Breezy Bequia-style tuna (with a rum sour on the side)
We’re on the island of Bequia and surrounded by vivid, tropical colors; conversations in a melodic, Creole accent; warm air and blue skies. There are bursts of music from shops and sidewalk stands — steel drums mixed with Lionel Hampton, Elvis and a little Beyonce. With a big, open grin on his face, a man calls to us from the back of a battered pick-up truck, “Hello, sunshine! Good day!” We look at each other and heave a big sigh. We’re back in Bequia.
Bequia, one of a chain of islands that make up St. Vincent and the Grenadines, is way down south. Its closest large neighbors are Trinidad and Grenada; Venezuela is only a little further down. It’s even too far south for many of the hurricanes. We can always be sure it will be hot and sunny for our winter vacation.
Somehow Bequia has managed to keep its simple, unique style. There are no high-rise hotels, no fancy restaurants or shopping malls. “A big shopping” means going to St. Vincent for the day by ferry. Drinking water comes from rain collected off the roofs. A small airport was just built five years ago.
The house we rent sits up on a point of land with a view of nearby white, sandy beaches shaded by tall palms and ancient banyans. All day long boats in all sizes come and go. As the sun begins to set, the lights come on in the houses across the harbor. We walk, swim, nap, read, explore the island and feel very fortunate.
Another view down below our house is of Jack’s Restaurant off by itself under the trees at the end of Princess Margaret Beach. On first glance, Jack’s looks like a big tumble of kites. Inside it’s cleverly designed with different levels winding around tall, leafy tropical plants. The sides are open to the weather, but the kite-effect comes from a roof made of awnings of white canvas layered over each other.
Birds and lizards come and go. The whole effect of Jack’s is fresh, breezy and just fun. All of these trappings would be in vain if the food was not good, but the menu is creative with an upscale Caribbean style. There’s zing in the sauces, the salads come straight from local gardens and there are appetizing choices from light to very filling fare.
Our favorite is the Nicoise Salad with grilled tuna. It’s true to the classic with hard boiled eggs, slices of potato, green beans, tomatoes, olives and mixed greens, but the tuna is dusted with a spicy rub before it’s quickly sauteed. Jack’s “secret” sauce served along with it was just right. In New England, salmon or striped bass could be substituted. Try using the caperberries instead of the olives; they add an interesting touch.
Rum drinks are as plentiful as coconuts on Bequia, but the rum sour that won hands down was a version made by a man named John Hopkins. John and his wife, Jill, were vacationing from Canada; we met them soon after we arrived. Our first clue that they liked to cook was finding them at their picnic table repairing their pasta machine — probably the only pasta machine on Bequia.
We had some merry meals together. Improvising with limited kitchen equipment, and transferring plates and glasses back and forth to provide enough for all the guests just added to the good times. These drinks prefaced every occasion. John and Jill squeezed a lot of limes!
Jack’s Nicoise Salad with Grilled Tuna
Grilled tuna with spicy rub
1 ½ (about 4 to 6 ounces per person) pounds sushi grade tuna, cut into lengths 1 ½ inches thick
Extra-virgin olive oil
Recipe for Spicy rub
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill (or 2 teaspoons dried dill)
2 teaspoons mild paprika
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Combine all ingredients. Store in a covered container.
To prepare tuna:
Brush fish pieces lightly with olive oil. Roll in rub to coat all sides. Shake off excess and let rest, covered, in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.
Just before serving heat a cast iron skillet to “smoking hot.” (Do not add oil or butter to skillet.) Saute tuna pieces 30 seconds on each side. Remove from heat and keep warm. Slice crosswise just before serving. Assemble individual plates, and drizzle with sauce. (see below)
Sauce for fish
¼ cup coarsely chopped garlic cloves
½ teaspoon Kosher salt
2 large egg yolks, beaten
2 tablespoons lemon juice
¼ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
½ teaspoon hot sauce
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Measure all ingredients plus 2 tablespoons of the olive oil into a blender. Blend at high speed until smooth and creamy — about 2 minutes. With motor still running,slowly add remaining olive oil in a steady stream, blending until thick. Transfer to a refrigerator bowl with a cover and chill.
6 ounces mixed salad greens
20 to 25 green beans, steamed until just done but still crisp
4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and halved
2 tomatoes, cut in wedges, or 16 cherry tomatoes, halved
4 small new potatoes, cooked and sliced
16 olives (or caperberries)
Scatter salad greens on 4 chilled plates. Overlap warm tuna slices on each plate. Divide green beans, eggs, tomatoes, potatoes and olives into 4 portions, and arrange over the greens. Drizzle sauce over fish and pass remaining sauce in a small bowl.
John’s Rum Sours
Combine the following:
1 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
2 cups simple syrup**
3 cups Mount Gay rum
4 cups water
More lime wedges for garnish
Combine all ingredients in a large pitcher. Serve in glasses over ice and garnished with a lime wedge.
Makes 10 cups of sours.
** To make 2 cups simple syrup, bring 2 cups granulated sugar and 2 cups water to a boil in a saucepan, stirring to dissolve sugar. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature before using.