mason

Rasta Pasta
Taymer Mason

It is a pleasure to welcome to the blog Taymer Mason, author of Caribbean Vegan, and share her recipe for Rasta Pasta — jerk-seasoned walnut balls with a coconut curry sauce over pasta and sauteed peppers. If you are currently experiencing winter along with those of us in Canada, you can make this recipe, close your eyes and imagine you are on a warm beach on a beautiful island ūüôā

Longtime vegan chef and entrepreneur Taymer Mason is the author of two cookbooks, a food scientist and an organic cosmetic developer. A bilingual globetrotter, Mason is based in Barbados.

What was the catalyst to you becoming vegan?

My¬†mother told me I was always ‚Äúvegan” from a¬†young¬†age and I did not know it¬†yet.¬†We had chickens and turkeys and I¬†played with the yellow fuzzy chickens. I had a big problem with them being killed weeks later. I¬†never ate them¬†because I knew them and I spent my life hiding meat in plastic bags as a child to avoid eating it. I grew out¬†of it in and when I was 14¬†those feelings came over me again and¬†I went¬†vegetarian.¬†I knew what a vegan was in 1997. It was basically three lines in the food and nutrition syllabus. Two words stuck out at me it is an “extreme diet”. That makes me laugh now when I know what vegan is and how far from extreme is it. I went vegan in 2006 after working as a food scientist¬†on a pork project. It was time I had enough knowledge by then and it happened overnight. I¬†was finally able to act on my true feelings.

How did you get started with vegan cooking?

A gal has to eat, huh? I was still at university in 2006 so I needed all the food I could get. My¬†dad went vegan to support me and¬†has been vegan ever since. I cooked because I was curious. I was a¬†big foodie before so I wanted to make everything vegan.¬†My first attempt with tofu was disastrous.¬†It was¬†a journey for me and in a month¬†I¬†was¬†better. My first cookies were from watching Julie Hasson on her online TV show. Once I¬†knew one thing it was¬†on to the next. I didn’t¬†use blogs for many savory applications. As time went by I got better to¬†the point I¬†would invite uni friends to my house to eat. My parents were still there cooking for me. They made me nice chili with seitan¬†with boiled green banana and pickled onions, rice dishes, tacos….when I look¬†back at that time it was sort of¬†amazing.

For those not familiar with Caribbean cooking, what are some key differences between Caribbean and North American cooking?

That is a question that can be answered by writing a book. We have more starches to work with in the Caribbean, that is for starters, and there is more reliance on fresh herbs paired with spices. Caribbean food is an herb heavy¬†type of cuisine. The flavours are bolder in the Caribbean and if something is mild there is a bold sauce coming to fix that issue. The meat in North American cuisine was the main but in the Caribbean there is as much effort put in the sides and carbs so to speak. I will stop here because that “book” is coming.

What are some of your favorite Caribbean-specific ingredients?

I like Calabaza squash because it can be used in sweet and savory applications. I love using it in vegan mac and cheese recipes. I love breadfruit because it too is a versatile. It can be cooked and mashed and integrated into pasta recipes to a point the result is so tender that you think there was an egg in the recipe. When added to cake it acts as an egg replacer and any baked-too-good pieces end up tasting like chestnuts. Soursop / Guanabana is so awesome. It is fruit that when you prepare it green, season it, bread it, and fry, it looks and taste just like fish. This is important to me because fish in the West Indian diet was central so having a vegan replacement to fish is something that will get people who were holding back on the vegan train. If you do not cook the unripe fruit it can be seasoned in cubes like a ceviche as well. In its ripe form it can make rich ice-creams without the use of a thickener. Oh the leaves in tisane are great for insomnia. You have to love soursop!

What were the challenges you faced when writing Caribbean Vegan?

Well, Caribbean Vegan has two versions. The first version was written in 2010 on the island of Saint Martin and that was pretty much a breeze because they import  a lot of vegan staple ingredients like yeast flakes and Aminos. I had a problem making the salt bread in the book which is the traditional bread of Barbados. This bread is very difficult and some of the people in Barbados have died out taking that tradition with them. Even the yeast was fresh back then. It took me seven attempts but I have it now! I do not know how I got it but it is legit. The second edition with 75 more recipes was written in Barbados in a time when I kind of had given up on cooking. I was able to dust off my boots and get back into the kitchen and I let go of tradition in the second edition recipes and showcased the food in more relatable ways.

When veganizing Caribbean dishes for the first time, what were some of the difficulties, and what were some pleasant surprises?

You know the salt bread story but I was happy to get things like cod fish fritters vegan, tasting like the real thing. Macaroni pie, a baked mac and cheese casserole in the book was surprising because I never thought I could make something better than the version with cheese. Making a vegan fish alternative that flaked that was tender and flavourful was the most surprising thing. You have to try it. You would be amazed, a little scared of the texture in a sense because it is so realistic. The same way how jackfruit is so popular now the soursop will be popular too. I think I need a drop a youtube video!

How have other cultures influenced some of your recipes?

I left for France after university to live with my now ex-husband who is also vegan. Being in France allowed me to absorb another cuisine and being vegan allowed me to get creative with that cuisine. After we moved to Saint Martin which is the French West Indies. The food is completely different from Barbadian food. People often just say Caribbean like it is one general place but it is not. Every country is totally different and while some cuisines have an overlap the food is different.  I personally like Asian flavours so I used some of them in the book. I sneaked in a couple but, Caribbean cuisine has Asian influences as well. Caribbean cuisine is not just one cuisine but a mixture of many cultures inclusive of African, British, Asian including Indian, French and Spanish.

Tell us about a couple of your favorite recipes in Caribbean Vegan and Caribbean Smoothies.

I like Tourment d’amour which is cake tart from the French West Indies.¬†The¬†tart part has¬†jam at the bottom and then a sponge cake is baked in at the top.¬†I used the new¬†aquafaba method to make¬†the sponge part of the cake. I love Rasta pasta and the¬†jerk walnut meat balls because it¬†is not a¬†traditional dish but¬†a made up¬†dish that¬†has true Caribbean flavours. I love the macaroni pie and¬†the mac and cheese because I am a comfort food lover.¬†There is a recipe in the book where you make your own fettucine from scratch. I made that at this year‚Äôs Toronto Veg Food Fest. It is so easy to make your own sweet potato pasta! The chips¬†(fries) in my parent‚Äôs fish¬†and chips recipe are too wonderful.¬†I¬†love the¬†Guyanese Mango Chow which is a salad of mangos¬†peppers and spices and the pillowy jam filled ginger kissed beignets. In Caribbean Smoothies I like the almond smoothie, the Jamaican¬†Blue Mountain Flax¬†Seed Smoothie¬†which is a warm smoothie by the way. I like the Grenadian nutmeg smoothie and the¬†black¬†bean¬†protein shake.

What are some cookbooks or blogs that inspire you?

When I went foodie at 14 years¬†old I read cookbooks like novels. I¬†still turn to¬†traditional cookbooks for inspiration.¬†Yes, those books from¬†the 80’s¬†with words like “medley” and surprise¬†used to describe recipe…hahaha chocolate surprise.¬†These recipes were for the home¬†cook back then but they were gutsy and creative. I personally cooked out of Vegan Brunch¬†because¬†breakfast is still always a challenge for me. I¬†do not¬†get to read blogs so much because I was blogging¬†six years ago and the¬†vegan blogging¬†was different back then. Vegans were vegans and not¬†dietary vegans. I have nothing against the plant¬†based eaters but¬†we all knew each other back then¬†and it was like family. I¬†stopped blogging for many years and a¬†lot of them¬†stopped too. I¬†still read¬†Hannah Kaminsky¬†at Bittersweet,¬†Erin at Olives for Dinner and¬†Mihl¬†at Seitan is my Motor…and Julie Hasson…I see her work on my Facebook feed.

What can we look forward to seeing from you in the future?

I am a food scientist so I am still going to be consulting for clients and myself…I¬†have a line I want¬†to launch. I¬†have¬†two book ideas I want to execute in the next three years. I make¬†vegan hair¬†and skincare¬†products, I want to get busy with that.¬†Cooking classes will commence soon¬†in the spring of 2017 in select cities. I recently learned to code out of feeling¬†helpless when¬†anything went wrong on my site¬†and I want to develop¬†a useful app. I have a vegan novel coming out in¬†spring.¬†I¬†am doing a¬†lot but I schedule myself and I am enjoying living out my dream. While it is challenging at times, I couldn’t have it any other way.

Thank you Taymer for answering all of our questions and sharing your Rasta Pasta recipe! For our readers who would like to learn more about Taymer and her cooking, you can visit her website taymermason.com and follow her on social media: Instagram | Facebook | Twitter

 

Rasta Pasta

Serves 4

I had been curious about Rasta pasta for years because I did not know what it was. It was a dish that popped up on menus across the Caribbean, but I never seemed to be at a restaurant that served it. I was having trouble meeting Rasta pasta. Was it pasta with fresh vegetables? Was it a tricolored pasta containing different peppers? I finally gave up and created my own vegan version of the dish with tender jerk-seasoned walnut balls and a creamy coconut curry sauce. This is really good for a Caribbean-themed dinner party. While it is not traditional, it has an authentic flavor profile.

 

Ingredients:

WALNUT BALLS

  • 3 tablespoons olive or coconut oil, for saut√©ing
  • 2 cups (220 g) chopped button mushrooms
  • 2 small onions, sliced
  • 1 cup walnut halves (100 g), soaked in 3 cups (720 ml) of water for at least 30 minutes
  • 5 garlic cloves crushed
  • 3 dates, pitted
  • 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes
  • 1 tablespoon Bragg Liquid Aminos
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 tablespoon flax meal (page 000), soaked in 2 tablespoons of hot water for 3 minutes
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • ¬ľ cup plus two tablespoons (34 g) oat flour (page 000)
  • ¬ľ cup (23 g) fine bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons Jamaican Jerk Seasoning (page 000)
  • 2 teaspoons seasoning salt
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) neutral oil, for frying

SAUCE

  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon Thai curry paste, any color, or Madras curry powder
  • One 14-ounce (400 ml) can coconut milk
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce or Bragg Liquid Aminos
  • 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • Pink or sea salt, to taste

PASTA

  • Wok
  • 4 tablespoons olive or coconut oil, for saut√©ing
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • ¬Ĺ yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • One 1-pound (454g) package linguini, cooked al dente according to package

Directions:

  1. To make the walnut balls, heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and onions and sauté until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes.
  2. Transfer the mixture to a food processor. Add the drained walnuts, garlic, dates, nutritional yeast, liquid aminos, thyme, flax meal mixed with hot water, curry powder, smoked paprika, and black pepper. Pulse until the nuts have been chopped fine but you still have texture.
  3. Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl and add the oat flour, bread crumbs, jerk seasoning, and seasoning salt. Form the mixture into twenty 1.5-inch (3.8 cm) balls.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350ňöF (180ňöC) and line a baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper.
  5. Heat the neutral oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Fry the walnut balls, until a thin brown crust is formed, 5 minutes.
  6. Transfer the balls to the baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes, or until the form an outer brown crust.
  7. Meanwhile, make the sauce. Heat the oil in a medium-sized pot heat. Add the curry and heat through, about 1 minute. Add the coconut milk, onion, garlic, soy sauce, cilantro, allspice, sugar, and onion powder and stir to combine. Taste and adjust for salt. Bring to a boil and stir until the mixture is fairly creamy.
  8. To finish the pasta, heat olive oil in a wok over high heat. Sauté the bell peppers until slightly tender, about 2 minutes. Add the pasta and heat through, tossing to combine, about 4 minutes. Add the sauce, to taste, and top with the walnut balls.
  9. To serve, layer the balls over pasta and top off with sauce.

 

ISLAND TIP
The walnut balls can be formed into burgers. Coat them with oat flour and shallow fry over medium-high heat.



Credit line: Recipe from Caribbean Vegan: Meat-Free, Egg-Free, Dairy-Free, Authentic Island Cuisine for Every Occasion, Expanded Second Edition © Taymer Mason, 2016. Reprinted by permission of the publisher, The Experiment. Available wherever books are sold.  theexperimentpublishing.com

Taymer Mason

 

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One Response to “Interview with Caribbean Vegan author Taymer Mason

  • Oh wow, I’m so surprised and touched to get a shout-out here! I still adore the first version of Caribbean Vegan and can’t wait to get my hands on the second. Way to go, Taymer!

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