Green seasoning gives Caribbean cuisine that extra oomph that you can’t quite put your finger on. In my Guyanese family’s Queen’s kitchen growing up, we made fresh green seasoning once a week, or until the jar was nearing its last spoonful. I recall a funny memory of when we stored this seasoning in a repurposed plastic butter container. After making the seasoning, we packed it into the container, snapped the lid on, and kept it in the refrigerator. But after a few days, the entire fridge smelled of the garlic that was blended into the seasoning! My brother and I always made the mistake of grabbing the wrong butter container only to open it and get hit in the face with a whiff of green seasoning. Not the smell you’re going for early in the morning when you want butter for your toast! Eventually, we started storing it in glass jars, which eliminated the smell and it also helped the seasoning last longer. In later years, we started to freeze the seasoning in small snack-size freezer bags or in silicone ice cube trays.
What Is Green Seasoning?
Caribbean green seasoning is a cooking base used to build flavor in a variety of ways. My perspective on this seasoning is more West Indian and representative of how it’s made in Eastern Caribbean countries such as Barbados, Saint Lucia, Antigua and Barbuda, and Grenada. Green seasoning is made from different green herbs and aromatics and is used to season meat, seafood, and vegetables. Curries, stews, grilled meats, soups, and sauteed vegetables all taste their best with even just a dollop of green seasoning. You can easily incorporate extra flavor into your everyday cooking by making this seasoning paste ahead of time, storing it in the refrigerator or freezer, and then grabbing a tablespoon or two when you’re cooking a meal.
Key Ingredients in Green Seasoning
Green seasoning is made of onion, garlic, pepper, scallions, culantro, thyme, basil, and other fresh herbs. Each batch is never the same because making this seasoning depends on what herbs you have on hand and also what’s fresh at the supermarket. The recipe also varies from cook to cook. Some prefer a spicy blend with more pepper and particular herbs, while others like a mild flavor and less culantro (raises hand). As long as you have onion, garlic, and peppers, most soft herbs can work, even if thyme or basil is all that’s available.
The Trinidadian style of green seasoning will always contain pimento peppers, known locally as “seasoning peppers.” You’ll notice a piquant and fragrant aroma as soon as you slice into one. These peppers add so much flavor to the seasoning without the heat. (Trinidadian pimento peppers are different from American pimento, which is milder and sweeter.) If you cannot find Trinidadian pimento, your next option is Cubanelle. Other versions of green seasoning may have celery, ginger root, and bell peppers. I like to add Guyanese wiri wiri peppers along with Scotch bonnets to my batch.
Green Seasoning Vs. Other Caribbean Seasoning Pastes
The seasoning pastes of the Caribbean are foundationally similar, with variations depending on which country you’re from culturally and your style of cooking. Haitian epis contains core ingredients of onion, garlic, hot pepper, and herbs, but uses some acid like lime juice or vinegar, along with oil to preserve the marinade. Sofrito has similar beginnings, but has a tomato base—usually tomato paste or fresh tomato. This is enough to differentiate from green seasoning, which has no tomato. Recaito is visually similar to green seasoning but typically is not spicy. Each Caribbean country has its own variation, and even with the slight differences, the seasoning base adds to the overall flavor of the cuisine making each and every dish taste unique.
How to Make Green Seasoning
Traditionally the ingredients for green seasoning would be mashed in a mortar and pestle. In Guyana and my grandmother’s Guyanese kitchen in Queens, NY, this was done on a sil and lorha—a large slab of stone with a smaller stone used to mash the ingredients using a back-and-forth motion until it became like a paste. Nowadays, a blender or food processor is the best option for efficiency. A blender tends to result in a runnier, smoothie-type texture because a little water is needed to get the blender going. I like using the food processor because I have more control over the texture. Some cooks like to pulse until the green seasoning is finely minced or resembles a puree so it can penetrate meat better. Others like it when it’s coarse and the ingredients are still discernible. Finely minced is nice for rice, soups, and vegetables. I don’t make two separate batches; usually, however it turns out is how I will use it.
How to Keep Green Seasoning Handy at All Times
Green seasoning will last about 2 weeks in the fridge or up to 6 months in the freezer. I like to keep it in a mason jar in the fridge door. Don’t be surprised if, over time, the seasoning has a deeper green color; it’s most likely from the garlic oxidizing and is nothing to worry about.
Freezing Green Seasoning
After making the seasoning, use a small spoon to fill the crevices of a silicone ice cube tray. I like to use ones that have a lid to help avoid freezer burn. If you don’t have a lid, use two layers of plastic wrap to cover the tray before freezing. Once the cubes of seasoning are frozen, pop each out and place it in a freezer bag. They’lll keep for about 6 months. When you’re ready to cook, add the frozen seasoning straight to your hot pan. If you’re using it to season meat or fish, let the cubes thaw for a few minutes or pop them into the microwave in a small bowl for a minute to soften up.
Certain green herbs may be difficult to find in a regular grocery store, but thankfully there are substitutions that will work. You can substitute Guyanese broad leaf thyme, Spanish thyme, and Cuban oregano with American thyme. Remove the leaves from the woody parts of the stem before adding to your food processor. Culantro, known to West Indians as shadobeni or bandhania, is another herb that you can find in Asian, Caribbean, or Hispanic markets Cilantro is a common stand-in since they are cousins and have a very similar flavor profile. Guyanese marimanpoke, a type of basil, is challenging to find even in Caribbean markets, but American basil works perfectly here, or even Thai basil.
Recipes Using Green Seasoning
Green seasoning is always used in curry recipes, stewed meat, fish, and rice dishes such as yellow rice and beans. I also love using green seasoning in my BBQ chicken. It is common in a West Indian kitchen to first season chicken legs and thighs with a few tablespoons of green seasoning, salt, and your favorite BBQ sauce. We leave it to marinate overnight or a few hours before cooking. You’ll lick your fingers twice, trust me! I recommend using about 2 heaping tablespoons per pound of meat and 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons per pound of fish or shrimp. About 1 tablespoon per cup of rice will provide a fragrant and well-seasoned dish.