You might have thought I’m finally over Trinidad & Tobago… but that’s actually not likely to happen any time soon. Inspired by our visit, the Midwestern Gentleman and I are still spicing up our home cooking with the flavors of the West Indies, and finding ourselves the happier and healthier for it.
Pelau is a sort of Trinbagonian pilaf dish traditionally made with black-eyed peas and chicken. The meat is caramelized in brown sugar before simmering along with the rest of the ingredients, which gives the pelau its characteristic flavor. We have made chicken pelau several times now, using recipes from both Sweet Hands and the Naparima Girls High School Cookbook. We love these traditional recipes, but since the Gent and I eat a vegetarian diet about 90% of the time (o.k., let’s be honest, a pescetarian diet 90% of the time), I decided to trick out our own pelau-like recipe with loads of anti-inflammatory veggies. I’m so glad I did! This “vegetable pelau” has now become a staple in our household. In fact, if I let more than a couple of weeks go by without making it, the Gent will invariably say, “isn’t it time to make pelau again?” The dish itself tastes wonderful, but what really pushes it over the top are the condiments. Be sure to have a fresh jar of Green Seasoning on hand (you’ll use it in the recipe and as a table condiment) as well as some Trinbagonian Peppersauce or other flavorful hot sauce. Don’t be intimidated by the long ingredients list; this dish actually comes together quite easily.
1 lb. crimini or white button mushrooms, diced
3 Tbsp grapeseed, olive, or canola oil
3 Tbsp brown sugar or evaporated cane juice
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 cups long grain brown rice, rinsed
2 cups vegetable broth (or chicken broth, if not vegan)
1 (15-oz.) can coconut milk
1 bay leaf
2 Tbsp ketchup
3 Tbsp green seasoning
1 tsp salt
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 cups sweet potato, peeled and diced
1 whole scotch bonnet or other hot pepper
2 (15-oz.) black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed (or 1 1/2 cups cooked)
1 large bunch kale, rinsed and torn into bite-sized pieces
1 Tbsp omega-3 vegan buttery spread or butter
Heat the oil and brown sugar over medium-high heat in a large pot, stirring constantly to avoid burning. When the oil is hot, add the mushrooms and saute, stirring constantly, until the mushrooms release their juices and most of the juices evaporate. If the sugar threatens to burn, lower the heat to medium.
Add the onion and garlic, and stir for 1 to 2 minutes.
Add the brown rice and cook, stirring, for another 3 minutes.
Add the broth, coconut milk, bay leaf, ketchup, green seasoning, and salt. Stir well to combine, then bring to a boil. Lower heat to a simmer, cover, and continue to simmer for 20 minutes.
Stir in the red bell pepper, sweet potato, hot pepper (leave whole), and black-eyed peas. Return to a boil, lower heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for another 20 minutes, or until rice is almost cooked through and vegetables are tender. Stir in the kale and buttery spread, and cook, covered, for another 10 minutes. Remove bay leaf and whole hot pepper and discard before serving.
Serve with green seasoning and hot sauce, and savor while dreaming of Trinidad.