This is a beautiful pale green soup, thick with fresh fish and vegetables, perfect for any weather. Don’t be put off by the idea of using green bananas in soup: they add a creaminess you wouldn’t expect. Pick the greenest, least ripe ones you can find, which should crack when you open them. Don’t use plantains instead. The cho cho is also known as christophene and it has a fresh crisp flavour like a crunchy courgette. You could substitute potato if you can’t find it.
This soup is very quick and easy to make and is packed with fresh healthy flavours. It’s my favourite dish at Etta’s.
Start by preparing your vegetables. I peel them all, except the okra. It is easiest to do the bananas with an actual vegetable peeler and I do them last as they exude a sticky sap that coats your hands. Chop the carrots, green bananas, cho cho, pumpkin and yam to the same size of dice – about 2cm. Cut the okra into 1cm thick slices – you want them to collapse down to thicken the soup.
In a pan large enough for the finished soup, heat the vegetable oil over a medium heat and add the spring onions, garlic, thyme and whole scotch bonnet pepper to make the ‘seasoning’. Cook this until softened, and then stir in the okra and heat it through for a minute or two. Add the rest of the vegetables and sweat, covered, for 5 minutes. Pour in the fish stock and just enough water to cover all the vegetables: this is a hearty thick soup so don’t use too much liquid. If you are using the fish head, put it in now to boost the flavour of the soup. Bring to the boil, cover with a lid and reduce the heat to a simmer for 20–30 minutes.
When all the vegetables are tender, add the fish. Get the fishmonger to cut it into steaks so it is still on the bone but skinless. Put the lid back on and cook the soup for another 10–15 minutes or until the fish is starting to flake. Set the fish to one side and smash the vegetables until the soup is thick and creamy but not a purée, using a potato masher or spoon. Return the fish to the pan. If you are using prawns, add them now and leave to cook over a very low heat for 5 minutes or until they turn pink.
Meanwhile, cook whatever shellfish you are using. I soak it in cold water while everything else cooks: if any shells open at this stage, discard them as they are unsafe to eat. Put the shellfish in a saucepan with about 3 tablespoons of water, cover with a lid and cook for 3–4 minutes over a medium heat, shaking the pan from time to time. The shells should have opened and given off a small amount of cooking liquor – discard any that haven’t opened.
Serve the soup in shallow bowls and top with the freshly cooked shellfish, including any cooking liquor. It’s delicious with Etta’s Jamaican dumplings on the side.
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