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Christmas menu in Trinidad reads like a culinary League of Nations

On the Caribbean island of Trinidad, seven miles off the coast of Venezuela and less than 100 miles from Grenada, Christmas has its own unique flavor. The holiday menu reads like a culinary League of Nations, or better yet, a short course in Trinidad's history.

On Christmas Eve there are pasteles, the tamalelike corn cakes stuffed with chopped beef or pork. An entire day before Christmas is devoted to their preparation, which involves wrapping the pasteles in banana leaves, then boiling or steaming them.

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On Christmas morning there's usually garlic pork, a Portuguese dish made by steeping pork in vinegar and a generous supply of crushed garlic for five to six days. The pork is then sliced and shallow-fried for breakfast.

The main meal is roast stuffed chicken or turkey and baked ham.

Trinidadian Leo Rufino confesses that whenever possible he orders his smoked ham from Virginia.

When it comes to vegetables, the favorite is callaloo, the Caribbean large-leafed green, cooked in coconut milk, a culinary practice introduced by the East Indians.

The British, Trinidad's colonial rulers from 1802 until independence in 1962, introduced macaroni pie, another must on the Christmas table.

The Creole flavor is added by a dash of the locally manufactured Angostura bitters. The English also contributed the dark, rich fruit cake, the centerpiece of the Christmas dessert table.

But cassava pone pie rivals the fruit cake for attention at the end of dinner. This dish is traced back to Trinidad's most ancient settlers, the Carib and Arawak Indians, whose entire diet was centered around cassava, a starchy tuber.

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Pastelles 1 tablespoon oil 1 medium onion, finely chopped 3/4 pound ground beef or pork, or a combination 1/3 cup parsley, finely chopped 2 tablespoons capers or about 8 stuffed olives, chopped 2 tablespoons raisins 1 tablespoon lemon or lime juice Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste 1 cup finely ground corn or yellow cornmeal 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 1/2 tablespoons margarine

Heat oil in a large skillet. Add onion and cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Add meat and parsley and cook over medium heat until meat is browned. Add capers , raisins, lemon juice, salt, and pepper.

Place cornmeal and salt in a large bowl. Boil 3/4 cup of water and stir in margarine until dissolved. With a fork, slowly stir hot water into cornmeal to create a paste.

Cut 8 sheets of aluminum foil into 12-inch squares. Butter the center 5 -square inches liberally.

Place 3 level tablespoons of cornmeal paste in center of buttered area and press paste into a 4 1/2-by-4 1/2-inch square.

Place 2 heaping tablespoons of meat filling on one half of square. Fold foil over so empty half of the paste covers filling.

Press pastelle together and fold foil into a packet, turning up two ends to create a square. Continue until all paste and filling are used.

Set foil packets on a rack and steam in covered pot over boiling water until cornmeal paste is cooked and slightly spongy, about 12 minutes.

Carefully unfold packets and serve hot. Serves 3 to 4.

Trinidad Macaroni Pie 1/2 pound (2 cups) elbow macaroni 1 large egg 1 cup milk 8 ounces (2 1/2 cups) grated sharp Cheddar cheese 1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste Freshly ground pepper 1 1/2 tablespoons Angostura bitters 1 medium-size green pepper, seeded and diced 1 large tomato, thinly sliced 4 to 6 slices bacon

Cook macaroni in boiling, salted water until just done, about 8 minutes. Drain.

Combine egg, milk, 2 cups of cheese, salt, pepper, Angostura bitters, and green pepper. Blend mixture into cooked macaroni.

Butter a large pie plate about 10 inches in diameter and 2 inches deep. Add macaroni mixture and top with tomato.

Arrange bacon decoratively on top and sprinkle with reserved 1/2 cup of cheese.

Bake in oven preheated to 375 degrees F. 30 minutes, then brown under broiler until bacon is slightly crisp, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Slice as a pie, after letting the mixture sit at room temperature for about 5 minutes before serving. Serves 6 to 8.

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