New Year’s Pelau

Yes, it is currently almost a week after Valentine’s Day (did you see the lovely flowers  the HH got for me, after my oh-so-subtle prodding?), and I’m just posting my recipe from New Year’s Eve.  Sure, you might think, “Wow, that Ricki is really slow at posting her recipes!”  But what I think is, “Wow, I managed to get this recipe up before New Year’s Eve, 2013!”  (I had actually considered saving it until then, but it’s too good not to share).

So, back to December 31, 2011.  You may recall I was suffering from a mysterious sinus malady, so I wasn’t up to preparing anything overly elaborate.  What I wanted was a fairly easy recipe that would also afford me plenty of time to relax and enjoy the evening.  That’s when I remembered Pelau.

Back when I exited my starter marriage, my office mate at the time (let’s call her Abby) was a lovely, generous woman who had, years before, gone through a split of her own (while my divorce left me with a broken heart and fractured bank account, hers left her with both of those as well as a daughter to raise on her own–and she was doing an admirable job).  Luckily for me, Abby invited me for dinner as a way to help me adjust to single life and to prove that it needn’t feel like a hardship.

When I finally made it to her home, frazzled from my very first solo trek along Toronto’s notorious Don Valley Parkway (a highway so busy, in fact, that during rush hour it’s referred to as the “Don Valley Parking Lot”), I was immediately overtaken by the eclectic decor and effusion of primary colors everywhere in the place–on the walls, the chairs, the tablecloth, the dishes–even Abby’s own shirt and slacks, both sporting a wild native print. In the corner of the room, there was what appeared to be a huge metal bowl on display atop an odd-looking stand, which Abby explained was a steelpan (or drum). Her former husband hailed from the West Indies, and while their romance didn’t endure, her fascination with his culture certainly did.

After I’d sipped a few glasses of Chardonnay (those were the days, when I still drank wine), Abby emerged from the kitchen with a huge clay casserole dish emitting little clouds of steam from beneath its cover. I caught a whiff of the aroma as she lay the dish on the table and knew immediately that I’d love whatever lay within that dish.  The recipe she’d made, she said, was called Pelau, a traditional Trinidadian baked stew that combined chicken with rice and pigeon peas.

Well, my nose didn’t steer me wrong that evening.  One mouthful and I was in epicurean ecstasy. (Ex-husband? What ex-husband?) Sure, some might describe the dish as merely a cultural spin on the classic rice and beans, but it was the specific seasonings in this case that really set the pelau apart from anything else I’d ever tasted.  A murmur of spice from cloves warmed the palate, mingling with a hint of sweeteness from caramelized brown sugar and tartness from vinegar. Bits of tomato were scattered throughout, offering a textural contrast without overpowering the flavors; and the firm, nutty pigeon peas and juicy chunks of chicken rounded out the assortment on my plate. Before I knew it, I’d finished my portion and was happily accepting seconds.

(“Mum, we’re glad your nose didn’t steer you wrong–ours never do, either! And we think you should invite Abby over to our house. We’d like to meet anyone who happily offers seconds.”)

That night, along with the pelau, wine, and great conversation, Abby restored my faith in my ability to reconstruct a life on my own.  She also shared her recipe for that compelling pelau.

Of course I hadn’t made the recipe in decades, as it was tucked away in a folder with other fish and chicken dishes I no longer use.  Some part of me must have known I’d turn to it again, though, and I was ecstatic to find the old recipe that night so I could set about adapting it.

While the pelau baked, the HH and I did have a lovely evening together, watching the DVD of the original Fame–which, I was stunned to learn, came out THIRTY years ago ( Thirty!  Three times ten!  Two dozen plus four! Three-oh! The beginning of the ’80s!  Back when I could still add and mutiply!)* .

I was thrilled with how this vegan version turned out, and the HH loved the pelau as much as I did.  I reveled in his enjoyment as he savored the mélange of flavors and textures in the stew. I thought about how much had changed since that dinner with Abby, long ago.  In some small way, it’s because of Abby that the HH and I ever got together at all, or that I was willing to give another guy a chance after the disaster of the early marriage.  And for that, I will be eternally grateful.

And so, I thank you, Dear Abby.**

*Of course you caught that. Thirty is actually “two dozen plus six.” Let’s blame it on all that New Year’s Eve champagne.

**Yes, I know. I just couldn”t help myself.

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I’m sharing this recpe at Allergy Friendly Fridays and Slightly Indulgent Tuesday.

Last Year at this Time: Pasta Arrabiata (gluten free; ACD all stages)

Two Years Ago: Flash in the Pan: Egyptian Fava Bean Breakfast (gluten free; ACD all stages)

Three Years Ago: Celeri Rémoulade (gluten free; ACD Stage 3 and beyond) and Tempeh-Ball Stroganoff (gluten free; not ACD friendly)

Four Years Ago: Could This Be Love? Post V-Day Dinner

© Ricki Heller, Diet, Dessert and Dogs

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  1. Are you absolutely sure Fame came out 30 years ago? How can that be? That would mean the stars would be in their 50s now. Yikes.

    I see there’s supposed to be rice in the recipe but I can’t find it in the list? This sounds like a great, easy dish to serve to guests, especially if it makes the house smell nice while it’s cooking. 🙂 And I love that you’ve included prep time! Thank you.

  2. This looks just our cup of tea! I’ve got all the ingredients so as soon as I find out how much rice there is in it I’m making it for Supper. It looks so tasty, I can’t wait to try it Ricki!! Thank you!

  3. This looks delicious for any time of year, you could have renamed it Mardi Gras Pelau for a more timely meal. I hope your sinuses have improved.

    I like your term “starter marriage”. Happy late Valentine’s! We’re celebrating all week. 😉

  4. That looks intriguing. And it’s always beautiful when a new friendship with a fellow traveler is a silver lining.

  5. “Don Valley Parking Lot” – oh that made me giggle! One of the (few) things that Canberra has going for it as a city (over Melbourne or Sydney) is our general lack of horrible traffic and wide easy roads.

    I’d traverse a “parking lot” for this dish, though. I thought it was a version of pilaf, and was thrilled to see beans and sweet potato instead of rice. Fabulous!

  6. Ricki, what long-term blogger doesn’t have a plethora of recipes in their drafts folder?? 😉 Those Moroccoan phyllo triangles I just posted that I served for a party? Well, that party was NYE, too! I hope to be a bit quicker with some Valentine’s treats next week, though. 🙂

    This pelau really intrigues me with such an eclectic combination of sweet and sour ingredients. How could I say no to beans? 🙂

  7. Oh Ricki – I like your stories 🙂 Abby sounds like she was a good friend! Your description of the DVP made me laugh. Your recipe sounds amazing. I’m going to be trying it out soon! xo

  8. You left how much rice to use out of the ingredients list….would LOVE to make this but don’t know how much rice to use!

  9. Hey Ricki, I shared this on Facebook and a reader wants to know how much rice? It’s not shown in the ingredient listing. And I commented on this post and looks like it disappeared. Gremlins!

    Thanks! xo,

  10. this sounds wonderful! it’s always nice to have friends like ‘Abbey’ around 🙂

  11. Ricki, this is delicious! I made it this afternoon. Thank you for making the recipe serve an army! Now I have lunch for the week! Thanks Ricki!

    • Yay! So glad you liked it! 😀 I actually just used more or less the same quantities that my friend gave me. . . but you can halve this very successfully if it’s too large for your purposes! 🙂

  12. Thirty years ago! Holy cow, now I feel old 🙂

  13. Laughing at the (sorta) after your recipe title 🙂 This looks and sounds amazing!

  14. How sad is it that I did not even catch the math mistake (especially since I am usually a number/math whiz, LOL). And the “sorta” cracked me up! This really looks like an amazing dish. I am going to totally make it this week and will report back! Plus, anything that calls for sriracha has my name all over it!! ;0)

  15. Well I am glad you posted it – and am even more glad that Abby helped guide you in life beyond heartbreak – because you and the HH sounds like such a great couple – Sounds like a great dish – though 1/4 cup of sugar sounds like a lot of sweetness – I missed the maths blooper but it is after midnight so that is my excuse

  16. I love black eyed peas, and this dish looks fantastic, just my kind of thing!

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