This smoked cornmeal porridge in banana leaf is an imagining of what traditional Haitian pastries and desserts would be without the influence of French colonization. There are many types of labouyi in Haitian cuisine; the porridge can be made with mashed plantains, cornmeal, flour or bulgur wheat. I chose to use both cornmeal and cassava. Although the latter is not typically found in existing recipes, both were essential crops used in meals by the Taino people, the original inhabitants of Haiti. I imagine this is what one of the first Haitian desserts could have looked and tasted like. I’ve added a charcoal step to bring a bit of a smoky flavor to the porridge. It is not a traditional way to serve labouyi, but it incorporates an old cooking method while building in a little complexity to the flavor profile of the dessert. This porridge is also great for breakfast and is best eaten while still hot.
Combine the star anise, cinnamon, ginger and salt with 2 cups water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.
Meanwhile, stir the cornmeal into 3/4 water in a large measuring cup or small bowl to dissolve. Then add the cassava flour and mix until fully incorporated.
When the ginger mixture is at a boil, reduce to medium heat and slowly add the cornmeal mixture, stirring constantly. Next, add the evaporated milk and sugar, stirring to combine. Add the butter and nutmeg and stir until the butter has melted. The whole process should take 3 to 5 minutes total.
Finally, add the vanilla, lemon juice and rum, if using. Stir, then let simmer until the labouyi is thick and creamy, about 10 minutes.
Fold the fruit into the pot of labouyi. Portion and garnish each serving with about 1/2 teaspoon lime zest. Serve warm. Alternatively, smoke the labouyi before serving (see below).
For charcoal smoking (optional): Prepare a charcoal grill for medium-high heat.
Spoon about 1/4 cup labouyi onto a fresh banana leaf and wrap it up like you would a present. Secure with baker’s string. Place the labouyi pouch on the grill and let heat, turning once halfway through for an even char, for 5 minutes. Unwrap the pouch and enjoy!
I chose to use guava (which I cut into smaller pieces) to cut the richness of the porridge. Feel free to substitute with any fruit you’d like! The sweet, rich porridge would go perfectly with tart fruits like raspberries or golden berries.