Comfort Food

My son came for a visit last week. I assumed one of the reasons was to enjoy some of my cooking. Why else leave sunny Rome for cloudy Sulzburg? I asked if there was anything he would particularly like, and he said no, which left it up to me.  IMG_20180226_0837565

I enjoy cooking. It’s partly a control issue. I have a well-deserved reputation as a picky eater, and if I am the one doing the cooking then I am sure I will like what is being served.

Probably the first solid food my son ever tasted, several months before his first birthday, was a Liberian dish known simply as “greens.” In Liberia those are collard leaves that are used to make a spicy stew. Collard leaves aren’t common in Canada, but I found spinach to be an acceptable substitute. It seemed to make sense, to me anyway, that I should make him some greens – I doubt he can get them in Italy. .

What makes greens special is the pepper Liberians use. It is definitely hot. I made my own once, using a mortar and four-foot-long pestle and managed to burn my hands when some of the pepper splashed on them. I’ve never seen the stuff for sale here or in Canada, but I do have a small supply on hand. IMG_20180226_0837405

I remember buying it – it was on my last visit to the Paynesville Supermarket, located in a suburb of Monrovia. It was April 1990, and we were preparing to leave the country, forced out by a civil war.

At the time I didn’t think I was buying a 30-year supply, though I hoped I could make it last for a year or two. However, once back in North America I found we weren’t eating as much spicy African food. What was daily when we lived there is now two or three times a year. So, my ground pepper has lasted me quite nicely, which in a way has surprised me.

I must confess that I have always been under the impression that hot pepper loses its potency over time. I think I heard somewhere that is true of spices, and just assumed pepper was included in that. Maybe this stuff has lost some of its zest, but less than, a teaspoon was enough to ensure a deliciously spicy meal. I wouldn’t serve it to people I hadn’t warned beforehand – in Liberia they use the pepper to punish wayward children. A grain or two directly on the tongue keeps kids in line.

While I was making the dish, which you serve over rice, I marveled at the staying power of the pepper. I’m not sure what I will do in a couple of years time when I finally run out of the stuff. It seems like overkill to fly to Liberia just to buy some pepper.

Maybe I can find an African store somewhere closer that stocks something similar. I hope so.

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