Callaloo is a Caribbean dish that originated in Africa. It is typically made with amaranth leaves (aptly called callaloo in the West Indies), taro leaves (dasheen), or water spinach; since these plants are somewhat hard to find in the United States, spinach is a common replacement stateside. There are many variations of this dish, and my recipe follows the Trinidadian version, which includes coconut milk and okra. In the Caribbean, Callaloo is often served as a side dish, but when I make it, it almost always turns into a main course. I’m not the type of guy that craves vegetables often, or vegetable soups for that matter, and I crave this dish. A lot.
I think I could eat my weight in Callaloo. I don’t know what it is about this dish that makes me go crazy about it. For one thing, I feel like a superhero after I eat it – like I’ve consumed a week’s worth of vegetables in one sitting. It’s also ridiculously delicious, and carries a unique flavor despite using fairly common ingredients. The only ingredient in here we don’t eat regularly is okra, since my wife isn’t a fan of okra’s slimy texture; luckily, the texture is cleverly masked in this dish.
Callaloo (Caribbean Green Soup)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 med onion, coarsely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 green bell pepper, diced
10 pieces okra, tops removed, sliced
1 cup chopped pumpkin or squash (if out of season use 1 can puree)
3 sprigs fresh thyme leaves (about 1/2 tsp), dried okay
1 tsp sea salt, more to taste
1/2 tsp black pepper, more to taste
1 can (about 2 cups) coconut milk
1 cup chicken broth (or vegetable stock to make vegetarian/vegan)
1 scotch bonnet or habanero pepper (optional)
1 lb fresh spinach, stems included, coarsely chopped
6 chives, chopped
1. In a stockpot or large saucepan, warm the olive oil over medium heat for a minute, then add the garlic. Sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds, then add the onion; continue to sauté, stirring often, until the onion is translucent, about 4 minutes.
2. Add the peppers and sauté until softened, another 4 minutes, then stir in the okra, pumpkin/squash, thyme, salt, pepper, coconut milk, chicken broth, and scotch bonnet/habanero pepper if you’re using it. Bring to a simmer and reduce heat to low; simmer until the squash is fork-tender, about 20 minutes. Be careful to not burst the scotch bonnet/habanero pepper when stirring the soup.
3. Stir in the spinach, in batches if needed (add more as it wilts and shrinks). Simmer until the spinach is soft and dark green, about 8 minutes.
4. Add the chives to the soup, and carefully fish out the scotch bonnet/habanero pepper. Using an immersion blender or food processor, gently blend the soup until it is smooth but still has a little texture. Taste and add salt and pepper if needed.
** Instead of using two bell pepper halves, feel free to use one whole bell pepper. I just like the bit of color that comes from using half of a red bell pepper.
** If you are lucky enough to find amaranth or taro leaves, use them as directed in this recipe, but bear in mind that they’ll take longer to soften than spinach – 30 minutes should be enough time.
** Many people add meat to this dish, including crab pieces, stewed chicken, or salted pork. Typically the meat is cooked with the vegetables, fished out before you blend the soup, then shredded and returned to the blended soup.
Callaloo before blending.