Ital stew is a Jamaican dish aligned with the Rastafarian movement. The word “ital” is derived from the word vital, and is similar to the concept of kosher. Specifically, ital food should be vegetarian, unprocessed, and from the earth. Some believe that even iodized salt should be avoided, and only pure sea salt is acceptable. Since meat is considered dead, it is not ital, although some Rastafari are known to eat small fish.
Like in my Callaloo recipe from earlier this year, there is a lot of variation to this dish. Typically, it’s made with several different kinds of starchy foods (I used squash, taro, potatoes, and plantain) in a coconut milk broth. You don’t never every single starch to make a flavorful stew – just use what you have available to you. It’s lightly spiced, with just thyme and pimento (allspice).
Funny enough, when doing my research I discovered this dish isn’t considered an exceptionally tasty stew, to the point that I was almost turned away from trying it. I have a suspicion that the reason it’s not well-received is because every recipe I found had you adding all of the vegetables at once, which likely resulted in a mushy, jumbled, and slightly confusing stew. I tried a different tactic, and added the dishes in increments so that they all were perfectly cooked at the end of the recipe. This extra care made a huge difference in the final product; in fact, we’re adding this dish to our regular rotation because it’s easy, quick, and hearty – a perfect summer soup when you’re not in the mood for a meat dish.
Ital Stew (Gluten Free, Vegan, Vegetarian, Paleo, Primal, Whole30)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp whole allspice (or 1/2 tsp ground allspice, see note below)
4 sprigs fresh thyme (or 1/2 tsp dried thyme)
3 green onions, bottoms removed
2 bay leaves
2 cups coconut milk
2 cups water
2 cups pumpkin or squash, cut into bite-sized chunks (I used half an acorn squash)
2 cups taro, cut into bite-sized chunks (about 1 lb)
2 cups potatoes, cut into bite-sized chunks (about 2 lbs)
1 cup okra, cut into 1/2″ pieces (about 10 okras)
1/2 yellow plantain, cut into bite-sized pieces
3 carrots, cut into bite-sized chunks
2 cups collard greens, sliced (about 4 leaves)
juice of 1/2 lime (1 tbsp)
sea salt and pepper to taste, about 1 tsp each
1 small handful cilantro, chopped
1. In a stockpot, warm the olive oil over medium heat, then add the onion. Sauté until translucent and softened, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic, allspice, and thyme, and sauté until aromatic, about 1 minute.
2. Add the green onions, bay leaves, coconut milk, and water. Bring to a simmer, then add the pumpkin and taro, and cook for 5 minutes. Reduce heat if it turns into a boil – you’re looking for a lively simmer, but not a full-on boil. Add the potatoes and cook for another 3 minutes. Stir in the okra, plantain, and carrots, and cook for another 5 minutes. Finally, remove the green onions (and any bay leaves and thyme sprigs you can find), then add the collard greens; simmer until darkened and bright green, about 4 more minutes. At this point, all of the vegetables should be easily pierced with a fork.
3. Remove from heat, and add the lime juice. Add salt and pepper to taste; once it tastes good, stir in the cilantro and serve.
** This stew is traditionally made with split peas, which I omitted to save time and because many people avoid dried peas on a Paleo-style diet. To cook this dish with peas, you’d want to soak them for 10-12 hours, then add the peas when you add the coconut milk and water, and cook until soft, about 1.5 hours, before moving on to the next steps.
** Be sure to tell your dinner guests not to eat the whole pimentos. If you’re serving this to children, consider using 1/2 tsp ground allspice instead of whole berries.
** To give the stew a little bit of a kick, you can add a scotch bonnet (or habanero) pepper when you add the coconut milk and water, and remove it before serving. For more spice, burst the pepper in the stew before removing it.
** Holy crap, putting plantains in soup is awesome. This was my first experience.