Chef, cookbook author, and television personality Aliya LeeKong is stopping by the TODAY kitchen to share a few of her favorite, festive Trinidadian recipes for the holidays. She shows us how to make cheesy, spicy macaroni pie and cozy ponche de crème cocktails.
Macaroni pie is a Trinidadian spicy macaroni and cheese that is baked and served casserole-style. It's slightly firmer and studded with onions, garlic and Scotch bonnet pepper. Traditionally, this pie uses full-on spaghetti, but use whatever pasta you would use for your mac. Elbows work, and rigatoni and penne are fantastic because the centers fill with the luscious sauce. Scotch bonnet is also traditional, so don't be scared: The heat truly mellows with all of the cream, allowing the fruitiness of the pepper to shine through.
Although the firmer version calls for just eggs and milk, taking the extra step and making a béchamel that is set with eggs takes this dish to another level. It ups that creaminess factor but the pie stays intact and can be cut into and served in portions. What's also wonderful about this recipe is that it can be assembled ahead of time if you are going over to someone's house or are prepping for the holidays. Creamy, cheesy, crunchy with a bit of a kick, it's the perfect side dish.
Ponche de crème is a popular Trinidadian Christmas drink that is a lot like eggnog (but better!). Its flavor is sweet and creamy with a hint of spice, some nuance from the lime zest and bitters and a serious kick of rum.
What's interesting about this recipe is how ubiquitous it is. It's definitely big in Trinidad and Tobago, but it's found throughout the Caribbean and even South America. Venezuela has a version called "ponche crema" and it's a traditional drink that's enjoyed during Christmastime. All versions have similar ingredients — milk, eggs, sugar, rum — much like traditional eggnog in the U.S., but the spices and aromatics differ regionally, and Venezuelans also have one that includes ground coffee or coffee liqueur.
Traditionally, eggs are added in raw, but this version tempers the eggs and cooks the mixture to kill off any bacteria. This recipe is best when it's "aged," served a minimum 24 hours after it's made, but it truly gets better with time.
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