The foodways of British imperialism and 1960s diasporic migration brought the “patty” to New York. One of my grandmothers traveled similar routes, migrating from Jamaica to New York in 1967. Myself a migrant to New York, I was inspired to invent my own Jamaican patty, a vegan one with ackee and callaloo. Extra turmeric and curry powder give it the glow of the Golden Krust chain restaurant that sells patties across the boroughs. Few realize that the gold is turmeric, an Indian spice that arrived in Jamaica from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. And while a patty is not an Indian pastry, it bears a resemblance to a samosa, even though it is more closely related to the English pasty. Cornish pasties were designed for the masses, British miners who needed a contained lunch. The buttery pastry culture of Great Britain converged with Indian spices to make what is now arguably a Black food. I’ve been told its West African cousin can be found in Nigeria, the meat hand pie. To eat a patty is to consume a Black world to which Asian cookery was central.
Thinking of the high-fat content in pastry that served laboring people in the 19th century well, I tried a vegan remix. I substituted butter with coconut oil. Then I filled my patty with the best vegetarian West African–derived comfort foods of Jamaica: ackee and callaloo. Be careful if picking from a tree; like another West African transplant to the Americas — cassava — ackee can be a deadly poison if the skin and the seeds are consumed. Eating ackees before they are ripe leads to the Jamaican vomiting sickness, which has a storied record in the British colonial archive and was part of the arsenal of enslaved Africans. While ackee and callaloo are not always easy to find, replacing them with hardy greens such as kale, spinach, and tomatoes works, too.
Jamaican Style Ackee and Callaloo Patties Recipe
1⁄2 cup diced yellow onion
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1⁄8 tsp cinnamon
1⁄4 tsp allspice
1⁄2 tsp cumin
1⁄2 tsp garam masala
1⁄2 tsp ground coriander
1⁄2 tsp turmeric
1⁄4 tsp curry powder
1⁄2 tsp garlic powder
1⁄8 tsp cayenne pepper
1⁄2 tsp pink Himalayan salt, plus more to taste
1⁄2 green chile or Scotch bonnet pepper, seeded and minced, to taste
1⁄2 cup shredded callaloo (if using canned, use 1 cup), or 1 cup hardy greens like kale or spinach
1 (19-oz) can of ackee, or diced tomatoes
Black pepper, to taste
For the pasty:
2 3⁄4 cups unbleached flour
2 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp curry powder (Caribbean or British brands preferable)
1⁄2 tsp pink Himalayan salt
3⁄4 cup coconut oil, chilled
2 tsp white vinegar
1⁄2 cup cold water
Coconut or vegetable oil for brushing
West Indian hot pepper sauce for serving
To make the filling
- In a medium sauté pan over medium-low heat, combine the oil, onion, and garlic and allow them to sweat and take on a little color, then add the spices, salt, and chile. (As they say in Trinidad, you should parch the spices, cooking them to activate the oils.) Sauté, stirring occasionally, for 8-10 minutes or until the onion and garlic are caramelized.
- Stir in the callaloo, reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook for 10-12 minutes or 5-6 minutes for kale or canned callaloo. Add the ackee and cook for an additional 10 minutes; do not over stir. season with additional salt, pepper, and thyme and set aside to allow the flavors to marry.
To make the Pastry
- In a large bowl, combine the flour with the turmeric, curry powder, and salt and mix well with your fingers like a rake. Add the oil and mix with your hands until it’s fully incorporated and the mixture feels like fine sand, about 10 minutes.
- Combine the vinegar with ½ cup cold water and mix well. Hydration of the dough is important. Then, without overworking the dough, add the vinegar mixture by the tablespoon, while stirring, just until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl and begins to feel like wet sand on the shore of a beach. Add additional tablespoons of water as needed. Knead the dough and roll into a tight ball. It should look yellow and be hydrated.
- Cover with plastic wrap and let rest in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.
To make the patties
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and remove the dough from the refrigerator. Use the internal fan setting if your oven has one. Wait for the dough to soften at room temperature so that you can roll it with a rolling pin.
- Lightly dust a clean surface with flour, roll out the dough until it is about ¹/₈ inch thick. This will require some elbow grease because the vegan crust is not as pliable as a traditional butter pastry crust. Cut 6-inch circles from the dough (you can use a bowl if you don’t have cookie cutters, running a sharp knife around the bowl). Spoon 2 tablespoons of the filling onto the center of one side of each circle, leaving about a ¹/₈-inch border.
- Caution: You will be tempted to overstuff; don’t. Fold the other half over to make a semicircle, press to seal, and if you do not have a crimper, a fork works well enough to close the parcel of pastry. Press hard to make an imprint and seal the pastry; you should notice the dough bounce back.
- Transfer the patties to a parchment-lined baking sheet, brush with oil, and bake until you see the golden turmeric-spiced crust begin to brown, about 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes. Jamaican patty shops often feature signs warning that hot patties should be left to cool lest you burn your mouth with the delicious curry filling. Enjoy with hot pepper sauce.
- DIASPORA TIP: If you do not have access to callaloo, you can try substituting with spinach or other hardy greens. While there is no substitute for ackee, tomatoes, another fruit miscategorized as a vegetable, work well with greens for the filling.
Story and Recipe by Tao Leigh Goffe, Ph.D. from Black Food: Stories, Art, and Recipes from Across the African Diaspora
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