Thursday, November 22, 2007

WE FOOD - Ode to Pelau - How do I love thee? Let me count the ways

By Antoinette Ifill

No food is synonymous with our Carnival more than pelau, and it is quite fitting that a one pot mélange of ingredients and flavors would represent a festival that embraces one and all into one big melting pot of colour, spectacle and merriment.

Pelau to Carnival is like coconut milk to pelau; you might get away without using it but the end result will never be the same! Nothing to me is more the food of Panorama than a plate of beef Pelau with some mango chutney on the side; I think more Pelau is consumed at Panorama semi finals in the North Stand than any other day in the year. And there are so many varieties that you can sample from your neighbor’s pot and have a dish that does not remotely resemble yours.

Some people love pelau with plenty meat, while others like lots of peas, some swear by pumpkin and carrots, while others add corn, some use black eye peas while other use beef, chicken, pig tail or even crab! Just as there are many ways to enjoy pelau so too are there diverse side dishes that complete the meal. One of the most popular compliments to pelau is cole slaw, while zaboca (avocado) is what does it for me; I have been known to bubble a pot of pelau simply because someone gave me a zaboca! My girl friend’s sister makes mean mango chutney that goes oh so well with her beef pelau, you know, the kind where the cubes of beef melt in your mouth! A simple watercress and tomato salad is perfect for pelau as well, see pelau is a humble dish, you will not find it on the menus on those gourmet restaurants, but it is the one dish that every Trinidadian can identify with.

I can’t tell you how many times I have had pelau on a Carnival Monday or Tuesday, those were the days before the all-inclusive lunch fare of fancy Arabian dishes and wraps. I remember never having a bad pelau, even though it might have been a bit too dry or skimpy on the meat it was always satisfying! My earliest memories of going to the Savannah to view “pretty” mas, was of my mother packing a picnic basket with the essentials of the day, which of course included pelau. Pelau is that one food for Carnival that can be served up all fancy at an all-inclusive party or straight from someone’s cooler, at Calypso Fiesta in Skinner Park on a paper plate.

My first foray into cooking pelau was somewhat of a disaster as I forgot the most important ingredient, coconut milk! So after many, many tries and phone calls to my mother I can boast that my pelau is simply divine. I now keep my recipe secret since my perfection came after lots of hard work, but the following is a very good recipe for pelau. Enjoy!


2 cups Rice
2 lbs chicken or beef (marinated)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil or margarine
1 tablespoon soy sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
4 ½ cups water
1 tablespoon of sugar or 1 tablespoon caramel browning
¼ cup minced onions
1 clove garlic (finely chopped)
¼ cup celery stalks
¼ cup chopped tomatoes
1 hot pepper (green)

1. Heat oil - Add sugar, and heat until black, (or use caramel browning).
2. Add chicken or beef.
3. Stir and cook for 10 minutes in covered saucepan over low heat.
4. Add onions, celery, finely chopped garlic, tomatoes and rice. Stir.
5. Add water, soy sauce and hot pepper (whole). Bring to a boil.
6. Covered saucepan for leave to cook, about forty minutes.
7. Serve with chutney, pepper sauce and other condiments.

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