Callaloo: a great green with a funny name

Callaloo grows as an annual in North America and is harvested for its leaves and seeds.(Photo Credit: Caribbean Garden Seeds)

Callaloo grows as an annual in North America and is harvested for its leaves and seeds. (Photo Credit: Caribbean Garden Seeds)

In gentrified Brooklyn and other hipster enclaves, kale is the leafy green of choice. In the southern United States, collard greens rule. In the West Indies, callaloo is king.

This delicious, nutritious vegetable not only has a fun name, but it also has a rich, earthy taste that can be sautéed and eaten on its own or added to soups, stews and curries. Across the Caribbean, India, Africa and South East Asia, it is eaten much like spinach. Unlike spinach however, callaloo is not always easy to find in North America outside of cities with large ethnic populations.

The good news is that, if your local market is callaloo-deficient, it is super-simple to cultivate and will be ready to harvest in practically no time.

“It’s the easiest thing in the world to grow,” says Brenda Thompson-Duchene, who runs a non-profit that manages five community gardens and a farmer’s market in Brownsville, Brooklyn. “The seeds spread easily and once you’ve planted it you will never have a lack of it.”

Also known as edible leaf amaranth, callaloo grows well in most soils. It requires full sun and moist soil when the seeds are germinating, and will reach maturity in about 30-40 days. If you are in a rush, pick the young leaves and use them as micro-salad greens. Otherwise, harvest them as soon as they are fully grown (about 3-5 inches) as the plant does tend to bolt quickly.

Thompson-Duchene, who came to New York from Aruba more than 50 years ago, started the community gardens because there was no access to fresh produce in the neighbourhood where she lived. “We started growing stuff to have a farmers’ market, for the community to have fresh produce,” she says. “

In the Caribbean, Thompson-Duchene says everyone eats callaloo. “It is easy to cook in so many ways. Do it with fish, beef, chicken. Sautée it down, cook it in your meat, juice it… It’s easy!”

(Photo Credit: Shivonne Du Barry)

There are many different ways to cook Callaloo soup, a Caribbean staple. (Photo Credit: Shivonne Du Barry)

Callaloo soup – also known as pepperpot – is a prominent feature of Caribbean cuisine. The leaves are stripped from the stalks, chopped and then stewed with onions, garlic, tomatoes, beef and kidney beans.

Despite a cool start to this year’s growing season, Thompson-Duchene is already harvesting callaloo in abundance. She says the crop grows well in cooler weather and in her case, she didn’t even have to plant it: It self-seeded from last year’s garden.

Sautéed callaloo

  • Large bunch callaloo leaves
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 scallions, chopped
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup water

Pull the leaves and small branches off the main stem and soak in cold water. Rinse a few times, until the water is clear and the leaves are clean.

Finely chop the leaves and set aside.

In a medium skillet, sautée onions and scallions over medium heat until soft. Add the callaloo leaves, thyme, salt and pepper. Stir together for a few minutes, then add water. Cover and cook over medium heat until the stems are tender, about 8 minutes.

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