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Tru Bahamian Must Eat: Peas and Dumpling Soup

a plate of food

With temperatures dropping to a sweater-worthy 75° here in The Bahamas, many a kitchen will begin to exude the aromas of cherished winter soups and stews to stave off chilly ocean breezes. For most of us though, it is Bahamian Peas and Dumpling the soup that is most sought after at this time of year due to its rich, comforting flavours and “meal-in a bowl” hearty convenience.

While this Bahamian specialty dish is very similar to the traditional (and more universally familiar) split pea soup in its use of shared ingredients such as cured ham, vegetables, and spices like thyme and bay leaf, Bahamian Peas and Dumpling Soup is noticeably differentiated by its thick body featuring large chunks of ham (still on the bone) and its rich brown color which results from our use of pigeon peas (also used in Bahamian Peas n’ Rice), which are small, oval-shaped peas with a pleasant, nutty flavour. Most distinctly of all however, are the large, soft dough dumplings you’ll find bobbing amongst the peas, vegetables and salty pork. These treasured bits of dough are savored with care by diners and they add an additional layer of comfort to the soup that keep us warmed up all winter long!

 Origins Of The Dish

a plate of food with rice meat and vegetables
British Savory Dumpling- Credit: Food  /  African Banku- Credit: How To Prepare Banku

Bahamian Peas and Dumpling Soup represents a combination of The Bahamas’ British and African roots. The dish is in fact a variation of split pea soup, originating in Britain and Ireland where the dish was once called “pease pudding.” This was a high-protein, low-cost meal ideal for sailors because the dish utilized dried peas and cured ham, both easily stored during long voyages. On the other hand, the use of pigeon peas instead of split peas came can be traced back to our African heritage. The pigeon pea is thought to be first be cultivated in India and migrated through trade to Eastern and Western Africa. By means of the slave trade, it then made its way to the Caribbean where it became a quickly adapted replacement for the split green peas in the soup.

As for the signature dumplings in the dish, the reason for their introduction into the soup is not as clear. Savory dumplings have long been part of traditional British cuisine, where flour and suet (raw beef or mutton fat) are combined with cold water to form a dough ball and then added to boiling pots of stews and soups to cook. However it is also possible that the Caribbean dumpling may have also originated from the African Banku, a starchy ball of dough made from either cornmeal or flour and cooked by steaming or boiling.

What’s In The Dish?

a pile of peas
Credit: The Permaculture Project

Bahamian Peas and Dumpling Soup has a reputation for being quite versatile because chefs often throw any ingredients on hand into the pot that will stretch the dish out further. It is after all, a community dish of sorts, commonly feeding a household (or several families) of people at one time. The essential ingredients in Bahamian Peas and Dumpling Soup generally include: ham, pigeon peas, vegetables like onions, green bell peppers, carrots, and potatoes, stewed tomatoes and tomato paste. Of course, most chefs also use local goat peppers (or Scotch Bonnet peppers) to give the dish an extra kick. Other chefs include coconut milk to add a nutty sweetness to the savory crock, others throw in sliced plantains and some even like to stir in a bit of browning (a mixture of vegetable concentrates and seasonings) to create a richer color. In truth- everything goes with this delectable dish so feel free to experiment and make it your own!

Where To Find It?

a close up of a plate of pizza

Credit: Crucian Contessa

Due to the year-round accessibility of its ingredients, and its reliable belly-warming properties, Bahamian Peas and Dumpling Soup has become a favourite dish that locals enjoy any time the temperature drops during the year. But if we’re being honest, finding Peas and Dumpling Soup throughout the year at local restaurants and in home kitchens isn’t uncommon. From special gala events and prixe-fixed dinners to roadside food trucks (served in a styrofoam cup with a hefty side of Johnny Cake), Bahamian Peas and Dumpling Soup can make a welcome appearance on almost any occasion.

Top 5 Places to Find Bahamian Peas and Dumpling Soup in Nassau:

Bahamian Cookin’– Trinity Place off Market Street in downtown Nassau. Phone: (242) 328-0334
The Kitchen– Off Shirley Street opposite Thompson’s Trading Building. Phone: (242) 394-5202
Chives Café– Blake Road in the New Providence Community Centre (try their vegetarian recipe as well.) Phone: (242) 327-1660
Cricket Club– Haynes Oval, West Bay Street opposite The Arawak Cay Fish Fry. Phone: (242) 326-4720
Checker’s Café– Several locations: Fox Hill, Mackey Street, Robinson Road, and Carmichael Road. Phone: (242) 394-6538

 Bahamian Peas and Dumpling Soup Recipe

a plate of food
Credit: Pic2Fly

For a traditional take on this Tru Bahamian Must Eat- try Granma Tookie’s recipe from Long Island, Bahamas! While many Long Islanders use the same general ingredients as the usual Bahamian recipe (with the exception of a preference for sweet potatoes and liberal amounts of plantain), chefs in the Southern Bahamian Islands also use home-grown pigeon peas, which are hand-picked, shelled, and dried in the sun. Of course, pigeon peas are also available in local grocery stores for those of us who prefer to skip the production line! Here’s what you’ll need:

Peas Soup Ingredients:
1 Lb. Pork Ribs, chopped
1 Cup Smoked Ham, diced into medium cubes
2-16 oz Can Pigeon Peas (red kidney beans can be substituted if pigeon peas are unavailable)
12 Cups Water
1 Tbsp Vegetable Oil
2 Onions, diced
1 Green Bell Pepper, diced
2 Tomatoes, diced
½ Cup Tomato Paste
2 Potatoes, diced large cubes
2 Tbsp Dried Thyme
Salt and Pepper, to taste

Dumpling Ingredients:
1 Cup White Flour
1 tsp Salt
½ tsp Black Pepper
½ Cup Milk

In a large pot, place the pork ribs and cured ham along with the pigeon peas in water. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and cover partially to cook for 2 hours. Once the meat has cooked, strain the broth and set aside. Return the meat and pigeon peas to the pot with vegetable oil and fry until slightly browned. Then add the onions, green bell peppers, tomatoes, tomato paste, thyme, and salt and pepper to the pot and simmer for 10 minutes. Return the strained broth to the pot and allow soup to simmer while you prepare the dumplings. In a separate bowl, mix together flour, salt and pepper, and milk and stir until well-combined and a dough begins to form. Using a tablespoon, drop rounded spoonfuls of dough into the simmering soup. Bring to a boil for 10 minutes, then cover, reduce heat and simmer an additional 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let rest for 15 minutes, then serve in bowls with local hot pepper tonics, adding as much pepper as you like!

Alternative Ingredients:

  • For a sweeter dish, replace the strained broth with 1-13.5 oz can of coconut milk. You can also replace the potatoes with sweet potatoes to compliment the coconut milk.
  • For a vegetarian version, replace the meat products with cabbage, corn, plantain, and/or sweet potatoes!
  • For a gluten-free version, eliminate the flour dumplings.