Friday, August 6, 2010

Pigeon Pea Soup

I've been feelin' kinda tropical over the past couple of weeks - must be the weather.  Or maybe it's because I happened across a bag of dry pigeon peas that I bought a while back at E.M. Emporium on Two Notch Road that have sat around for months doing nothing.  Pigeon peas and rice is one of my favorite things to eat at Caribbean restaurants, but I've been out of regular long-grain rice for a couple of weeks and keep forgetting to pick up more.  So, I went on a recipe hunt and found this one for pigeon pea soup.  I had to go out and buy the squash, plantain and cilantro, but the rest of the ingredients I pretty much always have on hand.  Unlike with the cassoulet recipe, I did change this up enough to warrant a full report.  True to my disinclination toward meat in hot weather, the end result was achieved as follows:

1 cup dry pigeon peas, soaked overnight (yield: about 2.5 - 3 cups)
5 cups chicken broth
2 lb. butternut squash, peeled, seeded and diced

3 green-and-red bell peppers, diced
1 large onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
4 shakes (1/2 tbsp?) El Yucateco green habanero sauce
salt to taste

1/2 plantain, peeled

Bring broth to a boil in a 4 qt. pot and simmer pigeon peas, covered, over medium heat until noticeably softer, about 10-15 minutes.  Add diced squash and continue to simmer, covered, another 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil over medium heat in a separate pan.  Saute peppers, onion and garlic with hot sauce until vegetables have softened, about 5 minutes.  Add cilantro, stir well and cook another 4-5 minutes.  Add salt.

Stir sofrito into pigeon peas and squash and cook, uncovered, until some of the liquid has evaporated, another 5 minutes.  Grate plantain over mixture, stir well and simmer another 3-5 minutes or until starch from plantains has further thickened the soup.  Remove from heat and serve.

Post-production review:
The way mine turned out, it should really be called a stew.  I nearly doubled the amount of liquid that it called for at the beginning, but I still had very little in the end and wasn't able to come up with a spoonful of just liquid.  Which was fine, because otherwise I might have needed seconds.  I added the squash sooner than the recipe says to because, having baked butternut squash before, I had a hard time believing that 30 minutes on medium heat without sauteing would be enough.  Turns out that if the squash is ripe enough (and leave it to the Pig to carry them out of season, unlike Earth Fare), you really don't need to cook it as much.  The end result was still okay, but next time I'll assess the condition of the squash before proceeding.

It also turns out that the aji dulce peppers in the original recipe are hard to find outside of Mexican grocery stores.  We have a few here in town, but I also have some very hot habanero sauce and a corner of my backyard overflowing with ripe bell peppers, and it just made sense to work with what I already had.  Don't ever dump the green Yucateco right on your fried chicken like it's Texas Pete.  Really - a little dab'll do ya.  The amount that I used in this soup made for a pretty good approximation of some of the flavors we've enjoyed at places like Old San Juan (behind the Dunkin' Donuts on Two Notch). 

I skipped the final parsley and garlic bit because it somehow seemed redundant - except for the parsley, which was likely to go unnoticed among everything else in this dish.  The recipe doesn't say to cook the shredded plantains at all, but I thought it might make a difference if the plantains could cook just long enough to thicken it up some more and sweeten it a little.  And indeed it did!  Overall, this dish defied my dislike of sweet-and-savory combinations.  Either element would have been great by itself, and the pigeon peas, squash, sofrito, etc. all have potential to be reconfigured as a Spanish-style multi-course meal.  But that's for another day.

The weekend is finally here - hope you enjoy it!

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