Walking into Philip Gelb‘s underground restaurant, you never know quite what to expect for dinner, no matter how carefully you study the menu in advance. It’s been many months now since I had the luxury of that fully immersive, in-person experience, but there are some moments indelibly imprinted in my memory.
It was a taste unlike any other I had encountered before, being shamefully uneducated on the entire Caribbean culinary canon in general. Leading with heady aromatics, simultaneously fiery hot yet creamy and soothing, it’s both familiar and entirely foreign. Tender vegetables enveloped in a voluptuous broth, almost thick enough to qualify as custard, smoldered quietly in deep earthen bowls. Dissecting the fundamental building blocks, the spices didn’t appear particularly exotic, nothing terribly esoteric; the combination of seemingly discordant elements, mixed with a generous pinch of technique, is where the true magic happens.
Run down stew is a staple of Jamaican cuisine, typically made with seafood, but no two cooks make it quite the same way. Coconut milk is the only constant, utterly irreplaceable component. Long simmered over low heat, the rich broth reduces to concentrate the flavor, thicken to a velvety consistency, and take on a subtly toasted, nutty aroma. Flavor like that doesn’t come out of a can; time and patience are really the most important ingredients here.
The genesis of the name is a bit murky, some attributing it to the way it’s cooked down and some of the more delicate vegetables fall apart. Personally, I’d like to believe that it comes from the ability to revive anyone who’s feeling a bit run down themselves. Forget about watery chicken soup; this stuff can truly soothe the soul.
- 3 Cups (About Two 13.5-Ounce Cans) Full-Fat Coconut Milk
- 1 Cup Water
- 1 Small Piece Kombu
- 1 Scotch Bonnet, Habanero, or Scorpion Pepper, whole
- 10 Gloves Garlic
- 1-Inch Fresh Ginger
- Several Springs Fresh Thyme
- 10 Whole Allspice Berries
- 3 Cups Diced Root Vegetables, such as Yams, Sweet Potatoes, Yucca, and/or Carrots
- 1 Cup Diced Eggplant
- 1/2 Cup Diced Zucchini
- 1/4 Cup Sliced Red Bell Pepper
- 3 Tablespoons Amchar Masala (See Note)
- 2 Teaspoons Salt
- 1/2 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
- Place a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the coconut milk, kombu, whole habanero, garlic cloves, ginger, thyme, and allspice berries. Bring to simmer, then lower heat and cook until the liquid has reduced by half. Be patient, as this could take as long as an hour.
- Use a slotted spoon to strain out and remove the allspice, kombu, garlic, ginger, and pepper. Compost or discard the solids.
- Add the root vegetables, eggplant, zucchini, pepper, and amchar masala. Stir well and cook approximately 15 minutes, or until the vegetables are cooked through and fork tender. Season with salt and pepper
Variations: In the summer, you can add fresh corn, okra, and tomatoes. In fall and winter, add pumpkin instead of some of the root vegetables. In spring, try incorporating green peas.
4 Tablespoons Whole Coriander Seeds
1 Tablespoon Whole Cumin Seeds
2 Teaspoons Black Peppercorns
1 Teaspoon Black Mustard Seeds
1 Teaspoon Whole Fennel Seeds
1 Teaspoon Ground Fenugreek
Toast all the seeds in a frying pan for 2 - 3 minutes, until highly aromatic. Grind in a spice mill or mortar and pestle. Store for up to 3 months in a tightly sealed container in a dark, cool space.
Recipe by Philip Gelb, Reprinted with Permission
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 659Total Fat: 38gSaturated Fat: 33gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 3gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 1173mgCarbohydrates: 78gFiber: 15gSugar: 13gProtein: 12g
All nutritional information presented within this site are intended for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and any nutritional information on BitterSweetBlog.com should only be used as a general guideline. This information is provided as a courtesy and there is no guarantee that the information will be completely accurate. Even though I try to provide accurate nutritional information to the best of my ability, these figures should still be considered estimations.