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Caribbean Soups: Savory & Sweet

Cooking the Caribbean way incorporates the flavors and flexibility of many nationalities.

As people from other countries began to invade the more than 7,000 islands that make up the Caribbean, they brought their own foods and traditions that melded with those of the Carib and Arawak peoples.

Because fresh fruits and vegetables are so abundant, many recipes include both savory and sweet flavorings: from chutneys to salsas, to soups, and even beverages. Sweets and rum are, of course, prevalent as well. Rum, by the way, is a by-product of sugar cane, which was brought to the islands by Christopher Columbus in 1493.

A wonderful array of soups typically contains a literal melting pot of ingredients: vegetables, meat, seafood, spices, and the ever-present dose of hot pepper.

Conch, sopito, pumpkin, and callaloo soups rank as top choices on the table and you will find that recipes vary widely, just as in many ethnic regions around the world.

Callaloo is the Caribbean version of spinach. Callaloo, along with okra (also called gumbo or quimbombo), was introduced to the islands by African slaves. The soup version, also known as Pepperpot, is a classic that has many variations. However, the term "Pepperpot" also has its own versions - without callaloo - that can turn into a thickened stew, or be a purely vegetarian delight.

Rice and bread should accompany these delicious soups, which makes it easy to turn them into a main course.

Callaloo Soup/Pepperpot

1 pound pork loin, cubed
2 pounds spinach leaves (callaloo)
½ pound okra
1 medium onion, chopped
½ teaspoon thyme
1 Tablespoon parsley, fresh and chopped (or 2 Tablespoons dried)
1 clove garlic
1 or 2 Jalapeno peppers, minced (or sliced into quarters and removed after cooking)
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups beef broth
1 ½ quarts water

Chop the pork into small chunks and saute with the onion. Chop the spinach leaves. Fill a pot with at least 1 ½ quarts water and the broth. Add the rest of the ingredients and bring to a boil. Simmer for 4-6 hours, adding water if necessary in the first 3 hours. Makes 4 hearty servings.

Pumpkin Soup

16 ounces canned pumpkin
1 small potato, diced
1 small onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons thyme
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon sugar
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup milk

Note: You can use summer squash instead of pumpkin.
Place all ingredients except milk in pot. May need to add water to cover potatoes and onions. Bring to a boil, then simmer for about an hour; add small amounts of water if necessary. Add milk and cook for another 15 minutes. Pour into blender or food processor and puree. Makes 2 large servings.

In the Caribbean, color on the plate is just as important as flavor. When serving, depending on seasons, add fresh fruits or raw vegetables to complement your meals.

You now have two great soups for your Caribbean recipe file. You can find other great recipes (including variations of the above) in cookbooks and on the Internet. Be sure to visit the forums if you have questions, comments, or just want to talk about ethnic foods in general.

Remember to make cooking fun: think of the islands as an exotic getaway, far from our everyday demands. Incorporate a few Caribbean recipes into your routine and you may get the urge to kick back with a Rum punch!

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Pittsburg, TX 75686
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