Vegetarian Jamaican Patties

Happy Labor Day. In my neighborhood of Crown Heights, Brooklyn, this holiday doesn’t just signal the end of half-day Fridays and seersucker; it ushers in the beginning of the new season with a two-mile long parade of elaborate floats, costumes and music, a street-wide carnival, and several performances at the Brooklyn Museum, all in celebration of West Indian American pride. And all along the way, lots and lots of authentic West Indian food.

an appropriately tri-colored Scotch Bonnet pepper, signature spice of the islands

Jamaica has a lot to celebrate coming off a victorious streak at the Olympic Games in Beijing, including a sweep of medals for the women’s 100 meter sprint. They aren’t the only country making madness in the streets today. As I walked my bike from the park to the museum, flags and foods from throughout the region flocked the traffic-blocked street, creating a visual and aromatic megawatt rainbow. I think I can smell jerk wafting through my window.

a familiar sight for the ‘hood: jerk cooking in an oil barrel

squashes simmer in spices

[for more photos, see my Flickr set]

All this street fair food and festival might make a girl who doesn’t eat out pretty glum, you might say. Especially since it’s going to be in my face for the entire day. Well, I thought about this ahead of time, and while I do think it would only be “fair” to grab myself an authentic version of this today, I decided to learn how to make one of the most popular street snacks of the region: Jamaican patties.

Now, if you’ve only had a Jamaican patty from a New York City bodega or pizza joint that came frozen from a box, all cookie-cutter looking and disgustingly dry and crumbly inside, I pity you. Where I grew up in New Jersey I was able to get freshly-baked, homemade patties from small shops. I’m talking chopped meat, fiery spices, thick, rich sauce, and delicate flaky crusts. In a word: fabulous. But I didn’t want to go there quite yet. Because the Greenmarket is in such lovely flourish with fresh veggies now, I thought I’d fashion myself a spicy veggie patty instead.

sauteed peppers, onions, thyme and spices combine with fresh zucchini

Vegetarian Jamaican patties are made by some restaurants in these parts in addition to the more popular meat varieties, so I’m told by a vegetarian friend (and this article). So this is not a completely novel twist. Only, my friend didn’t really have a clue what vegetables were in the ones he’d tried. So aside from diced bell pepper, onions and a touch of red-hot Scotch bonnets, which should go into good meat patties anyway, I added a little shredded zucchini, now in season. And to bind it all together into a colorful paste, I chose a popular Caribbean ingredient, calabasa squash. I’ve glanced at these with curiosity in my local markets, but had never cooked with them before. After roasting one half-globe of these gourds and tasting it, I can’t tell much difference between these and acorn squash.

good gourd: Calabasa squash

after roasting, the skin peels away

This summer I’ve already been inspired by the flavors of the Caribbean to create a jerk-inspired chicken salad. That experience gave me an introduction to common Jamaican spices: fresh ginger, thyme, nutmeg, cinnamon, cumin and turmeric. All these went into my veggie patty filling, and following a recipe for beef patties I used for reference, a little turmeric also went into the pastry crust dough to give it that signature golden glow.

pastry dough dyed yellow with a pinch of turmeric

crimping the pocket edges with a fork

This filling had just the right amount of heat for me. The overall taste is almost more sweet than savory, all coming from the vegetables’ natural sugars. If you’re shy on spiciness you might want to try this out first using just half a Scotch bonnet instead of a whole. But in either case, be sure to remove all those seeds (rubber gloves help this task out enormously, lest you wear contact lenses like I do and have to scream for the next day or two while taking them out and putting them in, like I do).

freshly baked and fragrant

Finally, this is one of those instances where I really wish the Internet age could come up with the technology for taste-o-vision. The photos of these patties might not look like much, but their flavor, and satisfying contrast of textures from crisp pastry to warm, gooey filling, doesn’t compare to anything I’ve ever tasted before. It’s a confetti of fresh vegetables, kicked up with classic Jamaican spices, encased in a buttery shell. That’s about the best I can do word-wise. Please, have a go of it yourself.

Now, off to the streets for that “real” patty! The steel drums outside are getting louder by the minute.

Vegetarian Jamaican Patties
(makes 6)

for the pastry:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cubed
about 1 tablespoon cold water

for the filling:
1 lb calabra squash (or substitute acorn or butternut), which should yield 1 cup roasted flesh
1 medium-large red pepper, diced
1 small Scotch bonnet pepper, carefully seeded and diced
1/2 cup shredded zucchini
1/4 cup diced onion
1 large scallion (or two small), finely chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, grated
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
about 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil

To make the pastry: Sift dry ingredients together and cut in butter in a food processor or with a pastry cutter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs no larger than a pea. Add cold water a small spoonful at a time just until moist enough to form a ball. Cover with plastic wrap and chill while making the filling.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Remove seeds from squash, and coat exposed surface of the squash’s flesh with vegetable oil. Place flesh side-down on a baking tray and roast for about 40 minutes (depending on the size/shape of your squash — mine was a clean half). Squash should be very soft to the touch when cooked through. Flip it over so the steam evaporates as the squash cools. Once it’s cool enough to handle, the flesh should slip away easily from the thick skin. Transfer to a bowl and keep uncovered as to let as much liquid evaporate while you prepare the rest of the filling.

Heat a large saucepan with oil. Add the onions, red pepper, Scotch bonnet, garlic, ginger, thyme and dry spices and sautee 5-6 minutes, until onions are soft. In a large bowl, combine the shredded zucchini and squash, and add the pepper sautee to the mixture. Add the Worcestershire sauce and salt to taste.

Divide the chilled pastry dough into 6 equal pieces. Roll each one out on a lightly floured surface to about 6″ ovals. (If the edges are crackly, even them out a little with your fingers.) Divide the filling into 6 equal parts.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Fill one side of each oval with filling, leaving at least 1/2″ on the edges. Moisten one edge with water with your fingertip and fold the other side over. Crimp edges with a fork. Place each filled and crimped patty on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until tops are just lightly browner. Let cool 5 minutes before serving.

Cost Calculator
(for 6 patties)

1 cup flour: $0.30
4 tablespoons butter: $0.50
1 lb calabra squash: $0.79
1 red pepper (from a big bag of 7 from the Greenmarket/$3): $0.43
1 Scotch bonnet (at 4/$1 from local Caribbean market): $0.25
1/2 cup shredded zucchini (at $1.80/lb): $0.35
1 scallion (at $1/bunch): $0.20
1/4 cup diced onion: $0.15
2 teaspoons fresh thyme (at $1/bunch): $0.25
2 teaspoons fresh ginger: $0.10
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce: $0.05
1 garlic clove, turmeric, cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, pepper, vegetable oil: $0.25

Total: $11.83

Health Factor

Four brownie points: In a word, fabulous. The squash is what keeps the filling stay together, instead of fatty meat, or just fat. How brilliant is that? Like most winter squashes of a deep orange hue, it’s rich in Vitamin A, Vitamin C and Vitamin E, has a little calcium and protein, and adds tons of flavor without… fat. Red pepper is also rich in antioxidants, and a bit of potassium and fiber-rich zucchini doesn’t hurt, either. With six patties to 4 tablespoons of butter in the pastry, you have less than a tablespoon of butter a pop. How did this savory, decadent street food snack get so darn healthy? (And stay so delicious?) I’m not going to answer that, for modesty’s sake.

Green Factor

Six maple leaves: There is really no excuse to not be a big green giant this time of year, when the Greenmarkets are so plentiful. That said, a couple ingredients could not be found there, but instead at my local Crown Heights Caribbean markets, like the squash and the Scotch Bonnet pepper. Everything else — save for the flour and spices — were local Greenmarket finds. Not bad for a Jamaican-inspired dish.

30 Responses

  1. Sarah

    I was out at the parade yesterday, too. These patties look like a good substitute for not being able to eat at the festivities.

  2. EB

    Jamaican patties are one thing about New York that I really really miss. You just don’t see them out here on the West Coast. I like the vegetarian take on them too! Very cool.

  3. dave

    Those look great — I’d love to see a recipe for the beef version too.

  4. stanley

    I love jamaican patties… definitely need to try the vegetarian style! :{

  5. Ai Lu

    Brilliant! Reminds me of Argentine empanadas, Brazilian pasteis, Chinese dumpling, Indian samosa…is there a culture in the world that doesn’t fill dough with savory goodness? Thanks for creating this recipe and sharing it with us. I hope to try it soon.
    Ai Lu

  6. Hannah Mae

    I went to the parade too! Completely by accident, visiting from out of state and oblivious to local events, I came out of the Crown Heights subway station right in the middle of everything. Awesome.

    Any chance you have an interest in making Trinidadian doubles (and then teaching the rest of us how to do it)? I had em for the first time last week, and now I’m back home in California pining away for lack of them….

  7. Angela

    My boyfriend and I just made these for his family and they turned out great. We doubled the amount of filling but found we had to quadruple the amount of pastry in order to make 11 patties.

  8. Silvie

    Am I missing something? The quick calculator in my head says these are only about a third of the published total price.

    I’m guessing these are about 2″ x 3″ x 1″ or so in size?

    Technically the Worcestershire being made with anchovies makes these not vegetarian but Vegetable Patties. I’m just going to use Tamari sauce instead. They look and sound yummy and remind me of the summer I spent with a Guyanese family which is when my idea of food blossomed just in time to coincide with the internet and blogging.

    When I do finally visit NYC I think I’ve finally decided the date will coincide with this festival. Thanks for reminding me of a great time in my life and sharing this fun recipe.

  9. Lila

    How, how HOW did you make your pastry so perfect? mine was much thicker and totally crumbly 🙁

  10. Ray

    I’ve never given this a try, but I think it’s about time I do.

  11. […] I won’t be holding a potluck myself this Labor Day. The campaign happens to fall on the annual West Indian American Pride parade, which makes traveling in my neighborhood in Brooklyn a little challenging, though fun. (Last year, I was so tempted to dig into all that spicy street food that I forged my own take on vegetarian Jamaican patties.) […]

  12. Becky

    We eat our Jamaican patties with coco bread around here, in Brooklyn. I’m surprised no one mentioned the coco bread. They soft sweet bread balances out the spicy patty.

  13. Bryce Juarez

    I posted your article to my myspace profile.

  14. […] Foodies) Tropical Fusion Baked Beans (Coconut & Lime) Vegan Snacks (Working Class Foodies) Vegetarian Jamaican Patties (Not Eating Out in New York) White Bean Salad with Peas, Leeks and Walnuts (30 Bucks a Week) Wild […]

  15. Coconut

    If you are Indian, or have any real appreciation of Indian cuisine, this is not the place for you. We ordered kababs, chicken curry, saag paneer, and naans. The kabas were alright, but the chicken curry and saag paneer were barely edible. The saag paneer in particular had no taste, was floating in oil, and no flavor whatsoever. We didn’t eat more than a bite of it, and the rest went in the garbage. What a waste! Overall, our experience was terrible, and we will not be visiting again.

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  17. Ian Ranghel-Smerdon

    Wow…those look really nice. I am sure they would be nicer than shop brought patties


  18. Caribbean food shop

    Those look great, Carib food has such a wide appeal. I could see a lot of vegetarians really liking those.

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  22. Renee Gallant

    I just made 4 dozen of these for a big party. Unfortunately they are very bland and tasteless 🙁 I served them with chutney and spicy sauces which helped but on their own there were very disappointing. Won’t ever make them again.

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    If you want a to miss out the anchovies in the sauce in the U.K. A sauce which is similar flavor is Hendersons, made in Sheffield and available on the net. It has no animal products and tastes great.

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  27. Hussain

    I posted your article to my myspace profile.Those look great — I’d love to see a recipe for the beef version too,

  28. healthonx

    I love american patties… definitely need to try the vegetarian style! :

  29. money

    These patties look like a good substitute for not being able to eat at the

  30. Jack

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