In anticipation of the inevitable dip in temperature, Mahasti is sharing a delicious way to warm up that comes with a bit of heartwarming history: Jamaican Pepper Pot Soup.
The name Pepper Pot probably entered the minds of most Americans more through Pop Art rather than a steaming bowl of the soup itself. Andy Warhol’s iconic depiction of the soup can called Small Torn Campbell Soup Can (Pepper Pot) sold for over $11 million dollars in 2006.
Like many dishes, this soup belongs to multiple regions each with its own variation on the recipe. Guyanese Pepper Pot, a traditional Christmas food, is distinguished by the addition of Cassareep – a thick sauce made from ground cassava root and spices. Around the West Indies the thickness, spiciness and the primary protein of the dish vary considerably. Jamacian Pepper Pot is traditionally made with Calloo, a unique Caribbean vegetable that tastes like a hybrid of spinach and broccoli, though spinach is a frequent substitute.
And closer to home Philadelphia, the Birthplace of Freedom, is also the birthplace of an American variety of Pepperpot.
According to legend, George Washington, while encamped at Valley Forge under the siege of a harsh winter, painful deprivation, and frequent desertions, was finally able to fortify his troops with a spicy version of this stew that was unique for its use of tripe – the muscle wall that lines a cow’s stomach. In the story the dish was an inspired and soldier-saving brain wave from the Baker General of the Continental Army, Christopher Ludwick. Of course, it’s far more likely that the dish came to Valley Forge by the same sad route that brought both rum and slaves to the colonies.
Pepper Pot is still available in some Philadelphia restaurants (and is also the name of the city’s Public Relation Awards), including the City Tavern Restaurant, though tripe has been replaced by beef shoulder.
Mahasti’s version, eschewing both tripe and beef shoulder, is vegetarian but hearty with lots of potato, sweet potato and spinach. It’s also spicy – in both senses of the word. The recipe includes a ½ teaspoon of allspice, which contributes a warming flavor and aroma that’s reminiscent of cinnamon, clove and nutmeg. Interestingly allspice has a number of aliases, including Jamaica Pepper.
The recipe also calls for habanero pepper, which is no shy violet, living, as it does, near the top quarter of the Scoville heat index. Depending on your taste, you can add or subtract as much of the pepper as you want – just make sure that you remove the seeds and take care to handle the pepper with caution. More than a few cooks have made the mistake of touching their eyes after handling the habanero without gloves or a thorough hand washing. The pain is unmistakable and dangerous; avoid it.
But don’t avoid the soup! It’s nourishing, filling and delicious. If you tune in to WBIR’s Weekend Today on Saturday (12/5) and Mahasti will help you put it all together.
Tomato Head’s Jamaican Pepper Pot Soup
2 Tbs Vegetable Oil
1 small onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
Leaves from 3 Thyme sprigs
4 cups water
8 oz fresh spinach
1 small Yukon gold potato, rinsed, and diced
½ – 1 habanero pepper, seeds removed, chopped
1.5 tsp salt
½ tsp allspice
1 tsp Balsamic Vinegar
1 medium sweet potato, rinsed and shredded
Heat oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and sauté until onion is translucent. Add thyme leaves, water, spinach, potato, and habanero – bring mixture to a boil, and then reduce heat to simmer until potatoes are soft. Add Salt, Allspice, and Vinegar. Puree the soup with an immersion blender until smooth – or allow soup to cool and puree in a traditional blender (do not blend hot soup in a traditional blender – it will splatter all over you) Add the shredded sweet potatoes to the pot and simmer until sweet potatoes are soft.