For most people, the term Spice Islands brings images of the East Indies, where many of the world’s most precious spices originated. But the Caribbean West Indies boasts its own spice island—Grenada—thanks to Frank Gurney, a mid-19th century plantation owner who planted a few fertile nutmeg pods gathered during his journeys throughout the East Indies. Surprisingly, the finicky tree thrived in the island’s volcanic soil and mild temperatures, and a new spice empire was born.

Today, the nation of Grenada—which lies about 100 miles north of Venezuela and includes the tiny outlying islands of Carriacou and Petite Martinique—grows more nutmeg, mace, cinnamon, cloves, bay leaf, allspice, and vanilla beans per square mile than any other Caribbean island. These aromatic spices naturally enrich the local cuisine, as does fresh seafood, tropical fruits, and island-grown vegetables.

Grenadians tend to cook unpretentious, hearty fare. The two most popular dishes—a “one-pot,” or stew, and a “put together,” or plate heaped with chicken or beef, accompanied by pigeon peas and rice, fried plantains, breadfruit, slaw, and other sides—are hospitably flexible. But you’ll also encounter unexpected and elegant dishes at the island’s upscale restaurants, where adventurous chefs blend indigenous foods with European, U.S. Southwestern, and Pacific Rim ingredients.

If you’re game for eating on the go, Grenadian culinary adventures abound. You can explore ancient spice factories and rum distilleries, a nutmeg co-op, and a gourmet chocolatier before lunching at a lovely former plantation home. During the annual Carnival in August, the island throws massive, main-street “blocko parties” complete with plenty of food, drink, and dancing to calypso bands. To regain your appetite, there’s also hiking in Grand Etang Lake and Forest Reserve, mountain biking past rain-forest-shaded waterfalls and volcanic lakes, and world-class snorkeling or diving. With the recipes that follow, culled from island chefs, you can enjoy the tastes of Grenada—the next best thing to being there.

Crab Backs

Serves 8 / This snack is a favorite at Deyna’s Tasty Foods, a locals’ favorite in St. George’s. It’s best made with fresh crab shells, though 4-ounce ramekins work fine.

8 crab shells (optional) or 8 ramekins
8 ounces fresh crabmeat
1 tablespoon chopped onion
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chive or scallion
1 tablespoon minced seasoning pepper (jalapeño or Serrano)
1 tablespoon butter
3/8-1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Chopped parsley, for garnish

1. If using crab shells, prepare by soaking 30 minutes in vinegar. Rinse, boil for about 5 minutes, and allow to dry.

2. Preheat oven to 350º. Sauté crabmeat, onion, garlic, herbs, and seasoning pepper in butter for 5–10 minutes, stirring. Add bread crumbs and stir gently. Salt to taste, then stuff into shells or ramekins.

3. Bake 10 minutes. Garnish with fresh pepper and parsley.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 63 calories % fat calories: 32 Fat: 2g Saturated Fat: 1g Cholesterol: 33mg Carbohydrate: 4g Protein: 6g Fiber: 0g Sodium: 126mg

Caribbean cooking tends to be hearty and richly flavorful, often reliant on pungent spice mixtures. Callaloo Soup

Serves 6–8 / DeSoleil’s chef Bradley Taylor makes this traditional soup with callaloo, a green leaf vegetable similar to taro and often compared to spinach (both taro leaf and spinach make fine substitutes). Look for fresh callaloo or taro leaves at West Indian or Asian markets. For added elegance, add a half-pound of crabmeat. Serve hot with cornbread.

4 cups callaloo or taro leaf and stem, finely chopped 4 teaspoons butter 2 tablespoons chopped garlic 1/4 cup chopped onion 8 cups low-salt chicken or vegetable stock, divided 2 tablespoons coconut cream (with sugar) 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg Angostura bitters or hot pepper sauce, to taste (optional)

1. Rinse callaloo in a colander and drain all excess water. In a soup pot, heat butter with garlic and onion. Sauté until onions are golden brown, being careful not to let onions burn or stick to the pot. Carefully add 2 cups of the stock and callaloo; simmer 20 minutes, stirring often. Reduce until mixture thickens and almost all liquid is gone. Remove from heat.

2. When cool, purée in a food processor or blender, then return to pot. Add remaining 6 cups stock and bring to a slow boil. Add coconut cream, cheese, and nutmeg and stir well. Flavor to taste with Angostura bitters or hot pepper sauce.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 166 calories % fat calories: 26 Fat: 5g Saturated Fat: 4g Cholesterol: 8mg Carbohydrate: 29g Protein: 4g Fiber: 5g Sodium: 211mg

Nutmeg, Grenada’s number-one export, is used for everything from cooking to preserving cosmetics and paving garden walkways—even for perfecting Coca-Cola’s secret formula. Spice-Island Chicken with Pickled Limes

Serves 8 / Chef Paul Chappel, of Cicely’s Restaurant at the Calabash Hotel in L’anse Aux Epines on the southwestern tip of Grenada, makes this with the small limes that grow abundantly on the island. Pickling is a common preparation in tropical climates; although the fruit loses its bright green color when cooked, the spicy lime pulp greatly enhances the flavors of the rice and chicken.

Pickled Limes
6 limes, washed and cut into 6 wedges each, seeds and excessive pith removed
2 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
2 star anise
4 small chilies (jalapeño or Serrano), halved and seeded

Marinade
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon ground clove
1 tablespoon ground star anise
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 tablespoons lemon juice
8 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 tablespoon water

8 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves

Saffron Rice
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons butter
2 cups long-grain rice
4-1/2 cups low-salt vegetable or chicken stock
3 strands saffron, or 1 pinch ground saffron

1. For pickled limes: Put limes in a colander placed over a bowl. Sprinkle with salt, cover, and refrigerate for 24 hours. Dry-roast mustard seeds and star anise in a frying pan over medium heat until they start to color. Pour into a large glass jar with lid. In the same pan, cook drained limes over moderate heat for about 10 minutes. Add chilies; cook 5–8 minutes more, then allow to cool in the pan. Add limes, chilies, and juices to jar with the mustard seeds and star anise. Shake to distribute spices. (Pickled limes can be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container for 4–6 weeks.)

2. Mix all marinade ingredients in a large zip-top bag and add chicken. Marinate in refrigerator 8 hours or overnight.

3. For saffron rice: In a medium-large saucepan with lid, gently sweat onion and garlic in butter until soft. Add rice and stock. Bring to boil; reduce heat, cover, and simmer until stock is absorbed, about 25 minutes. Add saffron, season with salt and pepper, and fluff with a fork.

4. Grill chicken until browned, 5 minutes per side; transfer to oven and cook until done, another 10–12 minutes. Serve chicken on a bed of rice with warmed pickled limes on the side.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 369 calories % fat calories: 17 Fat: 7g Saturated Fat: 3g Cholesterol: 55mg Carbohydrate: 53g Protein: 24g Fiber: 2g Sodium: 1220mg

Tamarind-Ginger Shrimp with Mashed Sweet Potatoes

Serves 4–6 / This elegant dish from Chef Bradley Taylor, owner of DeSoleil restaurant on Grand Anse Beach, contrasts the tart sweetness of tamarind pod (a staple in Thai cooking and the base of Worcestershire sauce), the pungent salty-sweetness of oyster sauce, and the unique heat of ginger. Look for tamarind paste or sugar-coated tamarind balls (a traditional West Indian sweet) in Asian or other ethnic groceries.

1 cup tamarind balls or paste
1-1/3 cups water, divided
4 tablespoons coarsely grated ginger, divided
1 pound sweet potatoes
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 small carrots, julienned
24 jumbo prawns, peeled and deveined, tails left on
2 teaspoons finely chopped seasoning pepper (jalapeño or Serrano)
3 teaspoons oyster sauce
Salt and pepper, to taste
4 teaspoons sesame seeds, toasted

1. Combine tamarind balls or paste and 1 cup water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, stirring often, until reduced by half, about 20 minutes. Yield should be about 1/2 cup.

2. Soak 2 tablespoons grated ginger in 1/3 cup warm water for 10 minutes; scoop up gratings and squeeze out all water, reserving 2 ounces liquid. Spread gratings on a baking sheet and dry in a 350º oven for 5–10 minutes until crispy; set aside.

3. Boil sweet potatoes in salted water for 25 minutes or until tender. Strain and cool, then peel and remove any knots or bruises. Cut into small cubes and whip until smooth, except for small lumps. Blend with butter, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Salt and pepper to taste. Keep warm.

4. In a medium skillet, heat sesame oil. Add remaining 2 tablespoons grated ginger, garlic, and carrots. When mixture begins to brown, add prawns and sauté 30 seconds. Add chopped pepper, 1/2 cup tamarind juice, and 2 ounces ginger juice and bring to simmer over high heat. Stir in oyster sauce, salt, and pepper, and allow sauce to reduce a bit.

5. For each serving, pile six prawns onto a bed of sweet potatoes, drizzle with tamarind-ginger sauce and sesame seeds, and garnish with crispy ginger.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 357 calories % fat calories: 21 Fat: 9g Saturated Fat: 3g Cholesterol: 175mg Carbohydrate: 48g Protein: 22g Fiber: 6g Sodium: 694mg

Grenadian Conchee

Serves 10–12 / In Grenada, cornmeal cooked with coconut milk is called “coo coo,” a savory polenta. For dessert, these ingredients are transformed into a homey, spiced pudding, which is served during holiday season at Spice Island Beach Resort on Grand Anse Beach. Use a banana-leaf wrapper for an authentic and exotic presentation.

*Note: To make simple syrup, simmer equal parts water and sugar, stirring, until sugar dissolves.

Conchee
1 cup cornmeal
2 tablespoons grated sweet potato
1/4 cup grated or canned pumpkin
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 cup sugar, to taste
2 tablespoons butter, softened
4 tablespoons raisins
1 cup grated unsweetened coconut
1/3-1/2 cup light coconut milk

Custard sauce
2 eggs
2 teaspoons confectioners’ sugar
1 cup low-fat or whole milk
3 ounces simple syrup*
3 drops vanilla extract
2 tablespoons brandy

1. For the conchee: Combine cornmeal, potato, pumpkin, spices, sugar, and butter and mix well. Add raisins and grated coconut. Add just enough coconut milk to make a soft dough. Place mixture in the middle of a large sheet of foil. Fold over foil and, using fingers, compress mixture into a long sausage shape. Fold and seal open ends of foil with a double bend to ensure a tight seal. Place foil packet on a steaming basket in a large pot with 2 inches of water (curve foil packet if necessary to fit). Bring water to boil, cover pot, and steam 20 minutes.

2. While conchee is steaming, prepare custard sauce: Beat eggs with sugar and a little of the milk. Put remaining milk into a saucepan and heat gently until lukewarm. Beat warmed milk into egg mixture. Pour mixture and simple syrup into a double boiler and set over simmering water. Stirring constantly, cook custard, not allowing it to boil, until it is thick and creamy, about 15 minutes. Stir in vanilla. Remove from heat and stir in brandy.

3. Once conchee is cooled slightly, open foil and cut into slices with a sharp knife. Coat serving dish with custard sauce; place conchee slices in sauce to absorb. (Do not cover conchee with sauce.) Serve warm.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 226 calories % fat calories: 34 Fat: 9g Saturated Fat: 7g Cholesterol: 51mg Carbohydrate: 34g Protein: 4g Fiber: 2g Sodium: 56mg

Bradley's Ginger Beer

Makes about 13 cups / Ginger beer is prevalent in Grenada and the West Indies alike, according to Bradley Taylor, the innovative Canadian-Grenadian chef-owner of DeSoleil restaurant on Grand Anse Beach. "People drink it for many reasons," he says. "It's generally referred to as a tonic good for stomach ailments, and it's also essential in treating a cold." Use clean soda bottles with screw-on tops.
Grenada's ginger is wonderfully pungent yet subtle. For ginger beer, fresh ginger is grated and pressed in liquid to extract its juice. "I also keep the gratings and pulp and spread it on a sheet pan to dry in a hot oven for a few minutes," says Taylor. "It can then be powdered or chopped and blended into recipes for added flavor. It also makes a great garnish, especially when it is crispy."

Ginger Extract
1 pound fresh ginger, peeled
2 cups lukewarm water
Ginger Beer
1/8 teaspoon active dry yeast
3/4 cup lukewarm water (95º-100º)
2 1/4 cups sugar
12 cups hot water (120º-125º)
2 cups ginger extract

1. For the ginger extract: Grate fresh, peeled ginger into a mixing bowl, using the finer side of the grater (or use a food processor with grater attachment). Add 2 cups lukewarm water and stir mixture for 1-2 minutes, then allow to settle for 5 minutes. Stir again before straining through a fine sieve, catching all liquid in a bowl. Collect pulp in your hands or cheesecloth and squeeze thoroughly, being careful to catch all the liquid. The better the squeeze, the stronger the flavor. Stir and measure out 2 cups.

2. In a small bowl, combine yeast with 3/4 cups lukewarm water and stir just enough to moisten. Set aside for 10 minutes, uncovered.

3. Combine sugar and hot water in a large, nonreactive bowl or pot. Stir until sugar is completely dissolved and water appears clear. Stir in ginger extract. Add yeast mixture and combine thoroughly.

4. Using a funnel, transfer liquid to soda bottles, leaving at least 1 inch at the top of each bottle. Cap bottles tightly and stand them upright in a warm place for 5-6 days, until soda is effervescent. Refrigerate before serving.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving (1 cup): Calories: 140 calories % fat calories: 0 Fat: 0g Saturated Fat: 0g Cholesterol: 0mg Carbohydrate: 36g Protein: 0g Fiber: 0g Sodium: 9mg