Callaloo is a fond memory for many Trinidadians, myself included, however I did not know that many foreigners consider it to be our national dish! My mother told me that the first thing she often did for visiting friends (her first 10 years in Trinidad) was take them for some of this dish. She says that even though Jamaica has a dish called callaloo with basically the same ingredients the final result is quite different from ours.
Callaloo is basically a thick soup of pureed ‘callaloo bush’, okra and various seasonings and additions, sometimes crab, sometimes salted meat. For those who don’t have access to ‘callaloo bush’ (also known as dasheen or taro), I’ve been known to use bhaji in a pinch (no huge difference in taste), and many overseas cooks use spinach with more than acceptable results. For kashrut reasons my version is 100% vegetarian but I think it was quite tasty 🙂
Callaloo (sometimes calaloo) is a Caribbean dish that is most popular in Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, and Jamaica (known as pepperpot). The main ingredient of which is a leaf vegetable, traditionally either amaranth (known by many local names including callaloo or bhaji), or taro or Xanthosoma species (both known by many local names including callaloo, coco, tannia, or dasheen bush). Because the leaf vegetable used in some regions may be locally called “callaloo” or “callaloo bush”, some confusion can arise among the different vegetables and with the dish itself. Outside of the Caribbean, spinach is occasionally used.
Plant sources for Callaloo leaves
* Taro – also called dasheen in the West Indies the leaves of this root crop are used in the Trinidadian version of the dish
* Tannia or Malanga called calalu in Puerto Rico
* Amaranth species include Amaranthus spinosus used in the West Indies and A. flavus is a yellow variety used in Brazil and known as caruru
* Pokeweed species Phtolacca octandra or West Indian foxglove
* Nightshade species Solanum nodiflorum
Callaloo is almost always made with okra and dasheen or spinach. There are many variations of callaloo which may include coconut milk, crab, Caribbean lobster, meats, chile peppers, and other seasonings. The ingredients are added and simmered down to a soup or stew consistency. When done, callaloo is dark green in color and is served as a soup or a side dish which may be used as a gravy for other food.
Callaloo is widely known throughout the Caribbean and has a distinctively Caribbean origin, created by African slaves using ideas of the indigenous people along with both African (okra) and indigenous (Xanthosoma) plants.
Trinidad Callaloo (vegetarian) (adapted from the Naparima Girls’ High School Cookbook)
About 12 dasheen leaves (or bhagi or large spinach)
2 cups coconut milk
1 tbsp butter
1 scotch bonnet pepper
2 sprigs thyme
1 cup boiling water
1 pack Maggi fish/vegetable seasoning
1. Strip the stalks and midrib from the dasheen leaves (if using) and wash well
2. Wash and cut up the ochroes and seasonings
3. Put all the ingredients, except the butter, into a pot with the boiling water and simmer until everything is soft (keep the hot pepper near the surface)
4. Remove the pepper and blend the ingredients into a puree
5. Add the butter