What would Sunday lunch (the biggest meal of the week on the islands) be without a healthy serving of Callaloo, rice, stew chicken, macaroni pie and slices of fried plantains? Not to be confused with Jamaican callaloo, callaloo is an actual dish and it’s not made from the bush/plant that our Jamaican friends call callaloo. The main ingredient in our callaloo dish is the tender baby leaves of the dasheen plant (also called dasheen bush) or in my case (couldn’t find dasheen leaves) I used tender baby spinach. Living in North America means there are times when we must find substitutes for traditional ingredients used in many of our dishes as it’s hard to source the ingredients normally used.
Though the recipe I’m about to share with you is not the traditional way of making callaloo, you’ll find that it’s very tasty, similar in texture and appearance to the real deal.
2 cans (400 ml) coconut milk
Water (see below for amount)
6 cloves garlic
2 lbs Spinach (baby leaves work best)
1 lb ochro (okra)
1/2 onion sliced
2 crabs (split into 2 pieces each)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3 sprigs of thyme
1 green habanero or scotch bonnet pepper (add any pepper you like)
1 teaspoon Goldenray butter (optional but makes a big difference)
Before we get to the actual steps in making the callaloo I must mention that if you can’t source (like me) tender dasheen leaves, it’s important that you not use ordinary spinach leaves, but do try to get baby spinach. Not only is it tender, but it’s not as strong in flavour as normal spinach. Regular spinach may over-power the dish and you won’t achieve that wonderful taste that a good callaloo will have. I must also mention that crab meat or imitation crab will not give it the true unique savoriness as would actual crab in the shell.
Start by placing a deep pot on a medium heat and pour the 2 cans of coconut milk into it, then using one of the cans, add 2 cans of water as well (so you have 4 cans of liquid in the pot). As it comes to a boil, wash the spinach leaves and start adding to the pot. If it’s fresh harvested spinach, you may have to rinse a few times as they can have a lot of dirt/sand between the leaves.
It will seem that all the spinach will not fit in the pot at the start, but as it wilts in the hot liquid you’ll have tons of room. The next step is to wash and trim the ochro (okra) by removing the stems and discarding. Then slice each one into 1 inch pieces (see pic below). Add the sliced onions, garlic, ochro and hot pepper. Leave the hot pepper whole at this point. You can also add the salt, thyme and blackpepper to the mixture.
Cover the pot, bring the heat down low to a gentle simmer and allow to cook for about 1 hour or until everything is tender and starts to melt together. Be sure to stir every 15 minutes or so and check to ensure that it’s not sticking at the bottom of the pot. This will be an indication that your heat is too high.
Now that it’s been cooking for 1 hr, it’s time to add the crab to the pot. I usually season it a bit first with some green seasoning and allow it to marinate for about 15 minutes before adding it to the pot with the callaloo. After you’ve added the seasoned crab (seasoning is optional) allow the callaloo to cook for another 15 minutes.
The final step is to break everything down. Luckily enough I have a swizzle stick (wooden one) that someone from the islands sent for me a few years back. If you don’t have one you can use either a whisk or one of those electric puree sticks. If you are using an electric one, I suggest you pulse a few times and not use a continuous action or it will make the callaloo very foamy and it can harm the finished product.
If you’re using a whisk, simply whisk until everything is broken down into a soup like consistency. Before you whisk you can remove the pepper (remember I mentioned to put it in whole) if you’re worried about the heat content.
The very final step is to add the GoldenRay butter, stir it around and turn off the heat. Enjoy!
Side Note:There are many variations of cooking this classic Trinbagonian dish, but I assure you this is a great start that you can customize as you get better at preparing it.
* From the recipe above you should have enough left over to freeze and enjoy at a later time. Just pour into a freezer style bowl and it usually last a couple months in the freezer. To thaw, all you have to do is empty the contents of the bowl into a pot with a couple tablespoons of water on very low heat and allow to melt. Or stick in the microwave.