udutu, a creamy coconut fish soup, originated in Ghana and traveled to the Americas with enslaved Africans. Although served all over Central America, today it is claimed as a comforting staple food of my people, the Garifuna. We are descendants of the indigenous people of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and West Africans who shipwrecked in the Caribbean in the 17th century. This creamy coconut fish soup is served with mashed green and yellow plantains and is loved in Honduras, Belize, Guatemala, Nicaragua, New York, Chicago, New Orleans, and the many other places where Garifuna women cook. Hudutu is delicious, nutritious, filling, and comforting.
There are so many fun memories about this particular dish, but in my family there is a funny story that has been told for many years that I want to share.
Traditionally hudutu is cooked by women, but the final process of mashing and pounding the plantains or green bananas is done by men. Once my great-grandmother, who was full of personality and wit, was cooking hudutu for the family. On this occasion, my Uncle Junior was the only male around to help with the final, arduous task. But shortly before we were supposed to start the plantain mashing Uncle Junior asked for permission to go to the woods, claiming a natural human emergency of sorts. Great Grandma, concerned, told him to go but to hurry back so he could prepare the plantains. Time went by, and my uncle was nowhere to be seen. Great Grandma decided to start the process of mashing, waiting anxiously for Uncle Junior. After a while, she called out to get help from my mother, who informed grandma that Uncle Junior was just outside hiding. Grandma then caught a glimpse of him pressed against the wall of the hut. Agitated, she called out “Where is the crocodile that said he had an emergency and hasn’t come back?” (Crocodile is an insult used for wrongdoers.) Uncle Junior angrily came out of his hiding place and asked: “Who are you calling a crocodile, are you referring to me?” My grandma replied, “Not you! I am referring to a crocodile.”
He pondered for a moment, then said, “You are referring to me…I am the one who asked for permission, and I am the one that was hiding in the back of the house from this task, so, I am the one you are calling a crocodile!”
My grandma replied “Well if you aren’t a crocodile and you want hudutu get to mashing!”
(serves 4–6; prep time: 1 hr.)
7 large green plantains, peeled and chopped
3 ripe yellow plantains, peeled and chopped
1 Tbs sea salt
3 lbs kingfish (or any firm-fleshed white fish)
Juice of 1 lime squeezed into a bowl of water
1 Tbs vinegar
2 Tbs adobo seasoning
1/4 cup coconut oil (or substitute canola oil)
2 13.5 ounce cans coconut milk
3 cups water
1/2 green pepper, deseeded and chopped
15 basil leaves
6 culantro leaves (can substitute 6 sprigs cilantro)
8 cloves garlic, crushed
2 chicken bouillon cubes
1 tsp adobo seasoning
½ tsp of black pepper
1 tsp of Dash seasoning blend
2 tsp of cumin
1 lb medium-sized shrimp
- In a medium size pan, bring 4 to 5 cups of water to a boil with sea salt.
- Add the green plantains and boil for 12 minutes on medium-high heat.
- Add yellow plantains and boil for an additional 7 minutes until cooked and tender.
- Modern mashing method: Once cooled, puree the plantains in a food processor and blend for about six minutes until smooth, adding water as needed.
Traditional mashing method: Place warm cooked plantains inside the hana (mortar) 4 pieces at a time and start pounding with the hana uduwa (the long stick handle). Gradually add more plantains. Once it starts to get sticky, add about 1⁄4 cup of water to the mixture. It can be turned by hand until it becomes soft. Add the ripe yellow plantain to the green plantain mix and keep mashing until evenly mixed.
- Add the juice of one lime and 1 tablespoon vinegar to a bowl of water. Use the solution to thoroughly rinse the fish.
- Place the fish on a flat surface, ensuring it hasn’t retained water.
- Season generously with adobo, salt and pepper and marinate for 10 minutes.
- Heat oil in a mid-sized skillet on medium heat. and fry fish for about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes on each side or until brown, working in batches if necessary. Set aside.
- Heat coconut milk and water in a large pot over medium heat.
- As the mixture begins to boil, add green peppers, basil, garlic, and culantro.
- Bring down the heat to a simmer and season soup with chicken bouillons, adobo, black pepper, Dash seasoning blend, and cumin.
- When the vegetables have softened and the flavors have melded together, add the fried fish back into the pot and cook for about three minutes.
- Add the shrimp, and simmer for about two minutes until pink and cooked through.
Ladle the coconut soup into bowls, and enjoy with a side of mashed plantains. Add lime juice to taste.