Doctor Betty in the Kitchen

'Betty K' has made the transition from successful medic to best-selling author

Betty Kissoon-SinghPhotograph by Centax Books

Betty Kissoon-Singh, a Guyanese doctor who had practised medicine for almost two decades in Canada, was far from amused when medical authorities in her adopted country told her she would have to start again at the bottom of her profession. She refused – and decided on a mid-life career change. Two years later, she’s the author of a best-selling Caribbean cook-book.

The professional bombshell burst on Dr Kissoon-Singh when her husband Cecil, an insurance executive, was transferred to Ontario from Saskatchewan. That was in 1988, and Kissoon-Singh didn’t expect any trouble. After all, she’d practised in Toronto for six years before moving to Saskatoon, where she’d practised for another 12. All without a problem.

What she didn’t know was that the rules of the game had changed in Ontario while she’d been away from the province. A law passed in 1986 required foreign medical graduates to undergo two years of internship.

Kissoon-Singh, who had qualified at the prestigious Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin, argued that as a vastly experienced doctor with years of general practice in Canada under her belt, she shouldn’t be forced to go through two years of arduous, low paid internship. She appealed to the Ontario Health Disciplines Board. The case was heard in May 1990, and she lost.

She was angry and disillusioned. But instead of staying home and brooding, she decided to devote her time and energy to writing about one of the loves of her life: cooking, Caribbean style.

Today, Dr Kissoon-Singh, best-selling author, says that even if the authorities relented and allowed her to practise in Ontario, she’d much rather pursue her new career as a writer. “I’ve been a doctor for a long time. This is something new, and I really enjoy it,” she said during a recent Caribbean tour to promote her book, Caribbean Cuisine, written under her pen-name, Betty K.

The book features easy-to-follow recipes from around the Caribbean, and has sold more than 10,000 copies in Canada, qualifying as a best-seller there.

Husband Cecil, who looks after the marketing of Caribbean Cuisine, insists that’s just the beginning. “We’re determined to sell 100,000 in 1992,” he said. “We’re just getting into the Caribbean market now, and I know the book is going to be tremendously popular with tourists who want to try cooking some of the dishes they’ve tasted.” In addition to the cook-book, Cecil is marketing his wife’s all-purpose seasoning spice under the Retry K brand-name, and is working on a big expansion of that line this year. The couple plan to import a wide range of Caribbean products – hot sauces, seasonings, pickles, chutneys etc.-from various islands, and sell them under the Betty K umbrella.

While Cecil devotes his time to marketing and promotion, Betty is already working on the sequel to Caribbean Cuisine. Her second book will also feature Caribbean cooking, but will be devoted exclusively to vegetarian recipes. “I think people are becoming more and more health-conscious, and there’s a real demand for interesting, tasty vegetable dishes,” she says.

She plans to use her medical background to help diabetics get the most from the vegetarian book. “Recipes suitable for diabetics will be clearly marked,” she says. “And where a recipe can be easily adapted for a diabetic’s diet, by leaving out this or that, we’ll add that information.”

Today, although she still feels she was treated unfairly by the Ontario medical authorities, getting back into practice is the last thing on her mind. “I just want to keep on writing my cook-books. I’m perfectly happy doing that.”

Caribbean Cuisine is on sale in Barbados, Trinidad and Guyana, and in Canada. Copies can also be obtained from: Betty K Books and Food, 3-1750 The Queensway, Suite 1305, Etobicoke, Ontario M9C 5H5, Canada.

FAVOURITE BETTY K RECIPES

Garlic pork (serves 6-8)

  • 4 Ibs. (2 kg) cubed pork
  • 1 lime
  • 2 cups (500 ml) white vinegar
  • Quarter pound (125 g) garlic, crushed (about 4 heads)
  • 1 tsp. (5 ml) chopped fresh thyme
  • 2 hot peppers, chopped
  • 1 tbsp. (15 ml) salt
  • 4 cloves
  • Oil for frying

 

  1. Wash cubed pork with the juice of a lime; place in an earthenware jar or crock.
  2. Mix vinegar with garlic, thyme, hot pepper, salt and cloves. Pour over pork and completely cover with liquid.
  3. Refrigerate, covered, for 2 days.
  4. Remove pork from marinade. Heat oil in frying pan and fry pork until brown, about 10 minutes. Serve hot.

Crab backs (serves 12)

  • 12 blue crabs
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 tbsp. (30 ml) cooking oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tbsp. (15 ml) chopped green onion
  • 2 tsp. (10 ml) lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. (5 ml) hot pepper sauce
  • 4 tbsp. (60 ml) bread crumbs
  • 2 tbsp. (30 ml) butter
  • Red pepper for garnish
  • Parsley for garnish

If live crabs are unavailable, use fresh, frozen or canned crabmeat and substitute scallop shells for crab shells.

  1. Clean and scrub crabs. Put them in cold water to cover. Bring to the boil. Boil for half an hour.
  2. Cool crabs in cold water. Carefully remove backs from crabs and separate meat from claws and legs.
  3. Clean shells (backs) thoroughly for filling.
  4. Sauté onions and garlic in oil, add flaked crabmeat, salt and pepper. Stir-fry for 5 minutes.
  5. Add green onions, lemon juice, pepper sauce, 2 tbsp. breadcrumbs and 1 tbsp. butter. Mix well. Cool for 10 minutes.
  6. Pile crab mixture into clean, empty crab shells. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and dot with butter.
  7. Bake at 350″F (1800C) for 15-20 minutes. Garnish with slivers of red pepper and parsley sprigs before serving.

Mango mousse (serves 6-8)

  • 1 tbsp. (15 ml) gelatin
  • Quarter cup (50 ml) water
  • 1 cup (250 ml) water
  • Quarter tsp. (1 ml) salt
  • Half cup (150 ml) sugar
  • 2 cups (500 ml) mango purée
  • 6 tbsp. (90 ml) lime juice
  • 1 cup (250 ml) whipping cream, whipped
  • 2 tbsp. (30 ml) Curaçao liqueur
  • Whipped cream for garnish

 

  1. Sprinkle gelatin over quarter cup of water and set aside to soften.
  2. Bring 1 cup of water to boil in a small saucepan. Stir in salt and sugar till sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in gelatin mixture. Cool.
  3. In a large howl, combine mango puree, lime juice and gelatin mixture. Blend thoroughly and refrigerate until partially set.
  4. Whip cream until stiff. Beat in Curaçao and fold cream into chilled mango mixture. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight.
  5. Garnish with whipped cream.

To make mango puree, lay mango flat, cut a thick slice off the top, then turn mango, over and repeat. Scoop pulp out of slices with a spoon. Cut remaining mango pulp away from the stones and puree pulp in a blender or food processor.