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The Legacy of Flavor: Haitian Legume
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The Legacy of Flavor: Haitian Legume

Yield: 4 to 6 people

Haitian cuisine is a blend of French, African, Arab, Spanish and Taíno native influences. One may find some similarities to Creole cuisine and Latin Caribbean cuisine, however, there are also flavors and dishes unique to Haiti. 

Much of the rich and spicy flavors are sourced from two jars found in nearly every Haitian household, starting with a base known as epis. Epis is a combination of green onions, thyme, parsley, peppers and garlic marinade or paste; this forms the foundation of most traditional Haitian dishes. The second jar would be pikliz, which is often used as a spicy garnish and consists of pickled cabbage and Scotch bonnet peppers. This mixture of peppers and herbs is used to add bold African flavors. 

This Haitian legume recipe is one passed down in every Haitian household with some variations, including its choice of meat protein. Legume is a thick vegetable stew—a mashed mixture of eggplant, cabbage, chayote, spinach, watercress and other vegetables, depending on house preference. It’s one of the most popular dishes served at any Haitian restaurant—whether it’s a hole in the wall or upscale dining—and will almost certainly be the first menu item to sell out. Most frequently made with stewed beef or goat, it may also be made with pork shoulder. Legume is occasionally spruced up for special occasions with seafood ranging from shrimp, lambi (conch), or more commonly blue or snow crab legs. In this dish, all these cultural influences listed above come together.

In the same way some families will find comfort coming together around a pot of gumbo to celebrate or mourn, legume mirrors the environment in the Haitian household. Often these dishes are prepared early in the day, allowing the vegetables to break down and the meat to tender. As you walk into a home where this is being made, the scent of spices will envelop you. In this moment, you can be certain our ancestors knew these ingredients by heart. This is the same reason not one mother or grandmother will share the same recipe—you might even get different versions from the same person. But each version is just as special as the last. 

My recipe is a modified version of my mother’s—and is most likely a modified version of hers.

Sabine Mondesir is the founder of Chef Bee’s Kitchen (CBK), a full food service company providing nutrition education, private dinners, and private cooking lessons in New York City. This recipe was published in The At Home Issue of Life & Thyme Post, our quarterly newspaper shipping exclusively to L&T members. Get your copy.

Ingredients

Epis

  • 4 scallions, roughly chopped
  • 1 bunch of curly parsley, stems removed and roughly chopped (about 1 cup, tightly packed)
  • ½ bunch of cilantro stems, removed and roughly chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 1 red or yellow onion
  • ½ green bell pepper, de-seeded
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 tbsp. salt
  • ½-1 cup white vinegar

Pikliz

  • 2 cups cabbage, shredded
  • 1 cup carrot, grated
  • 1 bell pepper, sliced
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 3 scallions, diced
  • 1 shallot, sliced
  • Salt, to taste
  • Pepper, to taste
  • 1 Scotch bonnet pepper, divided
  • 2 cups white wine vinegar

Legume

  • 6 blue crab, or 2 snow crab, leg clusters
  • 1-1 ½ lb. stew beef
  • ½ cup epis or sofrito
  • 2 limes
  • 2 tbsp. sour orange
  • 2-3 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 3-4 cups cabbage, chopped
  • 1 large eggplant, peeled and sliced
  • 2-4 carrots, thinly sliced
  • 2 chayote squash, peeled and sliced
  • 4 cups spinach
  • 1 cup trimmed string beans and/or lima beans
  • ½ cup onions, roughly chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1-2 Scotch bonnet pepper
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • ⅛ tsp. clove powder
  • 1 tsp. onion powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 4 cloves
  • 1 star anise
  • 2-3 Maggi bouillon cubes, or 1-2 tbsp. of Better than Bouillon (optional)
  • Garnished with Haitian pikliz

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Method

  1. Epis and pikliz can be prepared the night before. For the epis, place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Cover and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks. You can also freeze for up to 4 months. I sometimes separate it into ice cube trays.
  2. For the pikliz, combine shredded cabbage, grated carrot, 1 sliced bell pepper, 1 sliced onion, 3 sliced scallions, 1 sliced shallot, and 2 sliced Scotch bonnets in a large bowl. Add the salt and black pepper. Thoroughly mix all ingredients together, and then place in sterilized glass jars. Cover contents with white wine vinegar, then put the lid on the jar; store in the refrigerator overnight to marinate. This can be stored in the refrigerator for months. In fact, it gets better with time.
  3. The next day, place meat in a bowl and rinse with cold water to remove excess blood, or until water is mostly clear. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of salt and squeeze the juice of 1 lime. Use lime cut into halves to rub in salt until all the meat has changed color slightly.
  4. Bring 3 cups of salted water to a boil. Pour over meat and drain immediately.
  5. Marinate meat with ¼ cup of epis. Let sit in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour, or overnight.
  6. Clean the crabs. If you are using blue crab, remove the tips of the legs. Rinse the crabs in water and vinegar, or lemon juice with water. Add to a large bowl and marinate with lime juice, sour orange juice, black pepper, salt, garlic and hot pepper. Set aside.
  7. Brown meat over medium-low heat in a dutch oven or heavy-bottom pot. Add tomato paste, fresh garlic seasonings, Maggi cubes or Better than Bouillon, and water or broth to cover the beef. Add chopped green bell pepper and onions; place on top of the beef while it’s cooking. Cook meat until tender. Remove meat from pot; set aside.
  8. Add 1 tablespoon of oil to pot. Fry 1 tablespoon of epis and tomato paste for less than a minute while stirring. Be careful not to let it burn.
  9. Add half of the diced chopped vegetables; stir into the tomato paste. Cook down vegetables for about 5 minutes while continuously stirring. Add remaining vegetables and thyme, and repeat this step.
  10. Add meat, cloves and additional Maggi if needed. Reduce heat to medium-low; cover and let simmer for 45 minutes.
  11. Add crab and Scotch bonnet pepper; stir into mix. Cover and cook for an additional 20 minutes.
  12. Before serving, use a fork to mash or break down vegetables. Serve with white rice, and garnish with Haitian pikliz.
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