Yes, it is currently almost a week after Valentine’s Day (did you see the lovely flowers the HH got for me, after my oh-so-subtle prodding?), and I’m just posting my recipe from New Year’s Eve. Sure, you might think, “Wow, that Ricki is really slow at posting her recipes!” But what I think is, “Wow, I managed to get this recipe up before New Year’s Eve, 2013!” (I had actually considered saving it until then, but it’s too good not to share).
So, back to December 31, 2011. You may recall I was suffering from a mysterious sinus malady, so I wasn’t up to preparing anything overly elaborate. What I wanted was a fairly easy recipe that would also afford me plenty of time to relax and enjoy the evening. That’s when I remembered Pelau.
Back when I exited my starter marriage, my office mate at the time (let’s call her Abby) was a lovely, generous woman who had, years before, gone through a split of her own (while my divorce left me with a broken heart and fractured bank account, hers left her with both of those as well as a daughter to raise on her own–and she was doing an admirable job). Luckily for me, Abby invited me for dinner as a way to help me adjust to single life and to prove that it needn’t feel like a hardship.
When I finally made it to her home, frazzled from my very first solo trek along Toronto’s notorious Don Valley Parkway (a highway so busy, in fact, that during rush hour it’s referred to as the “Don Valley Parking Lot”), I was immediately overtaken by the eclectic decor and effusion of primary colors everywhere in the place–on the walls, the chairs, the tablecloth, the dishes–even Abby’s own shirt and slacks, both sporting a wild native print. In the corner of the room, there was what appeared to be a huge metal bowl on display atop an odd-looking stand, which Abby explained was a steelpan (or drum). Her former husband hailed from the West Indies, and while their romance didn’t endure, her fascination with his culture certainly did.
After I’d sipped a few glasses of Chardonnay (those were the days, when I still drank wine), Abby emerged from the kitchen with a huge clay casserole dish emitting little clouds of steam from beneath its cover. I caught a whiff of the aroma as she lay the dish on the table and knew immediately that I’d love whatever lay within that dish. The recipe she’d made, she said, was called Pelau, a traditional Trinidadian baked stew that combined chicken with rice and pigeon peas.
Well, my nose didn’t steer me wrong that evening. One mouthful and I was in epicurean ecstasy. (Ex-husband? What ex-husband?) Sure, some might describe the dish as merely a cultural spin on the classic rice and beans, but it was the specific seasonings in this case that really set the pelau apart from anything else I’d ever tasted. A murmur of spice from cloves warmed the palate, mingling with a hint of sweeteness from caramelized brown sugar and tartness from vinegar. Bits of tomato were scattered throughout, offering a textural contrast without overpowering the flavors; and the firm, nutty pigeon peas and juicy chunks of chicken rounded out the assortment on my plate. Before I knew it, I’d finished my portion and was happily accepting seconds.
(“Mum, we’re glad your nose didn’t steer you wrong–ours never do, either! And we think you should invite Abby over to our house. We’d like to meet anyone who happily offers seconds.”)
That night, along with the pelau, wine, and great conversation, Abby restored my faith in my ability to reconstruct a life on my own. She also shared her recipe for that compelling pelau.
Of course I hadn’t made the recipe in decades, as it was tucked away in a folder with other fish and chicken dishes I no longer use. Some part of me must have known I’d turn to it again, though, and I was ecstatic to find the old recipe that night so I could set about adapting it.
While the pelau baked, the HH and I did have a lovely evening together, watching the DVD of the original Fame–which, I was stunned to learn, came out THIRTY years ago ( Thirty! Three times ten! Two dozen plus four! Three-oh! The beginning of the ’80s! Back when I could still add and mutiply!)* .
I was thrilled with how this vegan version turned out, and the HH loved the pelau as much as I did. I reveled in his enjoyment as he savored the mélange of flavors and textures in the stew. I thought about how much had changed since that dinner with Abby, long ago. In some small way, it’s because of Abby that the HH and I ever got together at all, or that I was willing to give another guy a chance after the disaster of the early marriage. And for that, I will be eternally grateful.
And so, I thank you, Dear Abby.**
*Of course you caught that. Thirty is actually “two dozen plus six.” Let’s blame it on all that New Year’s Eve champagne.
**Yes, I know. I just couldn”t help myself.
West Indian Pelau (Sorta)
Suitable for ACD Stage 3 and beyond
A hearty, warming casserole that offers a complete protein on its own. Pair with a green salad and you’ve got a perfect cool weather meal. Note that this recipe yields a huge amount of pelau, and can easily be halved.
Prep Time: 25 minutes
On the Table In: 1 hour, 25 minutes
2 medium onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 Tbsp (15 ml) grated fresh ginger root (about 1 inch/2.5 cm of ginger)
2 Tbsp (30 ml) extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil, preferably organic
1/4 cup (60 ml) coconut sugar
1 Tbsp (15 ml) apple cider vinegar or 2 Tbsp (30 ml) fresh lemon juice
2 cups (480 ml) dry (uncooked) brown basmati rice
1 can (28 ounces 450-500 ml) diced tomatoes, well drained (reserve liquid–see instructions)
enough vegetable stock or broth to equal 4 cups (see instructions)
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 can (28 ounces or 450-500 ml) pigeon peas or black-eyed peas, drained
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) ground cloves
1/3 cup (80 ml) Bragg’s or wheat-free tamari or soy sauce
2 tsp (10 ml) sriracha or 1/2 tsp Tabasco or other hot pepper sauce
salt and pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 350F (180C). Grease a roasting pan or large casserole dish with a cover (this makes a big batch!) with coconut oil or nonstick spray.
In a large pot or frypan, heat the oil and add the onion, garlic, ginger, coconut sugar and vinegar. Sauté until the onion begins to soften and the sugar begins to caramelize, 7-10 minutes. Add the rice, stir to coat it, and continue to cook for another 2 minutes.
Pour the reserved tomato liquid into a glass measuring cup and add enough broth so that you have a total of 4 cups (960 ml) liquid. Add this liquid, the drained tomatoes and the sweet potato to the mixture along with the drained peas. Stir in the cloves, Bragg’s, and sriracha.
Spoon the mixture into the casserole dish, cover, and bake in preheated oven for about an hour, removing the casserole to stir the contents after about 30 minutes, until most of the liquid is absorbed and the rice and sweet potato are both soft. Makes 8-10 servings. May be frozen.
Last Year at this Time: Pasta Arrabiata (gluten free; ACD all stages)
Two Years Ago: Flash in the Pan: Egyptian Fava Bean Breakfast (gluten free; ACD all stages)
Four Years Ago: Could This Be Love? Post V-Day Dinner
© Ricki Heller, Diet, Dessert and Dogs