Monday, March 26, 2012

Pigeon Pea Soup: Just like Granny used to Make!

Hi everyone, I hope you are all well. Haven't written for a while, but that's only because of the job's demands. My food adventures have not stopped, however, and today's blog deals with one of those ingredients that I hadn't interacted with in years... fresh pigeon peas!

A few weeks ago, I had come home from work to a really surprising sight: Errol was on the couch shelling (opening) pigeon peas, seen here... (aren't they gorgeous?)

He told me that a woman was going around St. Clair, selling them for TT$20 for three pounds, which he couldn’t pass up. (So glad he didn’t!) It had been ‘donkey years’ since we shelled fresh pigeon peas, and from the moment I had grabbed the first pod I was catapulted back to my youth, sitting on the floor with my Granny as she sat and shelled from the handful she had placed in her skirt, and me, always imitating and trying in vain to shell and hold the plucked peas in her hand just she did. My small hands couldn’t hold as many, obviously, and I always got angry when peas kept dropping. She would say, “Halcy, mind what you doing,” and I would reply meekly with a quick “Yes Granny,” and marvel at her hands moving like a machine… reach, open, pull… reach, open, pull… when she eventually released the peas she held captive in her palm, the sound of the them hitting the bowl was like no other on earth.
That night, as I watched the antics of the guys on Big Bang Theory, I took pleasure in making my own sounds as I scattered my own into the bowl. I’m sure Granny would have been pleased, hahahaaa!

When the following Saturday came, I thought long and hard about what I was going to do with them. It eventually hit me after a long rainy morning: a classic pigeon pea soup – well, Granny’s version anyway. A quick trip to the corner shop for a couple of ‘special’ ingredients and I was ready to get started on my trip down memory lane…

I started with two cups of the shelled pigeon peas. They were washed, and placed in a pot with 4 cups of water to boil with two crushed cloves of garlic.

While that was going on, I squeezed the juice of half a lemon over a pound of fresh cubed beef – straight from the supermarket.

Now for the special ingredient; the salted beef. Got this at the Chinese supermarket just a corner away. Soaked in brine, it does assault the nostrils, but trust me when I tell you it gives a 'something special' to traditional Trini soups like this one. I used about a quarter of it (roughly a cupful). I just cut a few slices and took off the excess fat, then cut them in a rough dice. They were also washed with lemon juice and then…

They went straight into a waiting hot pan. No oil was used because the remaining fat rendered off and kept it from sticking, plus I kept them moving with my spatula and let the pieces cook for about 3 minutes or so. 
Meanwhile, the fresh beef was placed into my pressure cooker with a tablespoon of vegetable oil and browned lightly. As soon as it 'changed colour'...

In went the salted beef to join the fresh beef. Both cooked for another couple of minutes, then I added 2 cups of water to the pan and cooked them under pressure for 15 minutes. 
(Then it was time to check on the boiling pigeon peas...)

The pigeon peas were going well here. The garlic was close to disintegrating and the grains were losing their lovely colours – I always wish they didn’t disappear, hahaha!

Next, I added the softened meats and their liquid to the boiled pigeon peas and stirred them together, and sprinkled in half a packet of coconut milk powder.

As you can see, the pigeon peas are not at the ‘burst’ stage as yet, but they did soften up nicely.

Soon it was time for the other ingredients to join the party. I put in the provisions and vegetables first; I had peeled and cut up 3 sweet potatoes, 4 regular potatoes and 2 cups of pumpkin. Next I added in 2 stalks of chopped chive, 1 large stalk of local celery, 5 green and red pimento peppers and half a medium onion (only had red in the fridge), followed by a couple sprigs of some fresh parsley and a little bunch of fresh thyme, which Granny always added whole. Then I just stirred it all and let it go for 10 minutes so the provisions and veggies can cook.

After ten minutes, I checked the consistency of the provisions, which were going well, so I gave it a taste and began to season the pot. This is an earthy soup, which means the flavours are all about comfort, so nothing too crazy went in here.  A teaspoon of salt, a little shake of black pepper, 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes and a teaspoon or two of brown sugar. Then the pot was closed again and left to thicken on medium heat for another 10 to 15 minutes.

At last, it was cooked to perfection. To thicken it some more, I took the back of my potspoon and pressed some of the softened peas against the sides of the pot, stirring gently. Tasted it again, of course... and pronounced it "well done."
(The aromas that came from this gently bubbling of pot pigeon pea soup was truly the most beautiful smell ever, I swear.)

Ta-dah! Here's the finished dish; my lovely bowl of Pigeon Pea soup.

Had to dive right in!

So there you have it, a classic pigeon pea soup that’s guaranteed to make you remember the good old days. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed this one and I thanked my lucky stars that I only cooked half of the pigeon peas. I still have the remainder in the freezer, so when the vaps hits me again, I can whip it up at will. 

Hope you enjoyed my trip down memory lane and I look forward to sharing another food adventure with you. If you want the detailed recipe for this, I will be glad to send it to you; just email me at 

 Take care of yourselves as always and don’t forget to mind the pot!

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