I know my Trinbagonian friends will be asking “what this fella trying to pull off as callaloo” as Callaloo in Trinidad and Tobago and a number of the other beautiful islands which make up the Caribbean, is a delicious dish and not a plant. In Jamaica the (plant) callaloo is a much loved ingredient in many of their dishes and is what other islanders will refer to as spinach and/or chorai bhagi. Now that I’ve cleared the air (any confusion), let’s take a peek at a very hearty and delicious dish with strong Caribbean roots (no matter how you call the greens we’ll be using).
BTW, the callaloo (bhagi) is fresh out of my garden and would be considered “organic” (I don’t use pesticides etc) by today’s standard.. you ever notice how much more expensive “organic” vegetables (and meat) are in the grocery store. personally I think it’s rip-off (who monitors these farmers?).
1 cup salted fish (see note below)
5 green bananas (cooking bananas)
1 scotch bonnet pepper
3 sprigs thyme
3 cloves garlic
2 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup coconut milk
* 1 bundle of callaloo (about 8 cups when chopped)
Notes: I used salted cod fish (which is dry and salted) but you can use your favourite salted fish (Alaskan,Pollock..etc). In the video clip below I’ll show you how to prep the salted cod for use in this dish (soak, boil and shred). The green bananas will be called “green fig” and/or “cooking bananas” in your fav grocery store.
Wash the callaloo bush repeatedly under cool water to remove any sand or dirt. Then trim off the leaves and tender stems. I then peeled back on the stems to remove the exterior (this way it’s not stringy when cooked). Make small bundles with the now trimmed leaves (1/2 inch thick) and cut into ribbons. Place in a bowl with water to remain fresh. When it’s near time to cook it, drain thoroughly.
Next up we need to prep the salted fish for use. This may mean (depending on the variety you use) soaking for a few hours in cool water, then discard that water and place the salted fish into a pot covered with water and bring to a boil. Boil for 25 minutes, then drain, rinse with cool water and then trim/shred. This is to re hydrate the dried salted fish and to remove most of the salt it was cured in.Then it’s just a matter of using a fork (or your fingers) to shred it.
We’ve got to cook the green bananas before we can add them to the pot with the other ingredients. Basically all you have to do is trim off the ends of each banana, place them in a deep pot, cover with water and bring to a boil. As it comes to a boil, add the salt and allow it to cook for about 20-25 minutes. Then drain, allow to cool and peel off the skin, then cut into 1 to 2 inch pieces. If you know how to peel green bananas, you can certainly peel before boiling, but I find it’s much easier to boil with the skin on and peel after. When the green banana is fully cooked, you’ll notice the skin (banana peel) will crack and start separating from the flesh.
As the banana cooks, it will go from that brilliant green to a dark (almost black) colour.. that is normal. The next step is to chop the tomato (set aside for later), onion,, scotch bonnet pepper, scallion, garlic and thyme. Remember when using scotch bonnet peppers, to wear gloves, wash your hands with soap immediately after use and don’t include the seeds if you can’t handle the raw heat.
Now that everything is prepped, it’ time to drain the chopped callaloo and heat the oil on a medium flame (deep pan). Then add the shredded saltfish to the pot and lower your flame to low. Allow this to cook for about 5 minutes, until the pieces of cod gets a bit crispy and flavors the entire pan. It will start to stick to the bottom of your pan..scrape and stir. Now add the chopped onion, garlic, scotch bonnet pepper, thyme, scallion and black pepper to the pan and allow to soften up and build that lovely flavor base (about 3 minutes).
Now it’s time to add the chopped callaloo to the pot and give it a good stir. At first it may seem a lot for the pot, but as it cooks down it will wilt and you’ll have enough room. Top with the coconut milk and salt.. cover the pot and let that cook on a medium/low heat for about 15-20 minutes.
Remove the lid (remember to keep stirring), add the the pieces of cooked green banana and give it a good stir. It’s natural for the callaloo to spring it’s own juices, so turn up the heat and try to burn off any remaining liquid in the pot. Should take about 5 minutes. Taste for salt, top with the chopped tomato and you’re done.
For the amount of callaloo I had, I could have easily put about 4 more green bananas in the pot.. but I love me some callaloo, so I didn’t make it an issue. The lovely flavor base we made with the salted cod and the other ingredients, will certainly rock your taste buds. If you’ve never had cooked green banana the texture will be similar to a very firm potato (like a baked potato) and the callaloo will be almost the same as spinach.. but with a unique flavor of it’s own.