Every once in a while, I get a hankering for an old familiar flavour. Growing up, one of the best breakfast treats was souse, a tart, fresh soup with a base of onion, sweet pepper, garlic, carrots, potatoes, and lemon or lime, seasoned with salt, pepper, hot pepper, bay leaves, and pimento. Oh yeah, and traditionally there’s chicken in there.
The other common alternative (which traumatized me even in my pre-vegan days) is sheep tongue souse. My mother didn’t include sheep tongue souse in her repertoire, so I was utterly unaccustomed to the idea. Until that moment at a potluck breakfast when I lifted a lid and was greeted with a soup that appeared to be filled with little children’s tongues.
That trauma aside, the concept of souse still has happy memories for me. I’ve always thought of it as a lighter, clearer soup (in contrast to the barley-laden, stand-a-spoon-up-in-it thick brews my mother otherwise made), and the pungent onions and garlic combined with the zip of limes (if lucky, limes tugged from a tree in the yard) make souse ideal for when you’re feeling under the weather.
But a vegetable souse (along with vegetable dishes in general, aside from the wretched frozen mixed veg, heavy cole slaws, pickled beets, and boiled corn) is not part of the traditional Bahamian diet. I’m all about breaking tradition, or at least reclaiming them and making new ones. Obviously, I omitted both chicken and the taste organs (and other organs) of fluffy lambs and ewes (and rams).
I used chickpeas for protein and heartiness–in a previous attempt, I’d added red lentils, which melted away in the broth, and made it a little too thick. To round out the flavour and add a bit of heft to the broth, I used a touch of curry powder (it may look like a heavy touch, but against the lime, it doesn’t take over). Finally, because I believe in greens, and because I can’t get enough of the stuff, I added black kale. Side note: if you haven’t tried black kale, please do. I find it more tender and flavourful than standard kale, and it’s very high in fibre, antioxidants, vitamins A, C, and K, and manganese.
My souse is ultra light on the pepper–I know people who will add great chunks of goat pepper (Scotch Bonnet…think hell in a delicious mouthful) to their soup as a special surprise for diners. I wasn’t much in the mood for hot pepper, so I left it out altogether. Don’t tell the authorities, though. They might take my passport away.
6 medium-to-small black kale leaves, stems removed and sliced, leaves left whole and set aside
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, sliced about a 1/2″ thick
2 cups cubed potatoes
1/2 a red sweet pepper, chopped
2 cups cooked chickpeas
3 bay leaves
20 pimentos (whole allspice)
5 tbsp oil (I use sunflower; your favourite healthy, very mild flavoured choice will do the trick)
2 tsp curry powder
9 cups water
Salt & pepper, to taste
1. In a large soup pot, heat 3 tablespoons of oil, then sautee chopped onion and kale stems over medium heat, until onion begins to turn translucent.
2. Add garlic, pimento, and bay leaves, and let sautee about another minute.
3. Add 9 cups of water, and bring to a boil. While waiting for the souse to boil, add the potatoes, sweet pepper, chickpeas, and carrots. Squeeze in juice from the two limes, add another 2 tbsp of oil, and season with curry powder, salt, and pepper.
4. Once the souse reaches the boil, lower the heat to medium-low and simmer for 35-40 minutes. Taste and add more salt and pepper, if needed.
5. Tear the black kale leaves into small pieces and add to the souse. Let simmer another 7-10 minutes.
6. Chow down!
I always clowned my mother for making ridiculously large quantities of soup in pots large enough to be legitimately termed ‘cauldrons’. I believe one of them required her to get a special stool to stand on so she’d be able to reach it properly.
Who’s laughing now?