When I think of Jamaica, and the short time I spent there over a decade ago, it is not the limestone cliffs overlooking the serene Caribbean Sea, the sound of the gentle waves lapping the majestic caves, or the perennially blue skies that I remember most. My strongest memory of that visit was, naturally, the food. And one dish in particular, a humble side dish of stewed greens that I was told was simply called ‘callaloo’.
I’ve spent the ensuing decade pining over this dish, trying to replicate and recreate this simple recipe using more conventional greens. My memory tells me the leaves, which were similar to kale but more resilient than spinach, were stewed in tomatoes, and gently spiced. And then last Sunday, while wandering through my local greenmarket here in Brooklyn, I came across these very leaves. Callaloo! I wanted to jump for joy. I may have audibly gasped. Around me, the market thronged and while my fellow shoppers flocked to the last of the season’s tomatoes or the first of the new season’s apples, I clutched my bunch of callaloo dearly, grinning as only an deliriously happy leaf-loving woman would!
When I got home, with memory as my inspiration, I devised this little recipe of callaloo stewed in spices, coconut milk and tomatoes. I ate it with rice and it was divine. My kids loved it too, maybe more than that butter-flied roasted chicken I had made them.
Callaloo is not easy to come by but you may be able to find it at a Caribbean or ethnic supermarket. It is actually a member of the amaranth family, so you could substitute with amaranth leaves that you can often find in Chinatown. Short of that, you could use any leaf really – kale, cavalo nero, spinach, collards, gai larn leaves, or even ong choy (Chinese water spinach).
Coconut Stewed Callaloo
Serves 2-4, with rice
gluten free + vegan
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 medium brown onion, finely diced
- 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
- 1 tsp grown cumin
- 2 tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- ½ tsp turmeric powder
- 1 large tomato, roughly chopped
- 1 tin (414ml / 14 fl oz) coconut cream
- 1 bunch callaloo or other leafy green
- handful coriander (cilantro) leaves
- sea salt and black pepper
To Serve cooked basmati or brown rice
In a large pan, heat the olive oil and then add the onion and garlic. Cook for 1 minute, until slightly softened. Add the cumin, coriander, paprika and turmeric to the pan and cook for another minute or two, until the onions are fragrant and very soft.
Add the tomatoes to the pan, cooking for 30 seconds until they starting to break down, and then stir in the coconut cream. Fold through the leaves and allow the mixture to cook for around 10 minutes, until the greens are completely wilted. Season with a little sugar, and a big pinch of sea salt and black pepper.
Serve with rice, and a huge handful of coriander leaves.