Sunday, December 7, 2008

CSA week two - Callaloo

First up this week is callaloo. Looking around at recipes on-line I get the impression that callaloo is a very vague term that covers any soup or stew that has braised callaloo as it's main ingredient. I chose a Trinidadian variation I found on Recipezaar because it included Maggi seasoning cubes and golden ray cooking margarine. I'm not going to use either, but the fact that it kept those traditional Caribbean ingredients is a good sign. Also, it includes a bit of butternut squash substituting for west Indian pumpkin which seemed a nice bit of happenstance.

The first problem was adjusting the recipe for the amount of callaloo I've got. I'm not sure how to interpret the recipe's call for 15-20 dasheen leaves. (As best as I can tell, different types of greens are used in making callaloo on different islands around the Caribbean and whatever the locals use, they call callaloo. On Trinidad, they use dasheen which I'm hoping is what I've got.) I can't take that literally both because the leaves vary a great deal in size and because, even using the largest leaves, 15-20 won't make the 6 to 8 servings this recipe's supposed to make. After picking off all of the leaves I measured them out and I seem to have around 3 cups worth. Looking around at other recipes that measure out the leaves by volume and assuming standard serving sizes I need to cut down this recipe by three quarters. That gives me:

* 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
* 1/4 medium onion
* 1 garlic cloves, minced
* 1/2 tablespoons chopped celery [which I skipped because I'm not buying a whole head of celery for that tiny amount]
* 1/16 cup fresh thyme [none handy so I used dried]
* 1/8 cup chopped chives
* 4 okra, sliced [which I skipped because stewed okra is icky]
* 1/8 cup chopped west Indian pumpkin (substitute butternut squash)
* 1 CSA half-share dasheen, washed and coarsely chopped
* 1/4 cup coconut milk
* 1/4 Maggi seasoning, cube plus [this is just bullion so I used stock]
* 1 cups water or chicken stock
* 1/2 live blue crab, cleaned and washed in lime juice (or 5-6 pieces salted beef or salted pigtail) [I didn't like the looks of the crabs I saw at the market so I bought a jar of pre-picked crab. Also, in the recipes I saw it looked like any smoked pork product would do. I cut up some smoked ham and used that too.]
* 1/4 whole scotch bonnet pepper (Congo pepper) [Caribbean cuisine uses the hottest possible pepper and prepares it in the wimpiest possible way. I presume that's because that's the only peppers they have to use. I split the difference by using half of a more reasonable Serrano pepper]
* 1/2 tablespoons golden ray cooking margarine [or butter]
* 1/4 teaspoon salt (if using Maggi cube taste first before adding salt or the soup will be too salty.)

1. Put salted pork [or beef or cod if you're using anything of the sort] pieces in a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Drain off this water. Repeat this process to draw off the excess salt from the salted meat.

2. Heat the oil in a large pot and add the onion, garlic, celery and fresh herbs [and ham]. Sauté until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add okras, pumpkin and dasheen leaves and sauté for another minute or so. Add the coconut milk and stock or water, crab and hot pepper.

3. Keep an eye on that hot pepper use one that is not bruised. You DO NOT want that pepper to burst while cooking. The heat from the burst pepper will overpower the other flavours. [So why ask for trouble if you don't need to?]

4. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook uncovered for about 35 minutes.

5. Taste and add salt if needed.
6. Remove hot pepper and crab or meat, [Whoops! I should have left my chunks of ham large. It took me some time to pick all the little ham pieces out during this step.] and swizzle the callaloo, or put in a blender or you can use an immersion type blender, and beat until smooth. Return the crab or meat pieces to the soup. Add the cooking margarine or butter. Simmer for 5 more minutes. Stir well. [I used the blender]
7. Serve hot as a soup on it's own or as a side dish. [or over rice]

And the results are...OK. The texture is a creamy sauce about the same as palak paneer; Okra definitely would not have been a help. The flavor is rather mild, easily diluted by the rice or overwhelmed by the Pickapeppa hot sauce I used so I didn't want to thin it out into a proper soup even if I did screw it up to get it this thick (which I don't think I did). The ham doesn't stand out and there's a hint of the crab but the flavor is mostly just the callaloo. The differences from spinach are subtle. There's a slight pungency and a chard-like bitter aftertaste that's interesting, but not something I'd aim at deliberately. A pinch of sugar mixed in helps with that and a pinch of salt brightens the flavors up. No real heat despite the fact that I chopped up the pepper and put it back in the pot. Overall, it's not bad, but it's not great either. Next time I think I'll try a different variation--something with tomatoes maybe.


kat said...

hmmm, I'm not sure what green callaloo is. I think I'll wait & see your second version of this if you do it.

Russell Hews Everett said...

Hah, hi there, I'm in the CSA too (got your address from this weeks newsletter) and I also made Callaloo for the first time with my half share.

I agree that it was...bland. Like palak paneer without the paneer or spices. I took the Thirsty Traveler route and added a tablespoon of Angostura Bitters, which was pretty good. Otherwise we've been hitting the leftovers with allspice, nutmeg, cloves, and curry powder. Makes it much better.

Margie said...

The callaloo in the CSA shares is vegetable amaranth, also known as pigweed. It is definitely not Dasheen, which is an 'elephant-ear' type of leaf (taro, malanga, eddoe and others are related). You're right, the term 'callaloo' is used VERY loosely throughout the Caribbean.

billjac said...

Thanks for clearing that up Margie. I think we got some dasheen last year; if we do again I'll revisit this recipe.

Looking up vegetable amaranth I found the flavor described as spinach with a hint of horseradish which sounds about right to me. If I was forearmed with that knowledge I think I would have gone with a Japanese recipe. I think it would have done well with a light steam and a bit of soy sauce.

Jennifer said...

Callaloo is a Jamaican staple. I've eaten it all over the island in stirfries, pastries (especially patties), and my favorite - sauteed with "saltfish" - or salt cod... generally with a bit of bell pepper, onion and the ubiquitous scotch bonnet pepper. Yum.