As I write this I’m enjoying a delicious stew-like concoction reminiscent of a dish called poyke. This may cause you to wonder a couple of things: 1. What is poyke? And, 2. Why is he eating a stew on a sweltering July evening? Let me explain.
When I was living in Malibu I had occasion to hang out with some Israeli guys who had a cooking ritual they referred to as poyke, which basically amounted to filling a large, spherical cast iron pot (called a poyke pot) with all sorts of ingredients and cooking them on an outdoor fire. Apparently, the pot came to Israel via South Africa and in Afrikaans poyke means “small round pot,” but take that with a grain of salt as I never really knew when these guys were pulling my leg.
The legend around the pot says that anything put into it comes out tasting great. They proved this theory wrong on more than one occasion and I once had the displeasure of eating a creation that had Diet Coke in the broth…it was vial. But once I got my hands on this magic pot and started applying some of my culinary skills to it, I really was amazed at the fantastic stews that came out (not that I didn’t have a few blunders myself and let’s just say my masala curry idea did not pan out).
I don’t know if it’s the pot or the fact that cooking is done on an open fire, but poyke can be delicious. It generally involves using some sort of meat (usually chicken, but any meat will do as will vegetarian options); onions, garlic and herbs (rosemary grows wild in California all year round so that was often our herb of choice); vegetables such as sweet potato, turnip, carrots, celery, hearty leafy greens and other veggies that can stand up to longer cooking times; a liquid of some sort for broth (I like using wine); and a grain, most often rice. You get your pot nice and hot on the fire and start by searing your meat, onions and garlic. Then you add your other veggies and let them sizzle a bit. Then add your liquid, put the lid on and let ‘er boil.
When you’ve got about 15 minutes left before it’s finished, add your grain. These guys often went for white rice, which I’m not crazy about so I tried it with brown rice once, but because of its longer cooking time it ended up stuck to the sides of the pot and burnt. Solution: quinoa – it cooks fast but is a whole grain – healthy, functional and delicious.
Part of the fun of a poyke, though, is the communal cooking vibe of sitting around the fire waiting for your food to be done: The smells, the arguing over methodology, watching the sun set, to me this is summertime cooking, even if the food is usually thought more of as a winter dish.
So, armed with a cast iron enamel pot, a birthday gift from my sister, I decided to try and replicate that ritual. The pot isn’t quite right since it’s enamel and flat on the bottom, but it will do. And I don’t have an open fire, but I do have a barbecue. People often don’t think about using a barbecue for anything other than grilling, but using it as an outdoor oven works well and won’t heat up your house in the summer. I regularly use my barbecue as a stove top, griddle, oven or grill with the help of some cast iron cookware and a little imagination. I have a friend who gets really creative with his BBQ and recently made pizza and banana bread in his backyard.
I am happy to report my poyke turned out fantastic! And let me conclude by saying I don’t think you actually need some sort of magic pot to get the food to come out great, all you do need is this: cast iron cookware plus even heat distribution equals a delicious meal. Just don’t stick a Diet Coke in it.
The Healthy Foodie is Doug DiPasquale