Actually there are numerous species of “callaloo”, but in Jamaica - my country of birth – there is no other green leafy vegetable that can be substituted for real callaloo in our traditional callaloo dishes in my humble opinion. Our callaloo plant has a distinct flavor & if you try to use anything else in a dish you serve to me, I will let you know without hesitation that you’re perpetrating a fraud. I was actually surprised to find it on a certain famous person’s website where they posted a recipe for steamed callaloo (although they did substitute Swiss chard for callaloo leaves in the video :-). Oh & by the way, I am not knocking the version of callaloo on said video so please don’t get any funny ideas. My wonderful mother grows buckets of the stuff in her little vegetable plot in the back yard in New York, & will send me care packages when I get my cravings (thank you, Mother; Booyacka, booyacka! Biggup!). In my kitchen, when I’m out of the real stuff, I will cook up spinach & other green leafy veggies & enjoy them with gusto. Having said that, now back to the Jamaican callaloo:
Callaloo grows like a weed, but this is one “weed” you do want to eat. The entire plant is edible – roots, leaves, stems, seeds and all! If you feel up to it, take a bunch of flowering cluster heads & spread out on a paper towel to dry until the tiny seeds fall off then lightly toast for a nutritious snack (don’t count on doing this when you’re hungry though – you’d have to harvest a lot of these little babies to curb any kind of appetite (they’re so small). The plant is loaded with iron, calcium, vitamins (A, B, C & K) & numerous minerals as well as antioxidants, & is a great immune booster. The Sanskrit name in Ayurvedic medicine is Tanduliya. People of the Caribbean as well as the Philippines, India, Greece, and Africa, are very familiar with this plant, and have their version of “callaloo, often using the bigger Coco or dasheen leaves cooked up in a dish they call Callaloo as well. As a matter of fact, Trinidad, Belize & Guyana all claim this as their national dish and no wonder; it is THAT good! For a delicious ethnic dish, try cooking it up with okra, coconut milk and season to taste. Add crab, conch, lobster, or any other meat really for a complete meal. The consistency can vary anywhere from a soup-like texture (in Jamaica we do a soup-like version we call Pepperpot Soup), or thick like a stew, or just sauté it by itself as a side vegetable, much like you would do with spinach (see picture below). And if your living quarters are such that you can’t grow your own callaloo in your garden or in a pot on a balcony somewhere, you may just be lucky enough to find various canned versions in the ethnic section of your grocery store. Now if you’ll excuse me, I've just developed a craving for this yumminess & I hear a meal calling my name! I’ll be in the kitchen if you need me :-D Until next time, happy weeding; happy healing!
Audrey Steele, L.Ac.
*Aesop’s Fable: A Rose and an Amaranth blossomed side by side in a garden, and the Amaranth said to her neighbor: "How I envy you your beauty and your sweet scent! No wonder you are such a universal favorite." But the Rose replied with a shade of sadness in her voice, "Ah, my dear friend, I bloom but for a time: my petals soon wither and fall, and then I die. But your flowers never fade, even if they are cut; for they are everlasting."