Virgin Islands Del. Stacey Plaskett is a self-described “foodie.”
“That’s the love my husband and I [have]. We think a date is going to the grocery store, a really great grocery store. I love ethnic foods. I love to understand not just the taste of the food but understand why and how it’s related to people,” she said.
Plaskett said the Virgin Islands’ most cherished dish is callaloo because it can teach people about her home.
“Each island has their own way of doing it. In the Virgin Islands, callaloo, it’s a spinach-based soup so its made with greens,” she said. “Part of why we have foods that have a lot of those spinach and roughage of the greens in it is that it really helps the digestion of foods that were the scrap food that the slaves were given, whether that’s pig feet or the smoked meats.”
While she cooks for her staff often, callaloo is a special treat.
“My staff only gets [it] once a year — I don’t have time for that,” she quipped.
Watch: Del. Plaskett Shares Lechon and Other Island Food With D.C. Staff
Roll Call joined Plaskett and her staff for one of their traditional Virgin Islands potluck lunches, which they try to have at least a couple times a year.
“I’ll bring something into the office that’s native from the Virgin Islands … just to bring everybody’s spirits back up a little bit,” she said. “It’s also kind of cathartic for me to do the cooking in the evening or the two days it may take to make a dish.”
She made lechon, which is a pork roast seasoned with a mixture of cilantro and garlic, onions and peppers.
Staffers brought in chicken dishes and rice dishes.
“Everybody eats chicken right?” Plaskett explained. “But because of the influence from India, we always usually have curry chicken.”
“One of the staples is rice, but we season it up,” she added. “You can’t always have plain old white rice all the time. We have peas and rice, which is usually pigeon peas … and it also has onions and garlic seasoning. You’ll see thyme and olives that are in it that gives it a really flavorful taste.”
Her all-time favorite food was not part of the potluck. She said it’s a staple during hurricane season.
“It’s salted cod. We soak it and take some of the salt out, and then we stew it with onions and tomatoes, olives. I usually put capers in it, and that’s served with sweet potatoes and steamed green figs. Then we also have boiled eggs that we serve it with,” she said. “As a child, that was my birthday dinner. That was the dinner that I craved all the time.”
When Plaskett gets ready to head back to D.C., she will contact her local fisherman and pick up fish to put on ice for the plane ride home. Her family then eats Virgin Island fish at least once a week.
Right now she’s focused on hurricane relief back home “to really ensure that the money that was appropriated is actually getting on the ground,” she said.
Plaskett is also seeing that mobile schools are in place and hospitals are coming back online. After that, she plans on taking her first full family vacation in six years.