February…and Jamaican Soup


Hello February! C’mon right in!

Bring on the valentines, and the oscars! Let’s honour Black History Month; celebrate Crepe Day (February 2nd); and the launch of Recipes for Trouble (Feb. 8, see below)!

Send chocolates; buy flowers! Cook something with asparagus, or blood oranges! We’re that much closer to spring!

Some months take on their own, shadowy cast: for myself and some of my friends and family, January was a hell of a month. Here are just some of the things I and my loved ones went through in January: the horror of Bush’s call for an escalation of war in Iraq; colds and flus; a friend’s death; a dying cat; an almost-breakup; and a hospital stay. Sheesh!

There are some months that you want to snip out of the calendar and gingerly put away. You want to learn from it, but you don’t want it around. Some months can be way too full of long, thick, sleepless nights and bruised-blue mornings with only a coffee and a Montreal bagel with cream cheese to remind you of tastier things to come.

Does the week begin or end on Sunday? Does a new month help you to take a breath and start anew?

It was last Sunday that my friend Judith invited me for Jamaican red peas soup. I suspect it’s comfort food for her and that she wanted to pass some of that comfort on. The soup was spicy and smooth and had the plump surprise of dumplings. It was served up with a generous helping of conversation, intellectual, trivial and otherwise, and a good slice of publishing chat and author rant with Farzana, a fellow author (and Judith’s partner) whose new book, Stealing Nazreen, comes out soon.

At that dinner we figured out some details to do with….



Featuring food-themed readings from work by
Marusya Bociurkiw……with special guest Farzana Doctor…

At This Ain’t the Rosedale Library, 483 Church Street, upstairs
Thursday February 8, 8p.m.

But really, this post is about Jamaican red peas soup.

Feeling like crap? Hating the rain or tired of the snow? Breaking up, falling apart or stuck in one place?

Have some of this soup.

And come to the Recipes for Trouble launch!

Jamaican Red Peas Soup

Adapted from Traditional Jamaican Cookery (1985) by Norma Benghiat and A Hamper of Recipes from Jamaica (1987) by Jill Roberts

For first 2 hours
2 cups (500g) red kidney beans, soaked overnight
1lb (500g) pumpkin (or butternut squash), diced
12 cups water
1 sprig thyme

For remaining hour
1 lb (500g) yellow yam or other hard yam, peeled and cut into cubes
1 cup carrots, chopped
2 – 3 cho cho (aka chayote), peeled, cored and cut into cubes
1 red pepper, cubed
1 – 3 thin slices of Scotch bonnet pepper
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 onion, chopped
2 stalks escallions, crushed
1 bay leaf

For last 30 min.
1 1/2 cups flour for dumplings
black pepper
salt to taste

Traditionally, the recipe also calls for 2lb (1kg) shin of beef and 1/2 lb (250g) pig’s tail or salt beef. These may be omitted for a vegetarian version.

Put the peas, pumpkin, thyme, (and meats, if adding) into a very large pot with the water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and let cook until the peas, pumpkin (and meat) are tender. This should take approx. 2 hours. In the meantime, prepare remaining ingredients.

To make the dumplings (aka “spinners”), add a little salt (1/4 tsp) to the flour and make a firm ball by slowly adding water. Consider adding a few flecks of thyme for extra flavour. Divide the dough into several small balls and roll each piece into a sausage shape approx. 1 inch long and 1/4 inch thick.

When the peas and pumpkin are soft, crush some of them with a large fork. Add the remaining vegetables and seasoning. Be careful with the Scotch bonnet pepper. It is very hot!

Half an hour later, add the dumplings. Cook until the yam is soft, adding more water if necessary. Stir soup occasionally to keep dumplings from sticking to bottom of pot. Taste for pepper and salt. Remove thyme and bay leaf before serving.

Makes 4 – 5 servings.

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