Callaloo Jamaican Style


One more recipe from Jamaica. It’s light and healthy and that’s exactly the problem with it.

But first, what’s “Callaloo?”

It’s basically stewed greens. I can’t figure out what greens, precisely. It’s one thing in West Africa, another in Trinidad and Tobago, and yet another in Jamaica. And then in Jamaica, if you go to five callaloo-ists, they’ll give you five different opinions.

(It’s the same in other cultures. Greeks generically call stewed greens “horta.” It probably consisted of whatever my Yia-Yia found growing at her feet.)

Back to callaloo. You may be able to find something like it in a specialty market. It’s allegedly part of the Amaranth family. I wouldn’t know the Amaranth family if they walked into my house. I looked it up, and Wikipedia says it’s “a cosmopolitan genus of annual or short-lived perennial plants”. It goes on to say “Most of the species from Amaranthus are summer annual weeds and are commonly referred to as pigweed”. Finally it explains that the root of Amaranth comes from the Greek words for “unfading” and “flower”.

See? It’s like I said: whatever Yia-Yia found growing at her feet. Same with the Jamaican grandmothers, no doubt.

For my callaloo, I used collard greens and grown-up spinach. My readers may know I have little use for either baby spinach or kale, and prefer “old school” greens. These were just right for callaloo Jamaican-style, stewed with plenty of garlic, onion, a scotch bonnet pepper, and smoked paprika.

In my Michigan kitchen, I served it with rice and a panfried plantain. It was delicious and pleased me as being healthy. I took the leftovers to work for lunch the next day.

Now for the problem referred to in the first paragraph.

In the morning, I went to a neighboring county for an arraignment that took forever to complete, due to unspecified but allegedly necessary bureaucratic procedures. By the time I got out of there it was nearly lunchtime. I knew I had my callaloo and rice back at the office. It sounded … nice.

But what was around here? Look, there’s a fried chicken joint. And over here, “The Burger Spot.” Boy that sounded good.

One cup of chili and a basket of garlic parmesan fries later, I was quite sated. I knew my healthy greens would be back at the office for a late afternoon snack, and would nimbly cancel out the garlic parmesan fries. Here’s that magic callaloo recipe (my variation):

1 bunch collard greens

1 bunch grown-up spinach

2 TBS olive oil

3-4 garlic cloves minced

1 medium onion, chopped

1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 sprig of fresh thyme

1-2 fresh tomato or good canned diced tomatoes.

1 whole scotch bonnet pepper (or habañero)

Salt and pepper to taste

1. Let collards soak in cold water 5-10 minutes while you assemble the other ingredients.

2. After soaking, cut the collard leaves away from their thick stem by slicing with the tip of a sharp knife on either side of the stem. Roll up the leaves and slice into ribbons. For the spinach, also cut away the stems. Rinse the chopped greens well in a salad spinner and set aside.

3. Chop the onions, mince the garlic, finely chop the pepper, and dice the tomatoes.

4. Heat olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and stir for a minute or so until it starts to get soft. Then add the garlic, pepper, and thyme and stir for about a minute. Add the tomatoes and smoked paprika and stir.

5. Add the greens and some salt, mix very well, and reduce the heat. Cook a few minutes until it gets nice and wilty. I like my greens to have some texture. Add a little water as needed.

6. If serving plaintains, peel and slice into diagonals and fry over low to medium heat in a little butter, olive, or coconut oil.

This is good with cooked rice, flavored perhaps with some hot spice. Or, as I did this evening, flavored with hot Italian sausage, spicy chunked tomatoes, and callaloo, stuffed inside red and green peppers and topped with some pepperjack cheese I had, baked until hot and tender.

Now see? This is how callaloo can be healthy, and delicious. It’s all a matter of choosing the right greens. Ask your Yia-Yia, or Jamaican grandma, if you need help.

Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht & Roumel, PC, a firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment and civil right litigation. He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for “Current” magazine in Ann Arbor. Follow him at @nickroumel.