One-Pot Wonders

My Grandmother's Pepper Pot Soup

February 15, 2021
1 Ratings
Photo by Ty Mecham. Prop Stylist: Amanda Widis. Food Stylist: Anna Billingskog.
  • Prep time 1 hour
  • Cook time 2 hours
  • Serves 6
Author Notes

When the weather turned chilly in Toronto, my grandmother would cook up massive pots of hearty soups that she grew up with in Kingston, Jamaica. My childhood winters were full of ham bones or salted beef, hefty chunks of potatoes to smush with a fork, and lots of dumplings to fish from the pot.

Mostly, my Chinese-Jamaican grandmother made pumpkin or split pea soups. But late last fall, she ladled out a bowl I’d never seen before. It had the salted meat, the potatoes, the dumplings, the thick texture I recall from snowy days as a kid. But instead of the vibrant orange of pumpkin or pale yellow of split peas, this soup was a deep green. And it was delicious. I loved it.

From Guyana to Jamaica to Canada to the U.S., there are many iterations of pepper pot soup—chunky with stewed meat and starchy tubers, plus some sort of hot pepper for spice. Recipes might include coconut milk, tripe, or cassareep, a dark syrup made from reduced cassava juice. Though my grandmother’s take includes none of those.

This isn’t a recipe passed down from generation to generation. It simply came from a foreigner craving home, patched together through trial and error. My grandmother remembered the soup from her youth, and worked with the ingredients at hand.

When my grandparents first moved to Toronto in the early 1970s, few Jamaican ingredients were available in grocery stores. There wasn’t callaloo, a leafy green (this also refers to different dishes across the Caribbean highlighting the ingredient). “There wasn’t even canned ackee,” my grandmother told me, referring to the fruit with creamy yellow flesh that makes up half of Jamaica’s national dish, ackee and saltfish. But by the mid ’80s, Canadian shelves started carrying more and more Caribbean items, including callaloo, meaning my grandmother could finally recreate her favorite comfort foods like pepper pot soup.

“But then the kids, they didn’t really like callaloo when they were younger, so I usually made other soups instead,” my grandmother explained. “I started making it again from time to time when it was just your grandfather and myself.”

I originally learned to make this recipe in person with my grandmother, during one of our cooking lessons—but these days, she directs via video call, judging my soup's thickness and my dumplings’ shapes from behind her tablet. —chalaine chang

What You'll Need
  • 1/2 pound salted beef or pig tail
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes
  • 2 medium white potatoes
  • 1 pound yellow yam
  • 1 pound boneless beef shank, cut into 1 1/2–inch chunks
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • Salt
  • 1 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil
  • 1 (19-ounce) can callaloo, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 pound fresh or frozen okra (about 2 cups)
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 3 scallions, halved crosswise
  • 5 sprigs thyme
  • 2 tablespoons salted butter
  • 1 Scotch bonnet pepper
  1. Rinse the salted beef and cut it into roughly 1 1/2–inch chunks. Place these (or the pig tail) into a small pot of cold water and bring to a boil. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes. Drain the water. Refill the pot with cold water. Bring to a boil again, and cook for 5 minutes. Drain the water.
  2. Add 3 1/2 quarts of water to a large pot and bring to a boil. While that’s heating up, peel the sweet potatoes, white potatoes, and yellow yam. Chop into 1 1/2–inch chunks and add to a bowl of cold water to prevent any discoloration.
  3. Add the salted beef (or pig tails) and beef shank to the boiling water. Cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the stew beef is tender (the salt beef is dense, so it won’t really seem as tender at this point).
  4. While the beef is boiling, prepare the spinner dumplings: Combine the flour, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and oil in a large bowl. Slowly pour in 1/2 cup of water, stirring with a fork to form a dough. Once the mixture turns into small clumps, switch from the fork to your hand to knead gently, until you have a soft, smooth dough. You may need to add a bit more water along the way, but the dough should not be sticky. Pinch off slightly less than a tablespoon of dough and roll between your palms to create a long dumpling, about 3 1/2 inches long, like a fat caterpillars. Repeat with the remaining dough.
  5. When the beef shank is tender, use a slotted spoon or spider to remove the meat from the pot and transfer to a bowl. Keep the broth in the pot—this will serve as the base for the soup.
  6. Add the callaloo, okra, and garlic to the broth and boil for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat. Blend until the callaloo and okra are smooth with an immersion blender or a countertop blender.
  7. Set the pot with the puree over a medium-high heat. Drain the potatoes and yam. Add these to the pot with the meat, dumplings, scallions, thyme, butter, and Scotch bonnet. Cover and boil for 30 minutes, until the potatoes are tender, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. (Be careful to avoid bursting or puncturing the Scotch bonnet, or the soup will be very spicy.) Salt to taste.
  8. Remove the Scotch bonnet, thyme, and scallions. Use a fork and knife to remove the Scotch bonnet’s seeds and stem, then slice into small pieces to serve alongside the soup, for everyone to add to taste.

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