Poor Ting Pepperpot

So, when I first met Mr.Benz (I will stop talking about him soon, but it’s just that this next recipe is both Jamaican and vegan), if he came to visit when I was cooking something vegetarian, he’d say things like ‘poor ting’ and give me a charitable look and be very solicitous, offering to buy me a beer or lend me a fiver – clearly, this was back in the day, when he was still working hard to impress me – but he just couldn’t, wouldn’t grasp the fact that a person can choose to eat vegetables out of choice not poverty – whatever – I don’t mean to sound like a hypocrite…I do appreciate that if you grew up as the youngest child of 6 in a working class single parent family where money obviously didn’t rain down like manna from heaven, as an adult meat or fish could easily become a lifetime fixation – I got brought up in an adopted family as an only child and they were so class obsessed that they thought  ‘one should eat meat three times a day, if one was anyone’, even though there was often not enough cash around for bills, school uniform, rent etc…and I blatantly ‘fess up to still liking and consuming dead flesh myself, albeit just once a week/occasionally  – but I love my veg, love love love my veg.

Like I said….whatever……… 🙂

 All the same, I’d love to see his face if he knew I was making this pepperpot with weeds.

 Poor poor ting…

…which is where this version got its name 😉

 Anyway, recipe time.

 So, a few things first – 1, pepperpot soup has many, many varieties, evolutions and re-inventions from Nigeria and West Africa, through the Caribbean and parts of South America up to Philadelphia – I was quite surprised about the Phili link, but when you think about it, it maps human footprints across the horrid history of the slave trade 😦 – my recipe, which I first learnt from a book by Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz, r.i.p. is a Jamaican version, although it’s so long since I owned her book, I may have corrupted it – she is/was generally regarded by other food writers as an excellent recipe writer, so any ‘uck fups’ below are all my own <:-0 – that said, my version is nice enough for me to have been cooking it for the past 15 years or more.

2, Callaloo, in most of the Caribbean, refers to the leaf of dasheen or taro (largest of the edible Colocasia family) but in Jamaica it means green leaf amaranth – which is what I’m substituting dead nettle leaves for – you can buy/grow green amaranth in the UK, but not this early in the year unless it’s imported, and then it’s expensive… otherwise, and in other parts of the world, you could substitute spinach, collard greens or whatever your local version is.

3, it’s called ‘soup’, but really it’s a one pot dinner with a lot of sauce and attitude – robust only begins to describe it.

 

Loads of other recipes you’ll find in books and blogs say it can be made with flesh, fish or fowl as a foundation, but the signature flavours come from the marriage of thyme, coconut, callaloo and scotch bonnet chilli and if you have a reasonable enough variety of nice vegetables, I challenge any carnivore living to complain.

 

Ingredients for 4, 40 minutes – this time round I made a massive pot (4 litres, enough for a small army), but if you have equal amounts of your chosen leaf to each of all the starch/major veg, and 1 part thick coconut milk to 5 parts water, then you can scale it up or down without going too far wrong – adjusting onion/thyme/chilli/seasoning notwithstanding.

 

So, for 4

For ‘Spinner’ dumplings – completely optional

1 part water to 2 parts plain flour, pinch of salt – and some ppl add half a pinch of sugar – mix into a dough and set aside. A teacup’s worth of water and 2 of flour would be more than adequate for 4 ppl.

For the soup

1 tablespoon sunflower oil

2 onions, chopped

Garlic (optional)

2 scallion/fat spring onion (optional)

500g tops of white dead nettles/ amaranth- callaloo/ greens of choice, washed, picked over and hand shredded or roughly chopped – if your green of choice is stinging nettles, then wash and wilt or blanch them separately first, to get rid of the sting bit

1 Scotch Bonnet chilli or to taste

3-4 decent sized sprigs of fresh thyme

1 can thick coconut milk or 4 cm x 4 cm block of creamed coconut or equivalent.

Any or all of the followingchoose at least 3-4 starch veg and 2 pumpkin/other vegetables for texture and interest

2 large potatoes, peeled and chopped into large (3 cm x 3cm ish) chunks

2 eddoes, peeled and quartered (optional)

2 green bananas, washed, ends trimmed, a knife run down the skin so it splits open when it cooks and chopped into 4-5 cm lengths (optional)

500g yellow or white yam, cubed like the potato (optional)

Tan skin, orange flesh sweet potato, ditto

Purple skin, white flesh sweet potato, ditto – n.b. when you peel this it needs to go straight into acid water, ‘cos it will discolour really quickly.

1 cho cho/chayote, ditto peeled and seed removed,

,500g West Indian pumpkin or Kaboucha or Butternut squash, – any dense fleshed kind will do, ditto, peeled and seeds removed

Per person, 4-5 whole small okra or fresh green string beans if you can’t find okra.

Salt to taste

2 ½ -3 litres of water or enough to cover the vegetables comfortably..

 

I used potato, eddoes, banana, sweet potato – both kinds, butternut and okra for mine.

 

Method

In a large pan, sweat onions, garlic, scallions for a couple of minutes, add greens and a pinch of salt and wilt, add chilli – I bunged in a whole one, uncut, but it’s a matter of taste/tolerance – and thyme as whole sprigs. Add coconut milk/cream and water. Add potato and bring to the boil, then reduce to an active simmer – after 10 mins, add the rest of the vegetables, return to a simmer and cook for a further 10 mins, then, pinching off a small amount of dough, roll between the palms of your hands to make a small oblong about the size of the okra to form a flour dumpling – do this until the dough mixture is used up – plop them in the soup as you go. Cook for a further 15 minutes – and it’s done. Check that the veg are tender with a knife – the potato will usually take the longest if you cut everything the same size. Check for seasoning. Remove thyme twigs – the leaves will have fallen off into the soup. Remove whole chilli – if you like things hot, then remove stem from chilli and return it to the soup, mashing it against the side of the pan with a spoon. If you have used beans instead of okra, they will need less cooking so maybe add them 5 minutes before the end.

 I generally use coconut cream which you can buy in a block – TRS or Dunns River – there’s lots of brands, because it keeps for ages without going off– coconut milk from a can goes off in a few days if you don’t use it all up, which is a pain for a single person 😦 – the way to check if it’s thick or thin when you buy it is to shake the can – if you can hear liquid moving, it’s probably thin, although it depends on how warm it is/the weather. In the UK, Vitasoy brand from lidl is thick, Island Sun, widely available is medium to thin, again there are loads of brands. You can also buy coconut milk powder – but read the ingredients list, because some brands have starch and sugar in them – the best brand I know is Santan, from Malaysia, often found in Chinese or Vietnamese stores.

Free food and weekly shop

I really, really have stuck to the budget in my cyber absence but I have bought some things like rice (£7.50 for 5 kilos) and the like… last week I bought a chicken reduced to £2.85 from £4, which went straight in the freezer, potatoes, garlic, ginger, chillies and a Chinese cabbage, which I haven’t used yet, but I also bought posh goat’s butter – more about that later…and dark soya sauce..and..and
Spring has come extremely late in London, but now it’s here, it’s going great guns, so there’s loads of nettles, wild garlic and other ‘weeds’ that are great free food if you get the young tips. It’s a window of about 2 or 3 weeks, so I’m trying to think of how to freeze some of this harvest, and come up with some recipes to make it a bit more interesting. Basically, nettles (which sting) and dead nettles (which don’t)taste like spinach and are really good for you – however, they are more fibrous, they cook down like amaranth – Jamaican callaloo – which is used, by different names, all over the world. The bestest ever name I found on wikipedia for amaranth is the Nigerian Yoruba -arowo jeja – apparently this means ‘we have money left over for fish’!
Nettle soup is lovely, if a little ‘too good for you’, but how much of the same thing can a person eat in a week – or feed to their long suffering family – so, along with a basic soup recipe, I am going to post a potato, onion, and ‘green’ pakora recipe and one for my version of Jamaican Pepperpot Soup.