If I had to be honest, that first episode of Flame On where I tackled the issue of putting dumplings in soup was done so with the intent of triggering the audience and inviting impassioned responses. I was well aware of the fact that dumplings have a special place in the hearts of most Trinbagonians and I am well aware of the significance it plays as a go-to staple for many families as a means to provide a filling meal on a budget. This however didn’t deter me from creating the first video in the Flame On series that I knew would evoke the most disparaging views on my stance. Now to be clear, this is not to say that I created the video as click bait. Every opinion that I shared in the Flame On series are real opinions I have on food which is why it’s taking me so long to start a second season. So while I knew the type of engagement I would get from posting that video but also the amount of negative responses it would invite, I went in head first. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a vault of unpopular opinions and never afraid of sharing them.
Let’s get beyond the supposed blasphemy and consider two things:
The role that soup plays in our diet
How do we prepare soup in a way that it fulfills its role effectively
Soup is traditionally known to be that meal your mother or grandmother would make for you when you’re sick. That is to say, the whole idea behind soup is that it’s something nourishing, hearty and wholesome and while i’m not the biggest health freak or diet conscious person, I try to be cognizant of the amount of “not-so-good” meals I consume in ratio to the amount of healthy meals I consume. Also, because I cook most of the meals I eat and rarely eat out, I get to make better decisions and I have more control over what I eat on a daily basis. The irony is that this level of discernment may be needed much more for the person who has to buy breakfast and lunch during the average work week and may make dinner for themselves, but I digress.
The average Trini consumes a considerable amount of refined white flour on a weekly basis, whether it’s doubles, sada roti, buss-up-shut, sandwiches, pizza, fry bake, coconut bake, pies, currants roll or cake, we are all consuming one or a combination of a few of these items regularly and soup is that one sacred meal in which we can strike a much needed balance to our diet. We can agree that the lore behind soup is that “its good for you” and as a cook, whether you’re a chef, a caterer, enthusiast or doing it to feed your family, paying attention to the ingredients you work with and their nutritional benefits is something that should never be neglected. Dumplings are used to give a soup “body” and leave the person eating it satiated but the dumplings we know (and love) are simple carbs with very little nutritional benefit. On the flip side let’s take a look at what we have readily available to us as an alternative to dumpling – Ground Provisions.
To give a soup that hearty element we have a variety of provisions easily acquired and ready for the pot. Dasheen, cassava, potato, sweet potato, green fig, carrots and eddoes are all tubers with amazing health benefits and varying flavors and textures that are complex carbs, also adding great nutritional value to any soup. It makes absolutely no sense to me to have all these healthy and delicious options available and choose boiled flour instead or worse yet, in addition. So let’s pause for a cause to acknowledge that there is absolutely no reason to add provisions AND dumplings to a soup. That is just plain greediness and not the type of food consumption I promote. If you look at any of my recipes or the foods I post about, they are almost never excessive. I don’t really like foods that are excessive in nature. I would never make a lasagna with four cheeses, I would never make one of those tall burgers that have 20 different ingredients in them nor would I ever think of adding dumplings to a soup that already had provisions. Some people argue that its a textural thing, which in the scheme of things is low on the totem pole of what makes a soup taste good. I have asserted in the past and will continue to state vehemently that if the texture of dumplings is what hangs your soup in the balance between “enjoyable” and “fail” then your soup was sub par to begin with.
How to “maintain ah wholesome” in soup.
Omit flour totally, there is no need for flour in soup. I once heard a corn soup vendor bragging that she used flour to thicken the soup and I thought to myself “this woman can’t cook” because you can’t tell me in our country where pumpkin and dhal is super cheap, that you would opt for using flour to thicken your soup rather than something nutritious, unrefined and that HAS MORE FLAVOR! Not to mention, if you’re adding any kind of provision to a soup, even if its just potatoes and carrots, the starch from the provision will thicken the broth. Under no circumstances are you allowed to use golden ray in your soup. As a matter of fact, throw away any golden ray you may have in your kitchen and never buy it again. If you want to add that rich creole flavor, buy a bottle of roucou. Use a lot of garlic and ginger and don’t be afraid to incorporate spices into your soup. A tablespoon of geera in a soup adds great flavor. A teaspoon of saffron (turmeric) in there for color also adds all the benefits that come with that spice.
Pushing our cuisine forward.
Its no secret that on the channel we pay full respect to our culinary traditions here in the Caribbean, but I think just as with anything else, we need people who understand changes to the dietary requirements in our evolving landscape, people who understand the shift in economics and the availability of certain foods, the inter-island relationships formed through food and all the other factors that determine our culinary identity to experiment and build upon our food traditions. We love our grannies, our tanties and mothers but we have to examine what we know and see how it applies to our everyday lives and more importantly, how we can improve on it. Regardless of our attachment and romance with the traditional, we must apply critical thinking to push things forward. Leave the dumpling for the curry crab and pack your soup with more complex carbs. Keep it wholesome, keep it delicious. Health, Strength and Powers.
Check out my recipe for a delicious and wholesome veggie soup below: