With the increase in demand for both vegetarian and gluten free recipes, I thought I’d take one of the most traditional dishes of the Southern Caribbean and remove a key ingredient – meat! Meat lovers can tune in here for the Chicken pelau video. This one pot dish was a must whenever we’d spend a day at the beach, go to the Oval to watch touring cricket teams and whenever pigeon peas was in season. back then freshly shelled peas were used, but today living in North America I have no choice but to reach for the canned stuff. I assure you, you won’t know there isn’t meat in this dish when it’s done ‘bubblin’ and you serve yourself a plate.
1 1/2 cups pigeon peas (1 can)
1 large carrot diced
1/2 cup celery (diced)
2 cups rice (brown par boiled)
1.5 cup coconut milk
2.5 cups water
2 pimento peppers (optional)
2 bird’s pepper (bird’s eye)
1/2 cup diced bell pepper
1 tablespoon parsley
2 sprigs thyme
2 cloves garlic
1/4 teaspoon grated ginger
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 heaping tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon veg oil
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Dice, chop and slice the carrot, celery, peppers, scallions and scallions. Drain the can of pigeon peas and rinse with cool water..drain. In a deep pot on medium high heat, add the veg oil, then go in with the brown sugar. As we’ve done with other Caribbean “stewed” dishes, we want to get that rich color and flavor from the caramelized sugar.
This is the only critical step in making this vegetarian pelau as if it goes beyond the amber/frothy color we’re looking for the finished dish WILL have sort of burnt taste and we don’t want that. The sugar will melt, then go a rich golden colour, before going frothy and a deep amber color. This is when we want to go in the diced carrot, celery and pigeon peas. TIP: Use a spoon which can withstand high heat (no plastic), make sure the peas are drained well after washing as we don’t want any liquid and the spoon should have a long handle as the melted sugar can jump-back at you. Move around the vegetables and let it cook/brown for about 4 minutes.
Now you will have a deep brown base to help color the entire dish (pelau isn’t supposed to be pale..according to my mom). Add the other ingredients, with the rice, coconut milk and water going in last.
If you’re new to Caribbean cuisine, you may not know that we wash our rice before cooking. This removes some of the excess starch and any debris that may be in the rice from the mill. You have 2 options. 1 – Place the rice in a strainer and run water through it. Massage and keep rinsing until the water runs clear. Option 2 – place the rice in a deep bowl, cover with water and massage with your hands. the water will go cloudy – drain and repeat until the water is clear.
Go in with the bird’s eye pepper (leave whole so we get flavor and not the raw heat – remember to remove them before serving). Bring to a boil, then reduce to a gentle boil with the lid on the pot. Stir every 5 minutes and cook for about 25-30 minutes.. until all the liquid is gone. Do remember to taste for salt and adjust accordingly. TIP: If you find that the pelau is pale in color you can go in with a bit Caribbean food browning. There are two ways people like their finished pelau. Grainy rice (my way) or a bit overcooked with the rice being a little mushy or creamy. So adjust your cooking time to accommodate your preference.
Besides liking my pelau grainy, it MUST be piping hot – to the point where with every fork full I have to suck air in at the same time to help cool it down or risk burning my mouth. Don’t ask me why – that’s just the way I like it! This vegetarian gluten free recipe is simply outstanding and I assure you meat eaters you will not miss that chicken or salted meats we normally use. Traditionalists will want to reach for that Golden Ray (salted butter) to give it that wicked ‘creole’ taste, but do remember we’re doing this one vegetarian.
If you’d like to request a recipe, hit me on Twitter @Obzokee and we’ll get to it! If you’re doing this recipe gluten free do go through the complete list of ingredients to ensure they meet with your specific gluten free diet.