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Caribbean Vegetable Stew

By Dennis Linden

January is a good time to think tropical, especially for those readers in the northern latitudes. Perfect timing for this tasty Caribbean vegetable stew recipe submitted by Lori Hirai, who oversees Melissa’s Mail Order and Customer Service Departments. Lori uses several of Melissa’s most popular items from almost every category in our product line: two common fresh vegetables, an imported tropical fruit, a spicy fresh chili pepper, a jar of sweet peppers, a flavorful dried seasoning, a package of steamed beans and a superfood whole grain! The dish is truly a marriage of several flavors with a decidedly Jamaican flare.

The recipe, as with any stew, is pretty straightforward – put all the ingredients in a single pot and cook! However, there are two cooking options for this dish. Lori’s kitchen tool of choice is an Instant Pot, a brand of electric pressure cooker. Pressure cookers work by creating heat under a tight seal, so the temperature is much higher than the boiling point of water and the steam cannot escape. The steam cooks food much more quickly than traditional stovetop or oven cooking. For those without an Instant Pot, use a crockpot as I did. The difference being in the cooking time; with an Instant Pot Lori suggests 7 minutes, while my crockpot took a good 45 minutes for the quinoa to achieve the right texture.

Full disclosure, I have never had a stew with a banana in it! But I think it was Lori’s coconut milk that helped incorporate that uniquely tropical ingredient into this mix and it worked deliciously. In fact, I rather enjoyed “bumping” into an occasional taste of banana amongst the many different flavors that my palate was being treated to with each bite! The Pasilla pepper adds just enough spicy heat to linger in the background of every spoonful; the Pasilla is considered mild at only 1,000 to 2,500 on the Scoville scale in heat. If you want more spice you might want to sub in a Jalapeno [2,000 to 8,000 units] but I would not use a hotter pepper as there are so many other flavors in this dish to be savored.

Lori Hirai

Lori Hirai recently celebrated her 25th year as a member of the Melissa’s family! Melissa’s Mail Order is a busy place especially around the major holidays through the year. The company’s GIFTS selection on the website flex with seasonal fresh fruit availability and some are combined with assorted dry goods offering approximately one-hundred different themed gifts baskets of all sizes throughout the year. New ideas and combinations of products is also a part of Lori’s busy day.

“One of the most challenging as well as interesting things about my job is problem solving,” Lori explained. “I really enjoy coming up with creative and attractive designs for packing new items or helping my team resolve product claims of consumers. I have learned that a big part of problem solving is listening to others; feedback from a different perspective is often overlooked but it is key to working as a team. I also love to work on special projects, events and trade shows since it gives me the opportunity interact more with consumers.”

One of Lori’s passions when she is not in the office is done right outside our offices. That is, she is a huge animal-lover that has included rescuing several dogs and cats that have ended up around Melissa’s corporate office in a warehouse district of Los Angeles. Related, Lori is involved with fundraising for local animal rescue shelters, and, if fact, lives with two rescued feline roommates in her own household.

Lori’s other main interest is nutrition and fitness. She discovered this vegetable stew recipe while challenging herself to a 30-day vegan diet as a kind of detox discipline.

“Prior to the pandemic, I was taking a variety of fitness classes during the week as well as teaching one every Saturday. With gyms and small studios closed, I struggle to dedicate the same amount of time exercising. But I have compensated with at-home strength training by working with free weights and a rather complete collection of exercise equipment that I’ve accrued over the years. Still, I very much miss working in a group as it’s so much easier to stay motivated. Soon I hope we can all freely participate in indoor and outdoor physical activities like normal.”

I think we all wish the same! In the meantime, enjoy a bit of island paradise in a pot, compliments of Lori Hirai!

Caribbean Stew
Serves
8

Ingredients for Caribbean Stew

1 (28 oz.) can Fire Roasted Tomatoes
1 jar Melissa’s Fire Roasted Sweet Red Bell Peppers, drained
1 cup uncooked Melissa’s Red Quinoa, rinsed
1 Melissa’s Pasilla Pepper, seeded and diced
1 large Melissa’s Plantain (Green-Yellow), peeled and cut into ½” cubes
2 Zucchinis cut into ¾” cubes
1 Melissa’s Perfect Sweet Onion, diced
1 package Melissa’s Six Bean Medley, drained
1 (13.5 oz.) can Coconut Milk
1 tablespoon Melissa’s Hatch Pepper Seasoning
Salt and pepper to taste
*Add chopped Cilantro for garnish

Preparation

Prepare the pasilla pepper, plantain, zucchini and onion [mise en place] before starting this recipe.

Prepare the pasilla pepper, plantain, zucchini and onion [mise en place] before starting this recipe.

Place Melissa’s Fire Roasted Red Bells and fire roasted tomatoes in a blender, then pulse to desired texture – the more pulsed / the less chunky.

Place Melissa’s Fire Roasted Red Bells and fire roasted tomatoes in a blender, then pulse to desired texture – the more pulsed / the less chunky.

Transfer mixture from blender to an Instant Pot or Crock Pot. Add in all the other ingredients, stir to combine.

Transfer mixture from blender to an Instant Pot or Crock Pot. Add in all the other ingredients, stir to combine. If using an Instant Pot set for 7 minutes / if using a Crock Pot, cook on high for 60 minutes or until quinoa is cooked. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Plating: Serve in bowls, garnished with cilantro.
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