Spinach

Callaloo

May 26, 2021
7 Ratings
Photo by Bobbi Lin
Author Notes

Callaloo, a native West African dish, came to the Caribbean during the triangular slave trade along the Middle Passage. Its key ingredient—the heart-shaped leaves of the taro plant, from the Xanthosoma genus—continues to exert unparalleled influence on the Caribbean diet. It forever connects the region to the reach and realities of slavery, centuries later. Sometimes a stew, sometimes a soup, callaloo is an ode to the masterful and resourceful way that enslaved Africans repurposed indigenous plant life and accessible aromatics into a deeply nourishing staple. The process of making it exudes a simplicity that defined slave cooking: quick and straightforward, with little margin for indulgence. Even today, in callaloo’s postcolonial adaptation—where ingredients like fresh crab and chopped pumpkin sometimes bulk up the dish’s vegetal base—its minimalist preparation persists. —Brigid Ransome Washington

Test Kitchen Notes

Many different variations of this stew can be found all throughout the Caribbean, featuring whatever local produce is in season. Taro is one of the signature ingredients of this dish, but because it can be difficult to find in some parts of the U.S., this recipe utilizes the much easier-to-source spinach. If you can find taro, feel free to use it! Just be aware that taro leaves, if eaten raw, are poisonous, so be sure to thoroughly cook your taro before consuming. You can also use kale or collard greens instead of the spinach.

No one can explain the significance of this dish better than Brigid's mother. Brigid (who developed this recipe) reports: "With a reverence that I had never witnessed from Mum regarding any type of food, she expounded on the history of callaloo; particularly, how it remains inextricably linked to the carefree realities of my all-girl Catholic high school existence. She challenged me to see beyond the ingredients and to imagine a time back when our ancestors crossed the Middle Passage, bound, beaten, and branded; a time when choice wasn’t an option. She reminded me of callaloo’s civic prestige—as Trinidad and Tobago’s national dish—duly designated by emancipated slaves-turned-citizens-turned-statesmen, acquainted with its place in the nation’s history.

"'There’s a reason we eat callaloo on Sunday,' she said. 'It’s the only day that slaves didn’t have to work on the sugar plantations.' And with that, the side I once shunned became a significant part of my identity. I felt small under the weight of a history I knew and blithely never acknowledged. But for the first time, I felt destined to be in the kitchen."

Read more here: The West African Dish That Formed the Heart of Our Sunday Lunches. —The Editors

  • Prep time 10 minutes
  • Cook time 30 minutes
  • Serves 6 to 8
Ingredients
  • 8 large okra pods, stems removed, cut into 1-inch rounds
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 4 scallions, finely chopped
  • 8 cups baby spinach, roughly chopped
  • 2 cups full-fat coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice berries, crushed
  • 3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed
  • 3 whole cloves, crushed
  • 1 whole Scotch bonnet or orange habanero pepper
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • White rice, for serving
In This Recipe
Directions
  1. In a large stockpot over medium-high heat, bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Add the okra, onion, scallions, spinach, milk, salt, pepper, allspice, garlic, thyme, and cloves. Stir to combine and cover the pot. Cook 7 to 10 minutes, until the spinach is wilted.
  2. Add the whole pepper, cover the pot, and reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer for 20 minutes. Remove and discard the pepper. Stir in the butter.
  3. Using an immersion blender, purée the mixture until smooth. (If you don't have an immersion blender, feel free to use a regular blender, working in batches.)
  4. Serve hot over white rice. Or serve as an alternative to spinach dip. To serve as a soup, add 2 to 3 cups of boiling water after the callaloo has been puréed (adjust the salt and pepper accordingly).

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Martina Dinale
    Martina Dinale
  • Nancy Charlton
    Nancy Charlton
  • So sett
    So sett
  • Griffincat
    Griffincat

9 Reviews

Griffincat March 21, 2019
Taro leaves are toxic if not properly cooked (like stewing for 45 minutes worth of cooking), so that's probably why spinach is subbed in.
 
Martina D. March 12, 2019
Erm...where's the TARO?? And Nancy makes a good point about the spinach , which is ...dammit I can't remember if it is found in West Africa. Did you folks throw it in because you felt most Americans couldn't get their hands on taro?
 
Nancy C. March 12, 2019
It seems to me the spinach would be way over cooked. Could you use collards or chard, which stand up better to all that boiling? The
 
Martina D. March 12, 2019
Good point....and I think the spinidge is being subb'ed for taro when as you suggest, collards +/or chard would be better !
 
marilu March 7, 2019
This was so delicious and was made even more comforting with your sweet memories. Thank you!
 
katelynstetler March 7, 2019
Am I crazy or is this recipe, which heavily mentions taro as a key ingredient, missing from the ingredient list?
 
marilu March 7, 2019
Hi, Katelyn! I think the author mentioned that this is a postcolonial adaptation in her story. I think the indigenous taro leaves may have been used in West Africa and the Caribbeans, but thankfully we can use spinach as we can find it locally (huzzah!). If you do end up using taro, please write about it so that I can try, too!
 
katelynstetler March 7, 2019
Ah. okay! I recently discovered taro and was excited for a new way to use it so I'll definitely try to swap it in. Thanks!
 
So S. February 26, 2019
1 tablespoon of salt seemed like too much for me. I don't remember exactly how much I ended up putting in but I definitely didn't do the whole tablespoon, and it was fine--to anyone making this: err on the side of caution with the salt!