Pumpkin rice rice is a dish I only just started to appreciate after having it at an “Island Grill” fast food joint in Kingston, just over a year ago. Though that pumpkin rice was rather bland, it worked well with the side of spicy jerk chicken and creamy coleslaw or maybe I was terribly hungry after a day with friends exploring the sights and sound of Jamaica. I recall our dad speaking about this dish when we were growing up and how good it was with pieces of “saltfish”, but I don’t ever recall my mom making it. The two main rices dishes in our home were cook-up rice and the king of rice dishes.. pelau. Even if our mom did make pumpkin rice, it would be her and the old man eating it alone as you couldn’t force us to eat pumpkin as kids.
2 cups diced pumpkin
2 cloves garlic
1 medium onion
1 scotch bonnet pepper
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 teaspoon salt *see note below
2 cups brown rice (long grain)
tablespoon olive oil (veg oil or butter)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon grated ginger
3 – 3 1/2 veg stock *see note below
Notes: By using the whole scotch bonnet pepper in the dish I got the flavor and not the heat. Break open the pepper near the end if heat is your thing. I used vegetable stock as I wanted to keep this dish vegetarian and I also wanted a mild stock which wouldn’t over power the pumpkin. You’re free to use chicken or beef if you prefer, but be aware that the overall flavor of the dish will be changed. I used Calabaza (Cucurbita moschata), also known as West Indian, Cuban, or Caribbean pumpkin, but I think butternut squash would make for an excellent substitution. Be aware that a lot of stock comes loaded with sodium, so if you’re not familiar with the stock you’re using, add half the salt and adjust near the end of cooking.
* Be sure to watch the video at the bottom to see how I peeled and cubed the pumpkin and for general instructions on cooking this tasty vegetarian pumpkin rice dish.
Start by peppering everything for cooking. Peel and dice the pumpkin, dice the garlic and onion and grate the ginger. Then in a deep pot, heat the oil on a med/high heat and add the diced onion, garlic and the thyme. I left it on the sprig as I wanted the flavor from the stems and near the end of cooking I have the opportunity to remove the stems from the pot. Allow this to soften up on a med heat for a couple minutes.
Now add the grated ginger and black pepper to the pot and give it a good stir. After cubing the pumpkin do give it a good rinse under cool water and drain. Now you can add the diced pumpkin pieces and give it a good stir. With your heat at a med/low setting, allow this to cook for a couple minutes to infuse all the wonderful flavors. As this cook, be sure to wash your rice (see video below) as we’ve done in the past. Basically all you’re doing is… place the rice in a deep bowl and cover with water, now using your hands do a sort of massage motion to allow the grains to work between your fingers. You will notice that the water will go cloudy… pour out and repeat until you have clear water. usually 3-4 times.
With the rice now washed/drained, add it to the pot and stir. Pour in the stock, add the salt (remember my note above) and plop in the scotch bonnet pepper into the pot.
Bring this up to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover the pot to cook off the liquid and get the rice nice and tender. After about 10 minutes or so you’ll notice that your liquid would have reduced, the pieces of pumpkin will start to fall apart and the rice grains will start to get plump.
Here is where this can become a bit tricky as the brand of rice you use may have a bearing on this part going forward. After 18 minutes of my rice simmering away I noticed that the rice grains were almost all the way cooked and I still had some liquid. So I turned up the heat and burned that off… remember to stir or it will stick to the bottom of the pot. I like my rice a bit grainy so I had to account for it cooking further in it’s own heat, even after I turned off the stove. If you like you rice creamy, give it a bit more time cooking to really plump up the rice. The texture and consistency of the final pumpkin rice dish will depend on your own liking. remember to now remove the whole pepper and sprigs of thyme. Check for salt and if you want a blast of heat, do burst open the pepper.. but be warned.
There you go, a hundred times better than what you’d find at Island Grill and be sure to add a pinch or nutmeg and/or allspice (pimento berries) to really give this a wicked flavor infusion.
I can still recall sitting in our “gallery” (porch) shelling peas as the first crop of pigeon peas was reaped (btw, shelling is the term used to describe removing the peas from the pod). My parents always planted corn and peas every rainy season so we enjoyed fresh peas cooked in many different forms. Stewed, curried, in pelau and as a thickener for some of the amazing soups my mom would make. But my absolute favourite dish with pigeon peas (even to this day) is that wonderful meal-in-a-pot, called pelau.
It was the norm that every trip we made to the beach or any family outing, my mom would cook up a pot of pelau (BTW, “cook up” is also another word for pelau) to take for lunch. Nothing beats taking a swim in the ocean and making your “hungry” way back to the trunk of the car where your mom is getting ready to serve you a plate of still-hot, chicken pelau with a fresh green salad on the side. And how could I forget the hot sauce we would drizzle all over the mound of pelau?
Can you imagine writing a post and your mouth waters from nothing but a memory? Let’s hope I don’t drool all over this keyboard.
I still can’t believe that it took me this long to share this dynamite pealu recipe with you. A special thanks to Caron for reminding me to do so.
4-5lbs chicken, cut into pieces and washed with lime/lemon juice
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon ketchup
2 cloves of garlic – thinly sliced or crushed
1 teaspoon fresh/bottled ginger – crushed. (use 1/2 if it’s ginger powder)
2 tablespoon vegetable oil (one that can withstand high heat)
1 medium onion – chopped
1 medium tomato – chopped
2-3 tablespoon cilantro (or 2 tbs Trinidad green meat seasoning)
2 tablespoon brown sugar
3 cups water
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 hot pepper (only if you like your food spicy)
1 green onion or chive – chopped
2 sprigs of fresh thyme (1 teaspoon dried)
1 large carrot sliced into “coins”
1 can coconut milk (about a cup)
1 can pigeon peas (also known as congo peas)
3 cups of long grain brown rice (washed)
1 teaspoon golden ray salt butter (optional)
Couple things before we proceed.
* If you can get fresh “shelled” pigeon peas, jump at the chance to use that instead of the canned stuff. nothing beats ‘fresh’.
* The pigeon peas comes as 2 types in the can. You have the green pigeons peas and the congo peas. The congo is the just the same green ones that were left to dry in its pod (while still on the tree), then canned. In the pictures below, you’ll notice that I used the congo variety of peas as it what I had on hand.
Cut and wash the chicken pieces, then season with all the ingredients mentioned above except, the oil, sugar, coconut milk, carrot, rice, water, golden ray and the can of pigeon peas.
Allow the seasoned chicken to marinate for at least 1 hr before you continue. You’re probably shocked by the amount of salt we used during the seasoning process, don’t fear. When we add the other ingredients, the saltiness will balance off nicely.
In a large pot on med to high heat, pour the oil and wait for it to become hot. Then add the brown sugar (same as the stewing process we discussed before), keeping an eye on things (see pictures below) until the sugar goes to a dark frothy brown. Have the bowl of seasoned chicken ready to go.
When the sugar gets to this point, quickly start adding the pieces of chicken. Move each piece around so it gets coated in the caramel that you just made. After adding all the chicken, cover the pot and allow to cook on med heat for about 10 minutes. We’re trying to “brown” the meat and also create a nice brown colour so when we add the rice, everything will look and taste amazing. Remember, that a pelau is judged by not only it’s taste, but by it’s appearance as well. Don’t worry, this recipe is fool proof!
While everything cooks, open the can of peas and place it in a strainer to wash out the sort of sryup-like liquid it’s packaged in the can with. You’ll also get rid of all that additional sodium that’s included in everything that’s canned. Wash and peel the carrot, then slice into coins. Put both the peas and carrot pieces into the same bowl you seasoned the chicken. Hopefully it will pick up any remaining seasonings that were left back. As the water starts to dry-up (see pic above) add, the peas and carrots to the pot. NOTE: You may have to turn up the heat and remove the lid for the natural juices that were released to cook down.
Cover the lid and turn down the heat as you wash the rice. For those of you not familiar with cooking with brown rice as we do in the Caribbean, you may not realize that you must first wash the rice before cooking, to get rid of the gritty taste. Many of you are probably accustomed to using that fast cooking (can’t screw up) Uncle Ben’s version. Not today! It’s a very simple process. Pour the rice into a large bowl and pour water to cover it. Then as if you’re giving the rice a massage, work it with your hand and fingers. Pour out that water (you’ll see how cloudy the water will be) and repeat this process for another couple times.
Time to kick back into action. Pour the rice into the pot, then the coconut milk and the three cups of water. Stir everything around and quickly bring back to a boil. Then cover the pot and allow to simmer for about 35 minutes or until all the liquid is gone and the grains of rice is tender and plump. There are 2 ways people like their finished product. Wet or dry and grainy. I love a nice grainy pelau, but I do know my sister makes hers gets my mom to make her’s a bit wet. Test both ways to see how best you like it.
To add an additional layer of flavor to the dish (not as if it need any more) add a teaspoon of Goldenray salted butter as you turn off the stove. Then mix around and cover the pot for about 5 minutes.
Special Note. My great aunt had this trick where she would get a branch of celery (fresh stuff from her garden – only the leafy part) and chop it really fines and top her pelau with it. STUNNING is the only word I can use to describe this added zing. Though I’ve tried over the years I’m still to recreate that unique taste … maybe it’s because I don’t have that unique celery from the Caribbean.
Do let me know your thoughts on this and the many other recipes posted on CaribbeanPot.com in the comment box below.