THE BOOK AND AUTHOR: "Culinaria: The Caribbean: A Culinary Discovery" by Rosemary Parkinson. This enormous (10 by 11 3/4 inches) and weighty (5 pounds, 11 ounces) book is not one you're likely to prop up in the kitchen to whip up a quick week-night meal. Instead, it is a wild and lush ride through the cuisine and culture of the Caribbean islands: a stop in every port, an observance of every custom, holiday and ritual, a taste of every native dish, from the simple (fruit salad, corn fritters, banana daiquiri) to the exotic (seamoss, iguana and wild pigs).

And that's the rub. The comprehensive--if not overwhelming array--of recipes suggests there's been no winnowing. And though you can read and enjoy the book without ever going near the kitchen, if you do start to cook with it you face some challenges. Some of the recipes measure dry weights in pounds or ounces, not cups, so you need a scale or you have to do some quick math. And, of necessity, some call for ingredients that are not readily available (unless you have, perhaps, a crocodile in the tub). But many are well suited for the American home kitchen and can provide a fresh perspective on some of the ingredients in your cabinets. What's not to like about a cuisine that uses lots of nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon, banana, lime and rum?

One more note about the recipes: HOT HOT HOT. Ooooooh boy, can they get hot. If you don't customarily add six whole fresh hot red chili peppers to your dinner, proceed with caution until you've gotten in touch with your Caribbean side.

PUBLISHER AND PRICE: Konemann, $30, hardcover, 460 pages.

FORMAT: We'll use the word "format" loosely here. The 24 chapters are organized by islands, with some chapters tackling two or three locales. Beyond that, it's a beautiful jumble of information. And while many recipes are straightforward and concise, once you begin cooking you realize the directions are short because they leave a lot to the cook's imagination. This book resembles the others in the Culinaria series (France, Southeast Asia, Europe, the United States)--all of them captivating books, essential starting points for world travel or just plain old kitchen exploration.

WHO WOULD USE THIS BOOK: Anyone who wants to pep up his cooking and use in abundance a lot of the spices and herbs on the shelf. And anyone who knows that some dark cold night in January this colorful, exciting tour of the islands will be warmly appreciated.

--Jeanne McManus

Jerk Marinade

(Makes about 1 1/2 cups)

In Jamaica, "jerk" refers to a particular way of seasoning and cooking meats, seafood and even vegetables. A marinade or "rub" with a hot chili pepper base is the key ingredient. Jamaicans like their food hot, but meat marinated in this jerk sauce may be too spicy for many tastes. If you are in the conservative group when it comes to spiciness, scale back on the number of whole hot red chilies that you use in this sauce. Start with two, and work your way up. From the "Jamaica" chapter.

6 whole hot red chili peppers, stems removed

3 large cloves garlic

3/4 cup chopped chives

3/4 teaspoon cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1 1/4 teaspoons allspice

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

3/4 cup cider vinegar

3/4 cup soy sauce

1 1/4 tablespoons salt

1 tablespoon white or dark rum

Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor and process until liquefied. Transfer to a clean jar and refrigerate. Use to marinate meat, fish or poultry for 3 hours or overnight in refrigerator, brushing the marinade over each individual piece quite thickly. This marinade can also be used as a sort of pepper sauce once the meat has been "jerked."

* Note: Use gloves when handling hot chili peppers, especially the seeds.

Per 1-tablespoon serving: 14 calories, 1 gm protein, 3 gm carbohydrates, trace fat, 0 mg cholesterol, trace saturated fat, 879 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber

Black Bean Salad

(4 servings as an appetizer or 2 servings as a salad)

Black beans are integral to the diet of the Spanish-speaking islands. From the "Dominican Republic" chapter.

1 cup canned black beans, rinsed and drained

1/2 cup papaya, peeled, seeded and diced

1/2 cup mango, peeled, seeded and diced

2 tablespoons red bell (sweet) pepper, finely chopped

2 tablespoons green bell (sweet) pepper, finely chopped

2 tablespoons yellow bell (sweet) pepper, finely chopped

1/4 teaspoon hot red chili pepper, seeded and chopped*

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 tablespoon raisins

2 tablespoons fresh parsley

1 tablespoon chopped almonds

Salt and pepper to taste

Mix the beans, papaya, mango, bell and chili peppers in a large salad bowl. Mix the lime juice and oil in a small bowl, then pour over salad. Sprinkle with the raisins, almonds and parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste

* Note: Use gloves when handling hot chili peppers, especially the seeds.

Per serving (based on 4): 125 calories, 4 gm protein, 18 gm carbohydrates, 6 gm fat, 0 mg cholesterol, trace saturated fat, 191 mg sodium, 4 gm dietary fiber

Ginger Spiced Chicken

(6 servings)

Ginger grows prolifically in most Caribbean islands, but connoisseurs claim Jamaican ginger to be the best in the world. From the "Jamaica" chapter.

3 tablespoons butter

6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1 to 2 tablespoons garam masala, or Madras curry, depending on taste

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger root

1/2 teaspoon allspice

1/2 tablespoon flour

2 cups chicken stock

1 bay leaf

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoons black peppercorns

1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh hot red chili peppers, seeds removed*

3 tablespoons yogurt

Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a hot skillet and brown the chicken breasts until golden on both sides, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, turmeric, garam masala or curry, ginger and allspice and mix together. Remove chicken and spices from the pan, scraping it clean with a spatula, and set aside.

Melt the remaining 1 tablespoon butter in the pan. Add the flour and blend with a whisk to form a paste or roux. Add the chicken stock slowly, whisking it in until the mixture thickens. Add the bay leaf, salt and peppercorns. Return the chicken and spices to the pan and sprinkle the chili peppers over the top. Cover and simmer until the chicken is cooked through, about 20 minutes. Just before removing from the heat, add the yogurt and blend in with the sauce. If the liquid is low, you can add a little water. Serve on a bed of white rice.

* Note: Use gloves when handling hot chili peppers, especially the seeds.

Per serving: 214 calories, 29 gm protein, 3 gm carbohydrates, 9 gm fat, 87 mg cholesterol, 5 gm saturated fat, 315 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber

Laurel's Banana Rum Cake With Rum Syrup

(8 to 12 servings)

One can find a banana tree in almost every back yard in the Caribbean, and banana export is a major revenue earner. For St. Lucia, it is the second largest source of income after tourism. From the "St. Lucia" chapter.

For the cake:

2 large overripe bananas

4 tablespoons sour cream

2 tablespoons rum

3 eggs

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1 cup flour

4 tablespoons melted butter, plus additional for the pan

For the rum syrup:

1/2 cup water

4 teaspoons lime juice

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 tablespoons rum

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease a 9-inch cake pan.

For the cake: In a large bowl, mix the bananas, sour cream and rum. Set aside. Using a clean bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar for 5 minutes. Add the flour, melted butter and then the banana mixture to the egg-sugar mixture. Pour into the prepared pan. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until the cake is done.

Turn onto a rack to cool.

For the syrup: Bring water, lime juice and sugar to boil in a saucepan. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Remove from heat and stir in rum. Prick the cake all over with a skewer or fork and spoon on the rum syrup.

Per serving: 187 calories, 3 gm protein, 28 gm carbohydrates, 6 gm fat, 66 mg cholesterol, 3 gm saturated fat, 19 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber