jamaican yuca shepherd’s pie

Ketch up dih fire Ma’hta
Pass me dih gungo peas,
Rub up dih flour Sarah – Lawd!
Feel di evenin’ breeze*

I never thought I’d see the words “Jamaican” and “shepherd’s pie” together in one recipe title. The first conjures up tastes of fried plantains, coconut, and spicy jerk seasoning. The second? Tired ground beef suffocated by dry mashed potatoes stripped of their whipped garlicy glory.  

Sure I’ve had good times with shepherd’s pie. It can be done right, and when it is, it’s at least 10 iron chef points ahead of meatloaf. There is something satisfyingly simple about it that makes me want to put on a peasant dress and go out and milk cows. It’s the same way I feel about stews and artisan bread and wine served in thick, stemless goblets. Good shepherd’s pie can be staid and steadfast, served on a beaten-up harvest table, surrounded by joy. 

So when I saw this pie, all stripped of those old-fashioned ingredients, I was wary. But as it stared back at me from the pages of Veganomicon, I knew I had to answer its rainbow plea.

A recipe that’s multi-step enough to rise to any special occasion, yet everyday enough to stuff in wraps for lunches, this dish can wear many masks. With a curry essence that’s sweeter than traditional Indian curries, this stew can also be made without the cassava (yuca) topping, and served over plain rice. 

Let me warn you about one thing first. As with many vegetarian recipes, there’s a little more prep involved in this one than your average sheep-herdin’ pie. But that’s what husbands (or boyfriends, or girlfriends, or kitchen elves) are for, right? If you’re lacking in a second pair of hands, do it in stages to lessen the load.  

I guarantee this will get you out of your casserole rut. (Does anyone make casseroles anymore?) Or at least out of your one-pot rut. (That sounds much more modern.) And as the skies get grayer by the day here in Syracuse, it might help splash your table with some good Carribbean vibes, mon. 

So let out those dreads and grab the keys–this is one you’ll have to make a special trip for. But don’t worry: I made all the mistakes for you already. What’s left should be all straw huts and sunshine.

*Jamaican Folk Song

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skippin’ jenny (vegan hoppin’ john)

I’m having a blast with Veganomicon, a cookbook that arrived on my doorstep one dreary afternoon from the sunnier climes of Berkeley. I had a bit part in helping its sender find an apartment in Syracuse, and I can’t wait to try more of its recipes out on her when she arrives. It’s my first vegan cookbook, and so far it is proving itself a mighty contender beside the omnivore-focused books on my shelf. Filled with recipes that are sure to stun even the most die-hard flesh eater, this book promises no end of fun with my favorite food group.

New York is the furthest South I’ve lived in North America, yet still miles away from the soul of Southern cookery. But since I’m a sucker for smoke (give me bonfire-perfumed sweaters, lapsang souchong tea, smoked cheeses and fish any day), Southern cooking seems right up my alley. So, wanting to branch into Southern cuisine a little more, the BBQ Black-Eyed Pea Collard Rolls jumped to the top of my list of things to try. I don’t know what exactly drew me to the recipe—something about it sounded smoky and satisfying, and different from how I normally cook.

My only contact with smoky food was purely of the accidental sort, up until landing a job at the Ouisi Bistro in Vancouver. There I was introduced to Cajun and Creole cooking, slinging their marinated Alligator, Andouille gumbo, and Jambalaya for eight months straight. And their cornbread? I left Vancouver carrying 12 extra pounds of it. Some souvenirs are tough to lose, even when they’re strapped right around your belly.

But onto the recipe: Black-eyed peas star in the famous Southern dish, Hoppin’ John. Eaten on New Year’s Day, the dish is thought to be lucky and is consumed widely. The beans’ characteristic markings are supposed to symbolize coins; when your plate runneth over your proverbial cup is said to follow suit. Collard greens, large cabbage-like leaves, are often served alongside Hoppin’ John. In this recipe, they star right alongside the beans, wrapping them tenderly like a rotund grandmother.

Now for the fun part. According to Wikipedia, on the day after New Year’s Day, leftover Hoppin’ John is called Skippin’ Jenny and shows a continuing frugality supposed to last throughout the year. Little did I know I had a namesake dish!

I happen to like Skippin’ Jenny much better than BBQ Black Eyed Pea Collard Rolls. My apologies to the cookbook’s authors Isa and Terry, but I might just have to re-christen your creation. After all, your lighter, greener, more vegged-out version is quite likely to make this Northern cook want to skip. I promise I’ll give you credit.

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