You would think that in the tropics they would not love soup. However in many of the islands that dot the Caribbean Sea, soup is an integral part of the everyday dining experience. In Jamaica, Saturday is Soup Day. A pot is put on in the early part of the day. Caribbean cuisine incorporates flavors from all of the different cultures that have ever graced the shores of the islands, from Africa to China to India to the Middle East and Europe. The flavoring in Caribbean cuisine is intense and rich, with a strong foundation in African and Creole food. Each group has imparted their culinary traditions and created an eclectic and healthy eating experience. African slaves brought their penchant for one pot comfort foods in the forms of stews and soups. Hearty and rich, soups have been a part of the Creole tradition. With the scraps that were given to them, the slaves were able to use the produce of the region and knowledge of spices to create substantive meals to fuel their need to work. After the abolishment of slavery, plantation owners, brought laborers from China and India. They broadened the Caribbean palate even more by introducing different rice, curry, and Asian pantry items to the Caribbean repertoire.
While people do errands and clean the house, a coal pot is simmering to create a robust evening meal like chicken feet soup, fish tea, or famous pepper pot soup made with vibrant green callaloo. In Trinidad where they like to party, lime, and fete; they finish their revelry with a huge cup of corn soup from the stalls on the Savannah in Port of Spain. In the Spanish speaking Caribbean every country or island has a long simmering soup of tubers particular to the region with meat making a savory broth. Black bean soup is also king. The French Caribbean is famous for their soups that have a tropical flavor but a French culinary influence as seen in their cream soups. The inclusion of pumpkin, breadfruit, and peanut are also favorites. The Haitians even have a famous soup that was created out of defiance because the slaves were forbidden from eating this dish. They eat squash soup every New Year to celebrate Haitian independence and the New Year. Drinking the nourishing liquid and sharing is done to precisely to remember the past and to hope for the future. The Bahamas is famous for their amazing Conch chowder. Red beans are favored in Jamaica with the inclusion of dumplings, and salted meat to add earthiness.
Produce found in the Caribbean include plantain, bananas, chili peppers, fresh beans, yams, yucca, malanga, taro, and other tropical tubers, okra, breadfruit, Irish potatoes, sweet potato, calaloo, calabaza, tomatoes, and corn. All create wonderful soups on their own individually or in a random mix. The beauty of soup comes from being able to take meager beginnings and create something that has richness, layers, and soul. Try a tropical version to spice up your repertoire and warm up your heart. You can mix local ingredients of the season like corn, turnip, onions, garlic, carrots, peppers, potatoes, rutabagas, butternut squash, celeriac, swiss chard, collard greens, kale, and leeks to make a global local steaming concoction of love. The spicy and fragrant spices of the Caribbean draw out and enhance the flavor of cold weather vegetables. As fall and winter approaches, soup is really great food.
Trinidadian CORN SOUP
The first time I had this soup, it was a revelation. I was visiting Trinidad for the first time for Carnival. After many sleepless nights of revelry and feting as they say, Corn Soup on the Savannah the main party thorough fare was God sent. It was a welcome change from Roti, Doubles, and other Trini street food. When you drunk one to many, stayed up way past your bed time on several days, and forgotten to eat way past your meal time, Corn Soup warmed up the belly and the soul; recharging the body to do it again. I concocted my own recipe to tide me over until my next trip.
Serves six to eight
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb smoked pork bones (optional)
1 pound English potatoes, peeled and quartered
2 carrots, diced
1/3 cup chopped chives
1/4 cup chopped celery
1/8 cup fresh thyme, chopped
2 red peppers, chopped and seeded
3/4 cup yellow split peas, washed and picked over
8 cups chicken stock or vegetable stock
6 ears corn, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 hot pepper
1/2 cup coconut milk (optional)
1/2 cup chopped chadon beni or cilantro
Salt and Pepper to taste
In a large soup pot or Dutch oven heat oil and add onions and garlic. Sauté until fragrant. Add smoked bones, potatoes, carrots, chives, celery, thyme, and pimento peppers. Cook for about five minutes more. Add split peas and broth. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and bring to a boil. Add hot pepper and coconut milk. Cover and simmer for about an hour until peas are soft. Puree soup to a thick and creamy consistency. This step is optional if you want a chunky soup. Return to pot. Add corn and continue to cook for a further 15 minutes until cooked Add chadon beni. Remove from heat. Taste and adjust seasonings. If soup seems too thick you can add a little water. Add salt and pepper to taste.
ROASTED CURRY BUTTERNUT SOUP
This soup uses a mélange of flavors. With a sweet roasted butternut pulp as a base, a wicked combination of Caribbean, Middle Eastern, and Indian spices provide a back note of intensity. Sweet Jamaican and pungent Trinidadian curry is used. Also added is the Indian everyday mix of spices called Garam Marsala along with mustard seed. The allspice and jerk seasoning are a nod to Jamaica providing a little extra spicy kick and tension to the soup. The paprika is a Moorish and Spanish addition and gives color and a robust tang. The brown sugar adds just a touch more sweetness to the already roasted sweet butternut squash. If you do not want to use all the various spices, use curry or fragrant spices like ground ginger, cinnamon, or clove to compliment the sweetness of the squash.
1 butternut squash
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 teaspoon garam marsala
1 teaspoon mustard seed
1 teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon allspice
½ teaspoon dried jerk seasoning
1 tablespoon brown sugar preferably Caribbean or Latin style
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, minced
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups chicken broth (vegetarians and vegans alike – you can use vegetable broth for this ingredient) or water
Salt and pepper
Sour cream (optional)
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Bake butternut squash whole for 45-60 minutes on a cookie sheet. Turn occasionally to cook evenly. After cooked through, peel, seed and scoop out squash. Toss baked squash into a blender with one cup of liquid. Blend until smooth and creamy. In a large soup pot, heat remaining oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic sauté for 4 minutes or until onion is soft. Pour pureed soup into pot with onions and garlic. Add remaining two cups of liquid. Season with spices and salt and pepper to taste. Whisk together and heat up until boiling for 5 minutes. Serve hot, with a small dollop of plain Greek yogurt.