Carribean-Inspired Callaloo

Source: Micki Seibel, November 2015

Source: Micki Seibel, November 2015

Callaloo is a traditional Caribbean dish brought to the islands from West Africa. It’s generally served as a side dish whose main ingredient is the local leafy green–often taro leaf, water spinach, or amaranth. Each island has its own riff on the dish. On a visit to Trinidad & Tobago, I learned to make it the Tobagonian way: with okra.

This recipe is an adaptation using spinach (as the common greens used in the Caribbean are harder find in California than spinach). I’ve also adapted the final texture to be more of a dry saute finish rather than a more creamy and soupy finish.

Ingredients

  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 4 padron peppers, seeded and chopped
  • 1 tbsp peanut oil
  • 1 cup okra, thinly sliced
  • 5 oz spinach, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • fresh ground black pepper

Directions

  1. Heat the peanut oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat.
  2. Add the shallot and pardon pepper and sauté for 3 minutes, until the shallots and peppers become fragrant.
  3. Add the okra and 1 tsp of kosher salt. Sauté for 5 minutes. Stir occasionally.
  4. Add the spinach and the remaining 1 tsp of salt. Cover the pan, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 15 minutes.
  5. Add fresh ground black pepper, stir, and serve.

How to Not Screw It Up

  1. Start with room temperature okra. Okra at refrigerator temperatures will produce more slime in your final dish. Bring the okra to room temperature before cooking.
  2. Thinly slice that okra and don’t skimp on the 5 minute sauté. Thinly slicing the okra and give it the full 5 minutes to sauté before adding the spinach will cook off some of the slime.
  3. Take the time to chop up that spinach! If you just put the spinach leaves in without chopping, the spinach will cook down into a small lump. Now, you have okra with a lump side of spinach and NOT callaloo. Be diligent. Chop up that spinach–even baby spinach–so that the spinach better cooks into and integrates with the okra.

A Special Thanks

A very special thanks to Zella who runs a lunch restaurant on Tobago. In all her kindness, she took me into her home and showed me how to cook up callaloo in the Tobagonian way.

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