Sunday, February 12, 2012


So, Kris and I have been experimenting with not eating out for as long as we can for both health and financial reasons. So far it's been over a month, and while I'll get that occasional urge to hit up Moe's, or whatever place that is fairly fast and convenient when I'm hungry, I really don't miss eating out much at all now. This doesn't always mean we eat healthy all of the time however, but it's forced us to slow down, be a lot more patient and get creative in the kitchen while knowing what's in our food. One type of food that you can't really find anywhere, nearby at least, is something I can't get enough of when I visit my wife's home country, Trinidad. That something is known simply as doubles.  

Doubles is a common street food, served mostly around breakfast in Trinidad. While I love doubles, it's probably a good thing they're somewhat difficult to make and that I can't find them too close to us anywhere, since they're probably not the healthiest thing to eat too often. While doubles originated in Trinidad in the late 1930's thanks to Emamool and Rasulan Deen, they are believed to have evolved from an Indian dish called Chole Bhature. While it's sad to see horrible fast food joints from the states popping up all over Trinidad and Tobago, you'll still see doubles vendors all over the streets today, and it's always a wonderful, lively array of sights, sounds, and scents, especially to a visiting outsider like myself. 

I toyed with the idea of using my new little flip cam Kris got me for Christmas, to film and post a little doubles cooking segment, but that would require us to dress nice and "act" in front of the camera. Instead, I made a little informal Instagram photo post, simply chronicling some doubles basics and history, since they're sadly, practically unheard of here in the United States. Kris kind of cringed at my shoddy photos, but in general, doubles are not exactly a pretty food to begin with, and I'm no "foodtographer", yet at least. Anyway, above is a pic of the channa (chick peas) cooking in a pot. A heaping tablespoon of curry powder and a teaspoon of cumin, along with a quarter cup of onion and a chopped clove of garlic is mixed with a little water beforehand to form a paste, which is poured into the pot and cooked until the onions and garlic are transparent (note, most people pour the paste into a pot with a tablespoon of oil and fry it up, but we went the healthier route and skipped this). Later, you stir in a whole can (about 15 oz) of chick peas. You want this to get kind of mushy, so it's good to add about a cup of water after the chick peas are well coated. Lower the heat and simmer until soft, and season it to how you prefer it. 

Probably the trickiest part of the doubles-making process is the bara, or fried bread (pic above). Not to be confused with the Indian bread Naan, which is an entirely different animal, bara is made from a combination of flour, salt, turmeric, sugar, yeast and geera (ground cumin). I probably should have posted this one first, as this portion is the most time-consuming. Anyhow you'll need a large bowl to combine 2 cups of flour, a half teaspoon of salt, one teaspoon of turmeric powder, a half teaspoon of geera (ground cumin), 1/4 teaspoon of sugar, and one teaspoon of instant yeast. Add enough lukewarm water to make a soft dough, mix well, cover and let rise for an hour-and-a-half. Punch down the dough and allow it to relax for about ten minutes. Take about a tablespoon chunk of the dough and pat down with both hands to flatten into a circle-ish shape that's roughly four or five inches in diameter. It's a good idea to use a little water to moisten the palms of your hands so the dough doesn't stick so much to your hands. Finally, you want to fry one, two or three at a time in some hot oil then drain it on some kitchen paper or paper towels. 

The photo above is the mango chutney, which is considered optional when it comes to doubles, but I believe it's absolutely essential to the overall flavor. This is pretty simple to make, but you'll need a blender or a magic bullet. Mango, salt, hot pepper, garlic, and cilantro was used here, cut up and blended in a food processor. Normally, something called shadon beni (pronounced shadow benny) is used but we couldn't find that around here, so a decent substitute was cilantro (though Kris grumbles about this), which can be found at most grocery stores.  

Next we dumped something called kuchela in a bowl (just above), another essential part of the doubles equation. This was easy, 'cause we didn't even have to make it, we simply bought ours from Wegmans, by a brand called Matouk's. It's basically a relish blend of dried mangoes, East Indian spices and West indies spices, and is fairly easy to make yourself if you want. 

The easiest part is making what is essentially a sandwich by placing about two tablespoons of the cooked channa on or between two baras, topped with a little heap of chutney and kutchela. Fold or close carefully (the street doubles are usually wrapped well in parchment paper, making them easier and more convenient to eat on the street). I can usually down about three or four doubles at a time, which is considered a pretty large portion, and even though they're kind of messy and time-consuming to make, they're oh so tasty. A special thanks goes out to my wife, who helped me with this post and is such a good good cook.

Below is a decent video of a doubles vendor in action in Trinidad. Now if we could only get some of these out here in Northern Virginia! Enjoy!