On Labor Day weekend, Brooklyn hosts the annual West Indian Day Parade, the largest street party of the year and the most important celebration of the city’s Caribbean community. While the parade always gets top billing and draws the largest crowds, J’ouvert, the festival that takes place in the wee hours of Labor Day morning, kicks off carnival season with a bang. J’ouvert originated in Trinidad in the 1800s as a celebration of the emancipation from slavery. Today, it’s a wild, pre-dawn masquerade party where revelers wear body paint and masks as they dance through the streets to steel-pan and calypso bands.
The party continues a few hours later as the parade gets underway, usually drawing over a million people each year. Marchers wearing larger-than-life, colorful costumes dance down Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights to the beat of steel drums, while vendors sell authentic island grub along the route like jerk and roti. We are big fans of West-Indian style roti, the ultimate street food. It’s the whole package… savory and spicy fillings wrapped in a warm blanket of stretchy flatbread. The fillings range from chicken to pumpkin to chickpeas, all simmered in an abundance of spices that reflect the dish’s diverse origins. We went for shrimp this time around, but feel free to substitute the protein of your choice, or make it vegetarian by adding some more seasonal veggies like zucchini or butternut squash.
For the bread:
2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
½ tsp baking powder
¾ cup water
Vegetable oil for frying
In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. Slowly drizzle the water into the bowl, incorporating it with your hand in a circular motion. As the dough begins to form, knead it for a minute or two. The end result should be elastic and not too sticky. If it’s sticky add a bit more flour. Divide the dough into 4 equal balls. Cover with a dish towel and let rest for about 20 minutes.
Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface into a 10-inch round. Heat about a tbsp of the oil in a large skillet on high heat. Place the rolled out dough in the heated skillet. Brush the top of the dough with a light coat of oil, rubbing it in with the back of a spoon as the dough begins to bubble. After a minute or 2 turn the roti over and cook the other side for a couple of minutes. Remove and place on a warm platter and cover with a towel. Repeat with the remaining dough.
For the filling:
1 ½ pounds of medium shrimp, cleaned, tails removed
1 large onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tbsp peeled ginger, minced
2 tbsp curry powder
1 lb potatoes, peeled and chopped into ½ inch cubes
1 cup carrots, peeled and chopped into ½ inch cubes
½ scotch bonnet pepper (optional)
1 cup vegetable or fish broth
1 cup unsweetened canned coconut milk
Juice of 1 lime
Salt to taste
½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
In a large heavy pan, heat some vegetable oil over medium high heat. Add onions and saute for about 3 minutes, add the garlic and ginger and cook for another couple minutes, stirring constantly. Add the curry powder and stir for another minute. Add the potatoes and carrots, and pepper if you’re using it, then the stock and coconut milk. Stir and bring to a simmer. Then cover and simmer for about 30 minutes or until the potatoes have softened. Add the shrimp, the lime juice and cilantro. Cook uncovered over medium heat for a few minutes more. Add salt to taste.
To assemble, place filling in center of roti, fold over and pass the napkins!
Makes 4 roti
Shortcut: use heated flour tortillas if you don’t want to make the roti from scratch