If a food can be said to have a key which unlocks its secrets, then the key of this cuisine is "seasoning".
The concept of this seasoning needs careful explanation.
There are parallels in the foods of Asia; Taaza Masala in India for example, is roughly similar, as is Krung Kaeng Khieu Wan in Thailand. The ingredients in each are different, but most important is the emphasis.
Seasoning is fundamental to Trindad Indian cuisine, not just "another" interesting idea. Without it, as you will see from the recipes almost nothing can be cooked.
To a Trinidadian Indian, seasoning is generally made fresh for each meal. This is a very time consuming process involving a mortar and pestle. I have found that made up in batches and kept in jars in the fridge is the only practical way to always use seasoning. In fact this tastes superb, and keeps for a month.
In some dishes absolutely fresh seasoning creates a totally different taste, I have indicated these dishes.
Unless you are prepared to create your own seasoning, you will never recreate the authentic taste of this cuisine. It is not hard to do, and believe me is worth its weight in gold.
Seasoning can be made up in batches and stored in jars to be used as required. I have successfully made it in London. I am sure all the ingredients did not match those used in Trinidad, but are close enough to work the same magic. In Trinidad it is most often made in a mortar and pestle, but I have had excellent results using an electric food processor.
It must be kept in the fridge and will keep indefinitely. In large families in Trinidad it is made fresh daily, having made a batch you will appreciate why women had to spend all day on food in the past!
The ingredients to make up about three to six months supply are:-
1 Bunch Spring Onions (shallots)(8 oz)
1 Bunch Parsley (4oz)
1 Bunch Coriander(4oz)
4 oz Hot west Indian peppers, mixed red, green, and yellow
1 Bunch Thyme(4oz)
2 whole large garlics (4oz peeled)
3 oz White Vinegar
Wash everything very thoroughly.
Add gradually to a food processor using as little vinegar as possible, consistent with the mixture actually processing. It will end up the consistency of bottled mint sauce. Bottle it and store in the fridge.
The mixture will keep indefinitely. Used fresh it imparts a very different flavour which is especially good with fish.
This is another essential item for success whose origin is West Coast African.
Many Trinidad Indian dishes start with a small amount of oil in a rounded pot (a bit like a Wok) to which brown sugar is added (about a dessert spoon). The stove is turned high and as the oil gets hot it gradually turns the sugar to caramel.
When the sugar has turned brown and bubbles the food is added. This has the affect of darkening the mixture as well as flavouring.
Each recipe will describe it own needs, but a general list would include:-
Tinned Italian tomatoes
Hot peppers (red green and yellow, and round)
Chillies (long and green or red)
Curry powder (Rajah mild Madras if you want it right)
Soy Sauce (a good naturally fermented if you can get it, dark and tasty)
Crosse and Blackwells Browning
Sugar, salt pepper
If you want to cook food that will authentically replicate a Trinidad Indian home, you must be prepared to spend time on preparation.
Cleanliness is as much a key ingredient as seasoning. A Trinidadian Indian seeing the way Europeans cook would be horrified by the lack of cleanliness.