Food & Drink

Caribbean flavors, heritage shine in Raleigh cookbook author’s debut recipe collection

Shrimp, Ginger and Scallion Lettuce Wraps from Brigid Washington's new cookbook, “Coconut. Ginger. Shrimp. Rum.: Caribbean Flavors for Every Season.”
Shrimp, Ginger and Scallion Lettuce Wraps from Brigid Washington's new cookbook, “Coconut. Ginger. Shrimp. Rum.: Caribbean Flavors for Every Season.”

Cookbook author Brigid Washington’s philosophy about food is described in two words: availability and authenticity.

Those words stood out in Washington’s mind as she created the recipes in her debut cookbook, “Coconut. Ginger. Shrimp. Rum.: Caribbean Flavors for Every Season,” which was published last month by Skyhorse Publishing.

“You should use ingredients that are available and prepare them in a way that treats your body well,” says Washington, 34. “Listen to your body and know what your body needs.”

But the Raleigh resident mainly was inspired by the meals of her childhood growing up in Trinidad. She recalls the aromatic smell of her mother caramelizing pelau, a West Indian dish of rice, vegetables and meats, and making fruit punch out of citrus and passion fruit. She remembers her mother often made fish head broth when people weren’t feeling well. Now, Washington makes it for her husband, Joseph, when he suffers from a headache.

Washington’s book features 80 recipes – 20 for each season. They include light fare, main dishes, drinks and desserts, or as Washington calls them “sweet endings.” Some are family recipes, such as Boozy Coconut Bread Pudding and the Plantation Rum Punch served at her wedding. Then there are dishes created in her own kitchen, such as Coconut Spiced Cashews, Green Mango Salad, Grapefruit Ginger Prosecco Popsicles and Coconut, Mango and Mint Granita.

Her philosophy was put into action on a recent windy April morning as she went to the State Farmers Market to gather ingredients to make the Shrimp, Ginger and Scallion Lettuce Wraps that appear in the book. She picked up carrots, onions, butternut squash, and even a few orange tulips. In her small kitchen, she keeps a large bowl full of grapefruits, limes and ginger.

As she cooked, she spoke about the West Indian table of her youth and her journey to writing a cookbook.

The flavors of the Caribbean are as varied as the islands, she says. Trinidad and Tobago are twin islands in the Caribbean. Trinidad is the larger of the two islands and is partly influenced by its South American neighbor, Venezuela.

The common fare of Trinidad includes fish and ground provisions, such as yams and cassava. The food choices are also dictated by the rainy seasons versus the dry seasons.

Journey to becoming a chef

Washington didn’t set out to be a chef or a cookbook author.

She came to the United States to attend N.C. State University, a school she chose because one of her uncles lives in Charlotte. There, she met her husband. She laughs telling the story of how they met through the Caribbean Student Association. He’s from Jamaica and was the president of the group.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology and minoring in journalism in 2005, she worked as an editorial assistant for Child magazine in New York. A few years later, she returned to Raleigh and started writing food stories for WNCN Channel 17’s website.

She lived in the Five Points neighborhood from 2007 to 2009, the area off Glenwood Avenue. She couldn’t help but notice the neighborhood restaurant with a national reputation, Bloomsbury Bistro. Chef John Toler was being touted for his imaginative seasonal dishes that blend traditional French cooking with ethnic flavors.

One day, she went into the restaurant.

“Could I come and watch?” she asked. “I want to know what this is about.”

At first, she volunteered in the kitchen as the garde manger preparing cold dishes such as salads, appetizers and desserts. She quickly became a paid employee.

Toler said Washington’s timing was perfect.

“We were looking for part-time help,” he said. “She has a ton of enthusiasm. She asked a lot of questions. She was on a mission.”

For 18 months, Washington worked several of the kitchen stations depending on what was required on a given night. Her title never changed but eventually she would spend most of her time assisting Toler with private events and banquets.

“She had her hands in a lot of stuff,” he says. “It can be pretty overwhelming, but she was calm. She keeps her composure.”

Toler suggested that Washington complete her food education and go to culinary school. She received her associate’s degree in 2012 from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y.

During her time at the CIA, she became the editor in chief of its newspaper La Papillote. Writing about food made her began to think about eventually writing a cookbook.

Toler is excited that Washington followed through on her culinary dreams and is adding her spice to the culinary mix. She’s bringing Caribbean flavors to the American table.

“She understands food from being a part of that culture,” he says. “For her, they are not just recipes.”

Meanwhile, Washington juggles motherhood and the birth of a cookbook. She completed her cookbook just two weeks before she gave birth to her now 6-month-old daughter, Noelle. She also has a 2-year-old son, Luke, who has a birthday coming up soon.

In between planning book signings and interviews, she’s keeping up with the little ones, particularly since Luke likes running around.

“Make nothing a problem,” she says, as she gives him a snack.

Bridgette A. Lacy is a freelance writer and the author of “Sunday Dinner, a Savor the South cookbook” by UNC Press of Chapel Hill. Reach her at

Want more?

▪ Brigid Washington discusses “Coconut. Ginger. Shrimp. Rum.: Caribbean Flavors for Every Season” Saturday, April 22, at 3 p.m. at Quail Ridge Books & Music, 4209-100 Lassiter Mill Road, Raleigh. The store is in North Hills.

▪ Follow her on Instagram on @withbrigid.

Shrimp, Ginger and Scallion Lettuce Wraps

Your outdoor grill takes the backseat to this colorful play on traditional Vietnamese spring rolls. With simple-to-assemble components, these low-calorie wraps have all the makings for a quick, warm-weather, build-your-own, al fresco dinner.

2 teaspoons sesame oil

1 pound (16-20) shrimp, peeled and deveined

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

2 teaspoons fresh ginger, minced

1 package rice or cellophane noodles

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

1/2 teaspoon hot chili flakes

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1/4 cup Asian fish sauce

2 heads Boston or Butter lettuce (leaves separated from core, rinsed and pat dried)

1 large carrot, peeled and julienned

1/2 cup scallions, bias cut

1/3 cup wasabi peas or dry roasted peanuts, finely chopped as garnish

In a sauté pan over medium heat, add the sesame oil and sauté shrimp with salt, pepper, and half of the ginger until the shrimp is pink and firm, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl with steaming hot water, add the rice noodles so they are completely submerged. Cover and set aside for 15 minutes. When the noodles are soft, drain the water and using kitchen shears, cut the noodles into thirds. Drizzle with a tad of rice vinegar, cover and set aside.

In a small bowl, combine the chili flakes, lime juice, garlic, remaining ginger, brown sugar and fish sauce. Whisk until the sugar is dissolved. Set aside.

To assemble: Place the lettuce on a plate and add the rice noodles in the middle of the lettuce. This is followed by the shrimp, then the julienned carrots, scallions, and wasabi peas or peanuts for garnish. Drizzle with sauce.

Yields: 4.

From “Coconut. Ginger. Shrimp. Rum.: Caribbean Flavors for Every Season” by Brigid Washington. Copyright 2017 by Skyhorse Publishing. Used by permission of the publisher.

Grapefruit Ginger Prosecco Popsicles

Long before parties were hashtagged, event extraordinaire Elsa Maxwell wrote in her 1957 book (and my still-relevant personal party manifesto) “How to Do It: or The Lively Art of Entertaining”: “The best you can offer your guests is the unexpected.” Here, summer’s most ubiquitous frozen treat gets an unexpected pop by being plunged in a flute full of prosecco. And while variations abound for this ingenious take on a mimosa, a little elbow grease and simplicity goes a long way. A store-bought Popsicle, for instance, is oftentimes overly syrupy, and when it (inevitably) melts, that sticky residual juice is a quick way to ruin a good glass of bubbly. When curating that esoteric outdoor soiree, opt for two-ingredient, homemade popsicles, utilizing ingredients that naturally play on the contours of sparkling wine, such as citrus. Here, hand-squeezed grapefruit juice and ginger serve up the simple with the famously unexpected.

2 cups freshly squeezed grapefruit juice

1/2 cup ginger, rough chopped

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

1 bottle Prosecco, chilled

Ginger Simple Syrup: In a saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the ginger, sugar and water. Allow to boil for 10 minutes until viscous, or thick. Remove from heat and allow it to cool completely.

In a small pitcher or spouted glass, combine the grapefruit juice and 1/4 cup of the ginger simple syrup. Pour into popsicle molds and freeze as per manufacturer’s instructions.

To serve: Pour prosecco into chilled flutes. Very tenderly, remove the popsicles from the molds and immediately place into flutes.

From “Coconut. Ginger. Shrimp. Rum.: Caribbean Flavors for Every Season” by Brigid Washington. Copyright 2017 by Skyhorse Publishing. Used by permission of the publisher.