Callaloo, Strange Callaloo
Mysterious curious roux
Try as you might to avoid the hoodoo
Sooner of later we’re all in the stew
Jimmy Buffet – ‘Callaloo’
The history of callaloo is as intricate as the dish itself. Such is the importance of this dish to the West Indies that it has song’s dedicated to it like the Jimmy Buffet’s ‘Callaloo’ and is referred to by current musicians or Caribbean origins. It’s history stretches back to West Africa arriving into the Caribbean as a result of the African slave trade. It incorporates the African traditions slaves bought with them of using garden herbs and garden leaf greens to make stews and adds other greens such as okra and the flavours brought to the “New World” for the slave trade such as coconut and peppers and indigenous island vegetables learnt from the native Taino and Arawaks of the Caribbean to create a distinctly Caribbean style soup.
Callaloo are greens that are grown in every garden in the Caribbean. In the rich fertile land if you drop seed, callaloo is sure to follow. Callaloo soup in one way or another is made throughout the Caribbean, however, across the islands the word callaloo can refer to different types of greens and is made in as many different ways as there are cooks. For example in Trinidad it refers to dasheen or taro leaves (Colocasia esculenta) and adds okra and coconut milk. In the Dominican Republic it refer to dasheen leaves but it may also refer to the leaves of water spinach. In Jamaica and Guyana it refers to Amaranth leaf (Amaranthus spinosa) of which there are many types including the Jamaican beautifully nicknamed “Rasta Man” Callaloo with it’s long, soft, seed heads. True to the melting pot of cultures in the Caribbean callaloo is known by many different names across the islands such as chorai bhaji, bhaaji or Indian kale.
The migration of Caribbeans to other parts of the world such as Canada, US and the UK means that callaloo is often grown in gardens and allotments. Visit any allotment owned by a Caribbean in the UK and you’re such to a patch dedicated to it. Whilst it may originate from a warm climate it grows really well in cooler conditions. If you’re stuck for growing room, then it’s easy to grow in potato bags or large pots. Just give it plenty of light and a warm place. My own garden is incomplete without a good patch. See how to grow.
The different names are of little importance as the thing about this soup is that it is utterly delicious. Callaloo has a distinct flavour like a stronger spinach, however, if you don’t have access to callaloo (it’s easy to grow) you can easily substitute it for young, tender, spinach or any other green leaves like chard.
Traditionally the soup contains some sort of meat or shellfish which then creates the infamous Pepperpot dishes, but I prefer to keep it ital, simply vegetarian, which makes it a quick and easy soup and perfect for meat free days.
My version adds kale and butter beans to give it a little more body and a protein kick. You could easily add pumpkin, squash, yams or sweet potatoes also which adds a sweet note and makes it all the more authentically Caribbean. I also make mine with the addition of nutmeg, my favourite spice, which tastes so fabulous with coconut and gives greens wonderful sensuous flavour and aroma.
This soup will freeze, so you can create batches and thaw for a easy quick meal.
Enjoy this luxurious green velvety soup packed with vitamins and nutrients! If you fancy a dance whilst making it check out Jimmy Buffet’s song
Callaloo & Kale Soup
- 3 tbsp coconut oil
- 1 large onion (finely chopped)
- 3 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
- 1 Scotch Bonnet pepper
- 5 sprigs fresh thyme (tied together with string)
- 500 g callaloo (de-stalked and chopped)
- 250 g fresh kale (de-stalked and chopped)
- 250 g cooked butter beans
- 1 tsp ground nutmeg
- 3 cups vegetable broth
- 1 can, 400 ml coconut milk
In a heavy soup pan, heat coconut oil. Add onion and sauté until tender. Add garlic and stir until softened.
Turn the heat down and add the callaloo, kale and nutmeg. Stir and turn the ingredients together gently and let them cook for a minute.
Add vegetable broth and coconut milk. Cook for 10 – 15 more minutes until the callaloo and kale have completely wilted.
Remove from the heat and use a soup blender or food blender to puree the soup.
Return to the heat.
Add butter beans and stir in.
Add thyme bundle onto the top of the soup and pop in the scotch bonnet whole. Bring to the boil then let the soup simmer gently for a further 10 – 15 mins until the beans are soft. Stir the soup gently to avoid bursting the pepper (what you want is the fruity flavour of the pepper not the heat itself).
Remove the thyme bundle and pepper.