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.