We are more than our 'jerks' and our 'curries.' That was my response to a colleague who lamented that she was tired of Jamaican food. I did not take offence but it really lit me on fire as I thought about some of the less popular Jamaican dishes that are mouthwatering. Sure jerk chicken or curry goat are household names but some of the other less popular dishes has a rich history behind them and while they are not for the faint of heart and might take you off the beaten path, they are equally as delicious if not better. So here goes!
I met my sister Cabey my first year in College and we became part of an inseparable group of women. To this day we are still close in our hearts even though we now live miles apart from each other. However Cabey and I shared a special bond. We loved food so much that we would leave campus every Tuesday after class, take two buses to her home for the best plate of stew peas I have ever eaten and remains true to this day.
I initially went home with Cabey for the food but kept going for the love that I received from her family especially her mom “Ms. Sonia.” Man, she could cook!!! Her food was sweet like sugar!@#. I have never had a bad meal at 10 Robinson Road, No joke, and she passed on her skills to her beautiful daughters. I became a part of the family so much that I would make my own way ‘home’ to Robinson Rd even when Cabey and I were not on speaking terms. After all I was a part of the family and no longer needed an invitation from her to make my weekly trip.
The Love of Sonia Tomlinson
I can remember those Tuesdays like it was yesterday. I was seated on the single sofa and she would bring me my dinner on a serving platter. While eating, beads of sweat would gather on my forehead and run down my temples. I was oblivious to everything around me as I did some serious damage to the stew peas. Sometimes out of nowhere Ms. Sonia would whisper in my ear,” Sharnette you want more stew?” I was so greedy. I never said no and the dinner plate was big. That was the life. She made me love stew peas, and as good as my recipe is it will never be as great as hers. She really takes the crown but I know if she could she would give my recipe a nod and a smile.
What is Stew Peas?
Traditional Stew Peas is a hearty stew made with red kidney beans, stew beef and a salted or cured meat, stewed to perfection and served over a bowl of steaming white rice. There are many variations to this dish as substitutions can be made to satisfy every palate; from the non pork eater to the vegetarian. However for the ‘purist’ the version I made for the blog is the true Jamaican stew peas with salted pig tails, red kidney beans, stew beef, spinners aka dumplings and coconut milk.
Often described by locals as one of our national dishes, it is a stew which gets its rich earth color from the red kidney beans. The beans gives the stew and the beef a beautiful redish, brownish color. But more importantly as it cooks some of the peas will burst open and that will provide some thickness to the stew. (I have never had to add flour to thicken my stew).
If you learn how to make this delicious stew you would have almost killed two birds with one stone as the basis of another epic Jamaican dish known as red peas soup. Extremely similar, salted meat, fresh beef, red kidney beans and ground provisions… but I digress… more about that later…let’s work on the stew peas for now!