Growing up in Kingston, Jamaica, my girlfriend’s mother, Loraine Rickard-Martin, now a New York resident, knew that the scent of her grandmother’s pumpkin soup was a signal for everyone to come to dinner. The aromas are typical of long-stewed meats with herbs and hot chiles. The soup is traditionally made with green-skinned West Indian pumpkin, also called calabaza in this country, but butternut squash works well and is easier to break down. Simple flour-and-water dumplings — known as “spinners” in Jamaica — are added toward the end of cooking; these are the morsels everybody scours the soup pot for when it’s time for seconds. When working with hot chile peppers, take care not to touch your face with your hands; the oils can burn.
|1½||pounds boneless beef chuck, cut into 2-inch pieces|
|Salt and black pepper, to taste|
|3||tablespoons vegetable oil|
|1||West Indian pumpkin (about 2½ pounds) or 1 large butternut squash, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces|
|2||carrots, cut into ½-inch pieces|
|1||turnip, cut into ½-inch pieces|
|1||white-fleshed sweet potato, peeled and cut into ½-inch pieces|
|5||cloves garlic, coarsely chopped|
|4||scallions, thickly sliced|
|10||sprigs fresh thyme|
|1||tablespoon allspice berries|
|4||cups beef stock|
|4||cups water, or more if needed|
1. Sprinkle the beef all over with salt and black pepper. In a large soup pot over medium-high heat, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add the beef and cook without disturbing for 5 minutes. Turn and cook the other sides for 5 minutes more, or until browned. Transfer to a bowl.
2. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the pot. When it is hot, add the pumpkin, carrots, turnip, sweet potato, garlic, scallions, thyme sprigs, and allspice berries. Cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes.
3. Return the beef to the pot with the beef stock, water, salt, and black pepper. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and cover the pan.
4. Simmer for 1½ hours, or until the meat is very tender when pierced with a fork. Remove and discard the thyme sprigs from the pot. Taste the soup for seasoning and add more salt, if you like.
|Flour (for sprinkling)|
|½||cup water, or more if needed|
|1||Scotch bonnet, habanero, or other chile pepper, halved and|
1. Sprinkle a large plate with flour.
2. In a bowl, place the 1 cup flour. Gradually add the water, mixing until a sticky dough forms. Add 1 tablespoon more water, if needed. With well-floured hands, pull off tablespoon-size pieces of dough and roll back and forth between your hands to form oblong, gnocchi-like shapes. Set on the floured plate.
3. When the soup is ready, gently slip the dumplings into the pot with the chile pepper. Return the soup to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 10 minutes, or until the dumplings rise to the surface. Discard the chile pepper. Ladle the soup into bowls. Luke Pyenson. Adapted from Loraine Rickard-Martin