I'm not sure what it is about the winter weather, but it always seems to make me crave soup. There's something so comforting and satisfying about a bowl of hot soup on a cold day. And this Caribbean callaloo soup is the perfect cure for your winter blues.
It's rich, flavorful, and warming, and best of all, it's easy to make! So if you're looking for a hearty and delicious soup to enjoy this winter, be sure to try this Caribbean callaloo soup!
Callaloo is as delicious as it is healthy. It’s made with nutritious but flavorful leafy greens plus peppers, okra, and fresh herbs. All of these ingredients are simmered slowly to produce incredible balance and delivers pure indulgence.
Callaloo makes it on the menu for every holiday in our house, though a few of the ingredients get substituted depending on the season.
What is Callaloo Soup?
Callaloo Soup or just the shortened Callaloo is a national dish in many Caribbean countries, but particularly Trinidad and Tobago. Callaloo has it’s origins in West Africa, and as part of the African Diaspora via slave trade made its way to the Caribbean. Traditionally it is made with young dasheen leaves, taro leaves, or Amaranth. Taro leaves are popular in tropical climates.
Leafy greens are the common link across the different Caribbean countries, but the type of greens use will depend on the location. For the most part vegetables are the star so you’ll find many versions fully vegan or vegetarian.
In Jamaican callaloo you may find a protein like salt fish plus other ingredients like green onions or even tomatoes. Salt fish just refers to the meaty white fish that has been preserved by drying and curing in salt.
Beats and Eats (music to pair with callaloo)
Such a uniquely Caribbean dish pretty much requires Caribbean beats. It’s just a vibe thing. But to get even more specific it’s a Black Uhuru vibe - upbeat and just good times. Their song “Sponji Reggae” is also essential to one of the classic Cosby Show episodes where callaloo was served for the anniversary dinner.
WHAT YOU NEED TO MAKE CALLALOO
- Callaloo Leaves - baby spinach is a suitable alternative
- Olive oil
- Garlic cloves
- Red bell pepper
- Scotch bonnet peppers - habanero can be substituted
- Kosher salt
- Black pepper
- Fresh pumpkin
- Fresh thyme
- Vegetable stock - I prefer this over chicken stock to keep it purely vegan
- Coconut Milk
HOW TO MAKE CARIBBEAN CALLALOO (step by step)
Bring a large pot to medium heat and add the olive oil. Add the onions and saute 3-4 minutes. Add the diced red bell peppers, garlic, and scotch bonnet peppers sauteing another 1-2 minutes.
I prefer not to slice up the chili pepper as I don’t want things overly hot, so I keep the scotch bonnet whole and cut slits into the sides to mildly flavor the soup.
Add the pumpkin cubes and sliced okra, saute another 2-3 minutes. Season with paprika, salt, and pepper stirring as necessary. My favorite hack to save time is to premix my spices ahead of time and just add a pinch or two here and there as the food cooks.
Add callaloo leaves, coconut milk, stock, and water to the pot. Bring all to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and let the callaloo cook for 20-30 minutes until are soft.
Optional Step 4
Though I list this as an optional step, it’s definitely my preferred way to enjoy the soup. Use an immersion blender, regular blender, or food processor to puree the mixture for a more traditional Trinidadian creamy texture.
Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Pour the soup into bowls and garnish with the hot pepper and maybe green onions. Serve hot with freshly ground black pepper added as a finishing step.
CALLALOO RECIPE NOTES AND TIPS
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 the best more readily available substitute. You could try kale or even collard greens. Note either will likely change the texture and/or flavor of the soup a lot, but especially the collard greens.
Callaloo Soup has many regional and local varieties to it. It has its core ingredients (callaloo leaves and scotch bonnet peppers), but certain areas will include items like okra, pumpkin, or coconut milk. Some recipes will feature pork in some form or seafood like crab or salt fish as mentioned earlier. Chicken can be added as well.
Pumpkin adds color and makes this dish more hearty. It’s mild flavor works great with all the other contrasting flavors and actually helps to bring everything together. If you can find pumpkin, use it, especially if you’re trying this in the fall!
Stay true to the traditional way of using the scotch bonnet pepper, i.e. using the whole pepper vs. chopping it into pieces so as not to let any one spice/ingredient dominate. I like to cut a few slits into the pepper and let it simmer in the soup.
Be careful when handling the chilis as they are fire. If you plan to chop them up wear gloves! Trust me on this, as you don’t want any parts of the peppers touching any parts of your face, especially your eyes.
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 it cooks go enjoy a bottle of red stripe or two or three.
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. Make two batches, one pureed and one not to judge for yourself.
Make it a full Caribbean recipe and pair the callaloo with jerk red snapper or jerk baby back ribs. Otherwise, try it with a beef dish like Nigerian beef suya skewers. Serve with boiled green bananas or fried plantains to round things out.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Can Callaloo Be Frozen?
You can definitely freeze, but honestly it’s not something I like to do. The thawing process essentially dilutes the flavor. Just refrigerate it and get a few extra days of joy.
Can You Substitute Okra?
I find that without okra you lose such a significant aspect of the soup’s character. If you’re concerned about the slime factor of okra, don’t be. The okra plays more of a thickening role similar to gumbo.
Can You Use Canned Callaloo?
Yes if you can find it. Admittedly it's more readily available than fresh callaloo, but you'll need to look at specialty ethnic markets that serve Caribbean populations.
Can You Grow Callaloo Leaves?
You definitely can. It’s basically what I resorted to after trying my first ever batch homemade in Jamaica by a Jamaican cook. I was so impressed I got seeds from a local hook-up.
I will warn you though, Callalloo leaves will takeover your garden and then some. They actually took over my entire lawn in my backyard so be careful.
MORE SIMILAR RECIPES
MAKE THIS SOUP
The next time you want a taste of the Caribbean, try this callaloo soup. It’s easy to make and sure to please your palate. Thanks for following along with us today!
If you make this delicious callaloo recipe please come back and leave me a comment below with your feedback. Definitely take a photo of the dish and be sure to tag #foodfidelity so that I can see them.
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- 1 bunch callaloo leaves or substitute baby spinach
- ½ lb okra chopped into 1-inch pieces
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ¼ cup diced onions
- 3-4 cloves garlic 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.