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When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the world in March 2020, the Hemlee family huddled around a dry-erase board in their Denver home. Cecilia, who lived in Puerto Rico until 2002, and Josh, originally from Trinidad and Tobago, were trying to come up with a name for their long-dreamed project: a program to promote their passion for the planet, consciousness and food. With the help of their two sons, Ismael, 13, and Mateo, 10, they scribbled and erased a few different ideas until the boys said, “Wait…we’re Trini-Ricans. The name stuck and the company was born.
Through Trinidadian Vegan, Cecilia and Josh create recipes familiar to the Caribbean community with a vegan twist and share them via a blog, YouTube channel and social media. Examples include tacos with pulled pork jackfruit seasoned with turmeric, cilantro, and cumin, or lard-free pan sobao, a semi-sweet bread that is a staple Puerto Rican side dish. The couple went vegan about six years ago after a stint of several years as vegetarians, and their recipes are inspired by family recipes and their Caribbean heritage.
“For Trini Rican Vegan, we wanted to show people that they can still have similar flavor profiles to our home countries, while being planet-conscious,” says Cecilia. “[Trini Rican Vegan] will be a way to share with others that we can live a mindful life while enjoying all of our Caribbean herbs and spices and all the comforts that the West Indian diet brings us.
Josh and Cecilia met in Puerto Rico in 1998, where Josh came to study for a degree in Spanish. The couple began experimenting with a more plant-based diet and moved to the continental United States in the early 2000s. The two spent time in Columbia, South Carolina, where they had their children and continued their vegetarian diet. But when the couple moved to Denver in 2013, they decided to fully commit to a vegan lifestyle.
“We were in Colombia, which is very traditional with their food, and I always felt other“says Cécile. “I didn’t feel like I could live my authentic self, and I always made excuses every time we went to restaurants and barbecues so as not to disturb others with my dairy-free requests. And it wasn’t until I moved here to Denver that I said, “You know what? Let’s just do what we want to do. And little by little, we got rid of all the vestiges of the vegetarian diet and switched to a vegan lifestyle.
After founding Trini Rican Vegan, the Hemlees began uploading their original recipes and cooking tutorials to their website and social media accounts. Some of their favorite recipes are curried red lentils with basmati rice and sweet fried plantains; spicy kidney beans, a Caribbean Sunday lunch staple bursting with flavors of green peppers, garlic, paprika and sofrito; and, of course, their ever-popular jackfruit tacos. In December 2021, Trini Rican Vegan held her first cooking workshop virtually with the Denver Public Library to celebrate Kwanzaa, and further demonstrations at the Denver and Broomfield Public Libraries (in-person and virtually) followed throughout. of 2022.
The duo’s mission? It is far reaching. This is partly to educate foodies about the vegan lifestyle, partly to share Caribbean cuisine with the Denver community, and partly to bring together different cultures (say, Trinidadian and Puerto Rican). And although they started with Coconut Bake, a Trinidadian breakfast bread sweetened with nutmeg and cinnamon, and callaloo, a Trinidadian Sunday lunch staple consisting of vegetables- leaves, okra and other vegetables, the Hemlees don’t see Trini Rican Vegan stopping with brunch.
“In the future, content will shift from just being food,” says Cecilia. “We want to talk about mindfulness, we want to talk about zero waste, we want to talk about how to fight this battle against climate change. All this while emphasizing who we are as people. … Trini Rican Vegan isn’t just about the food; it’s about what we’ve learned from embracing this vegan lifestyle.
“You don’t have to compromise; you don’t have to give up the things you love,” Cecilia continues. “You can still have pan sobao. You can still have all the Indian delicacies which are staples of the Trinidadian diet. You just need to substitute a few ingredients and be careful about how you source your ingredients.
While Trini Rican Vegan does not serve food to the community, Josh and Cecilia are currently working on a cookbook showcasing their must-have Caribbean vegan recipes. The release date is yet to be determined, but here is one of the Trini Rican Vegan recipes that you can make ASAP.
Puerto Rican pan sobao recipe
This soft and slightly sweet island bread is a popular addition to homemade meals.
- 1 tbsp. Yeast
- 1 tbsp. sugar
- 1 tbsp. olive oil
- 4 cups flour
- 1 tbsp. baking soda
- 1 C. salt
- 2 tbsp. oil
- 1/2 to 1 cup of water
- Combine the yeast, sugar and ½ cup water in a bowl and let sit for 15 minutes until the yeast blooms.
- In another bowl, sift the flour and mix with the salt and baking powder.
- Add the yeast mixture to a stand mixer. Add the dry ingredients one tablespoon at a time. Add water until a ball of dough begins to form. Scrape sides as needed.
- Cover and let stand for one hour. Place the risen dough on a clean, floured surface. Divide into two equal portions. Roll the dough into a large rectangle until about ½ inch thick.
- Place the dough on a flour lined baking sheet. Let the dough rest for 1 hour.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden brown. Let cool 15 minutes before serving with avocado, butter or cheese.