Caribbean Callaloo Stew – Simple to make, a flavorful way to serve up leafy green vegetables!
Callaloo Stew or just the shortened Callaloo is a national dish in many Caribbean countries, but particularly Trinidad and Tobago. Callaloo is of African origin, and as part of the African Diaspora via slave trade made its way to the Caribbean. Traditionally it is made with young dasheen leaves or Amaranth. Here in the U.S., unless you live in cities with large Caribbean populations, you’ll be hard pressed to find callaloo leaves. Some specialty grocery stores may have them, but if not baby spinach makes for best more readily available substitute.
Callaloo Stew doesn’t have to be a foreign concept. At the end of the day callaloo leaves are just another variety of what we consider greens. However, it’s what we do to these greens that make them stand-out, so it’s as much about the cooking process as it is about the actual greens. Don’t get me wrong, beyond providing that Caribbean authenticity callaloo leaves have a unique flavor profile as it’s somewhat bitter with nutty undertones.
In some ways a good Callaloo Stew is similar to gumbo and paella. Not from a taste or process standpoint, but in terms of the regional and local varieties in ingredients used. It has its core ingredients (callaloo leaves and scotch bonnet peppers), but certain areas will include items like okra or coconut milk. Some recipes will feature pork in some form or seafood like crab. If you recall the popular Cosby Show episode which featured Black Uhuru performing in the living room for the Huxtables’ anniversary, Chef Atkins used a whole skin on kiwi fruit. In my version of a vegan Callaloo Stew there is no kiwi, but I do include okra and coconut milk and added fresh pumpkin to make the dish more hearty, add some color, and to take advantage of seasonal ingredients. I did stay true to the traditional way of using the scotch bonnet, i.e. using the whole pepper vs. chopping it into pieces so as not let any one spice/ingredient dominate. Scotch bonnets are one of the hottest peppers in the world, so it could very easily dominate the dish and destroy this well balanced stew. Used this way, you get that chili pepper essence without the heat. Should you prefer the heat, feel free to slit a hole in the chile to release some of the fire into the stew.
Callaloo is not meant to be rushed. Slow simmering allows the ingredients to come together and brings an out of this world aroma to your kitchen. I find the longer it sits the better it gets. Once the cooking is complete, you have a big decision to make. The question is – do you puree or not? My family likes the chunky stew like texture/consistency similar to how it’s served/eaten in Jamaica. I personally am more partial to the Trinidadian way of pureeing the finished dish into thick and creamy goodness. During the holidays, especially during our time in Chicago, I generally served it in the latter style, while warmer seasons I went with the former.
Dope beats, fresh eats. Enjoy this tasty and healthy way to eat green leafy vegetables!
Caribbean Callaloo Stew
- 1 bunch callaloo leaves or substitute baby spinach
- 10 stalks okra chopped into 1-inch pieces
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/4 cup diced onions
- 3-4 garlic cloves minced
- 1 large red bell pepper chopped
- 1 whole scotch bonnet pepper deseeded and chopped
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 tablespoon smoked sweet paprika
- 1 cup fresh pumpkin peeled and cut into small cubes
- 3 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 cup vegetable stock
- 3 cups water
- 1 cup coconut milk
Bring large pot to medium heat and add the oil. Add onions and sauce 3-4 minutes. Add red peppers, garlic, and scotch bonnet peppers and sauce further 1-2 minutes.
Add pumpkin and okra saute for 2-3 minutes before. Add paprika, salt, and pepper and stir occasionally.
Add callaloo leaves/spinach, coconut milk, stock, and water bring the callaloo to a boil. Reduce to simmer and let the callaloo cook for 20-30 minutes until the vegetables are soft.
Use an immersion blender or food processor to puree the mixture if you prefer traditional Trinidadian creamy texture, otherwise leave as is. Taste and adjust by adding more seasoning if necessary.
Pour the soup into bowls and garnish with the hot pepper.