Pelau Recipe

Recipe from the book, Sweet Hands: Island Cooking from Trinidad & Tobago (Hippocrene Books, NY), by Ramin Ganeshram. Serves 6

Pelau is one of those dishes that really exemplifies Trinidadian cuisine because it is an admixture of various cooking styles.

Pelau, or rice layered with meats and vegetables, is a variation of East Indian pilau, which originated in Persia where it is called polow. The Anglicized version of the dish is called pilaf. The process of browning the meat in sugar for pelau is an African tradition and ketchup is a New World addition to the dish, although I suspect it has its basis in tomato chutneys available in British India and likely brought to Trinidad by the English.

Chicken is the usual meat in pelau but tender cuts of stew beef or lamb work just as well. In Tobago, pelau is often made with crab and that recipe follows.

3 tablespoons vegetable oil 3/4 cup sugar (white or brown) 1 3-pound chicken cut into eights, skin removed 1 onion, chopped 1 clove garlic, minced 1 cup pigeon peas, pinto beans, or black-eyed peas 2 cups water 1 cup coconut milk 1 bay leaf 2 teaspoons green seasoning 2 carrots, chopped 1/2 cup chopped parsley 5 scallions, stemmed and chopped (white and green parts) 2 cups long-grain rice (not instant) 2 cups cubed fresh calabaza or butternut squash 1 small Scotch bonnet pepper, whole 1/2 cup ketchup 1 tablespoon butter

If using dried peas, soak the peas overnight in three cups of water. Drain. Bring 3 fresh cups of water to a boil in a saucepan and add the peas. Simmer for 15 minutes, or until cooked almost completely through. Drain and set aside. If using canned beans, drain, rinse with cold water, drain again, and set aside.

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or other heavy, deep pot. Add the sugar and swirl in the pot; allow it to caramelize to a dark brown color. Add the chicken and stir well to coat. Lower the heat to medium and add the onion and garlic. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring constantly.

Wash the rice by placing in colander or fine-mesh sieve and running cold water over it until the water runs clear. Drain well and set aside.

Add the water, coconut, coconut milk, green seasoning, parsley, thyme, carrots, and scallions to chicken. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat for 10 minutes.

Add the rice, squash, peas, pepper, ketchup, and butter. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and cook for 20 minutes, or until the peas and vegetables are tender.

Remove lid and fluff. The rice should be moist but not sticky.

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