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By Nitish S. Rele

“A PERFECT PLEDGE,” by Rabindranath Maharaj; published by Vintage Canada, trade paperback, 528 pages; $21.

The Calgary Herald put it beautifully: “ ‘A Perfect Pledge’ delivers a beautifully written and beautifully sad tale.”

Indeed. “A Perfect Pledge,” which was published last year in hardcover is now available in paperback format. This novel by a Canadian writer looks at four decades of tumult in Trinidadian society through the eyes of a family.

The novel begins in 1960s Trinidad with the birth of a son, Jeeves, to Narpat, a sugarcane grower. The fourth child in the family after three daughters is unlike his father, who is a self-proclaimed “futurist.” Narpat is sickened by the corruption he sees all around him. He scorns his neighbors as greedy and sometimes his ideas to improve his family and his village’s lot sound inspiring, but scary. It is Jeeves who sets out to save Narpat from ever-wilder plans that are Quixotic and even dangerous.

Novelist Maharaj relates this brilliant portrayal of Trinidad with characters that grow on you amid village politics, Hollywood movies, neighborly rivalries, ayurvedic healing and more.

Born in Trinidad, this Ontario, Canada novelist previously wrote “The Lagahoo’s Apprentice” and “Homer in Flight.” He also wrote short stories “The Book of Ifs and Buts” and “The Interloper,” which was nominated for a Regional Commonwealth Prize for Best First Book.

By Nitish S. Rele

“In Trinidad, the best compliment a cook can hope for is to be told he or she has ‘sweet hands.’ It means the person is so talented in the kitchen that anything he or she makes – from a sandwich to a seven-course meal – is like manna from the gods.”

That explains the title of New York-based author Ramin Ganeshram’s new book “Sweet Hands: Island Cooking from Trinidad & Tobago.” The 250-page book with colorful photographs by Jean-Paul Vellotti (published by Hippocrene Books,, $29.95) is a journey through a rich and eclectic heritage of the Caribbean nation. A British colony from 1779 until 1962, during those years Trinidad and Tobago’s population grew to include East Indian and Chinese indentured servants who works in the sugar plantations alongside former African slaves. Trinidadian food is marked by the blending of these cultures.

Ganeshram introduces the reader to street foods such as Shrimp Patties and Shark and Bake, teatime favorites like Lemon Crunch Teacakes or Coconut Shortbread, and elegant dinner fare ranging from Avocado Soup to Spicy Stuffed Red Snapper and Curried Crab and Dumplings. These little-known delicacies along with fascinating histories and anecdotes on topics like Trinidadian rum, Buccaneer Cooking and Black Cake bring the islands of Trinidad and Tobago into your kitchen.

How did the “Sweet Hands” come about? “Actually, a very wonderful former editor at Hippocrene, Anne McBride, knew of my background and liked my writing,” replies Ganeshram. “They had long wanted a Trinidad book in their cooking series but couldn’t find just the right person so she asked me. I jumped at the chance to do a book that paid homage to my father and his ancestry.

The book, which also is available in Trinidad and Tobago, has received a tremendous response, according to Ganeshram, who hopes to travel to the islands for some book sales and signings, especially at the new Indo-Caribbean museum in Waterloo.

Ramin Ganeshram
Ganeshram, who was born in New York City to a Trinidadian father and Iranian mother, personally likes to cook a lot of Indian, West Indian and Middle Eastern food. “I am very ingredient driven,” she reveals. “For example, I might say, ‘I really feel like pumpkin today’ and then that informs the type of food I cook. If it's spicy pumpkin I want, it will likely be a Trinidadian dish. If it's something more delicate, it might come from my French culinary training. Of course, like all chefs, I love to experiment with techniques and ingredients whenever I can.”

Of course, Ganeshram is already at work on another book, this time a novel that takes place in Trinidad during World War II. “It's based somewhat on my father's family,” she says. “I'm also researching a new cookbook on the traditional and unique foods of the

Caribbean--it's not all the same stuff you know!”



Moses Reuben, Executive Chef and Owner of Melange Restaurant in Port of Spain, adds elegance to everyday Trinidadian food with French techniques and delicate seasoning. His version of curry chicken can be paired with roti for a more traditional feel or plain rice for a more sophisticated presentation.

Ingredients (4 servings)

4 boneless chicken breasts, cut into ½-inch cubes
2 cloves garlic, chopped onion
3 tablespoons chopped onion
1½ teaspoons chopped fresh shado beni or cilantro
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3 tablespoons curry powder
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 cup chicken stock
1 medium-size Yukon Gold potato, peeled and cut into ½-inch chunks
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup coconut milk


Mix the chicken with the garlic, onions, shado beni, cumin, and 2 teaspoons of the curry powder. Set aside to marinate for at least 20 minutes but preferably overnight in the refrigerator.

Mix the remaining curry powder with ½ cup of water to make a smooth paste and set aside. Heat the oil in a deep saucepan, add curry paste, and then add the chicken. Mix well and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the stock, potatoes, and salt. Simmer for 15 minutes and continue to cook until the sauce thickens, about 5 minutes more. Add the coconut milk and simmer for 3 minutes more. Taste to adjust the seasonings. Serve with rice or roti.


This quick bread has a special sweet tang from the mangoes. If you cannot get fresh mangoes for this recipe, frozen are available at many gourmet markets. Trader Joe’s is a good brand. Alternately, you can buy frozen mango puree made by companies like Goya.

Ingredients (makes 1 loaf)

1 large ripe mango, peeled and sliced, or 1½ cups frozen mango cubes
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
2 cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 egg
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 cup (3 ounces) chopped walnuts (optional)


Preheat the oven to 350-degree F and grease a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan.

Combine the mango, lime juice, and 1 teaspoon of water in a blender. Puree until smooth and set aside. Alternatively, use 1½ cups store-bought mango puree.

Sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and baking soda.

In a large bowl, beat together the egg, mango puree, and oil. Add the flour mixture, stirring until just combined. Add the walnuts.

Pour the batter into prepared pan and bake for 40 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center of the bread comes out clean. Remove from the oven and cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to continue cooling. Slice and serve.

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