By Peter Rajchert
Peter Rajchert lives in Markham, Ontario. He discovered the richness of Haitian culture when he met his wife Sandra whose parents come from Haiti. He and Sandra have two children, a four-year-old daughter and a two years old son.
One of my favorite comfort meals is rice with sauce pois vert. I learned about this magnificent dish from the woman who would become my mother-in-law at the Haitian parties that she and my girlfriend Sandra’s father organized in the basement of St. Louis de France Parish in northern Toronto. They raised funds for an orphanage in Haiti through the parties. Local Haitian families would prepare chicken, salads, griot and other dishes in huge quantities and bring them to St. Louis on aluminum trays.
I knew nothing about Haitian cuisine at the time. My only awareness of Caribbean cooking in general came from Jamaican dishes such as jerk chicken and curried goat that I would periodically buy in a couple of local Jamaican restaurants. Toronto’s Jamaican population is more substantial than Haiti’s. Haitians have largely settled in Montreal where life happens in French. In the basement of St. Louis de France Parish, however, the spirit of Haiti was I thought as vibrant as anywhere in Port-au-Prince.
I would be driving along Don Mills Parkway, surrounded by warehouses and bland offices and then a little later in a small, modest church I would sway to the gentle beats of Kompa, listening to conversations flowing in French and Haitian Creole and eating sauce pois vert with rice.
The rice that one eats with sauce pois vert is soft but not moist. One has to distinguish each grain in one’s mouth. The sauce reaches its delicate texture after a process of blending and boiling the sweet peas that are its main ingredient. Salt, pepper and a homemade onion broth (onion slices boiled in a little bit of water) give the sauce the potency that I crave.
Sandra’s mother still makes rice and sauce pois vert regularly. My son and daughter eat the dish with as much gusto as their Polish-born father. On a plate, the rich green sauce contrasts beautifully with the whiteness of the rice. We inhale the aroma, put our forks into the dish and stir, dispersing the splash of green and coating with it the rice. Inside our mouths this mixture is utter bliss.