Trinibagoan Cuisine — Callaloo

The people of Trinidad and Tobago love their hot peppers.  Most Trinis are descended from either west African or Indian immigrants, and their ancestors’ spicy native cuisines have evolved into the modern Trini diet.  The chili of choice is the Scotch bonnet (nearly identical to the habañero familiar to American readers), and it gets used in everything.  Even callaloo (recipe follows), a dish of slow-cooked greens in coconut milk, gets the Scotch bonnet treatment.

Trinidad and Tobago quick facts:

  • Capital: Port of Spain
  • Population: 1,346,350 (2011 estimate)
  • Notable Trinbagonians: Nicki Minaj, Billy Ocean, Alfonso “Carlton Banks” Ribeiro

To figure out what food we should prepare to best aid our understanding of Trini cuisine, we again sought out an expert.  We asked Sarina of Trini Gourmet  which dishes best represent the cuisine.  She gave us a few options: roti, an Indian origin flatbread; pelau, a beans and rice dish; and callaloo.  Callaloo is unlike anything we’ve featured before in this space and made a natural choice.

Callaloo is the name for the green, edible leaf of the taro plant and was very difficult for us to locate in the Olympia, Washington area; however, most sources we found indicated that spinach makes for a fine substitute so that is what we used.

Callaloo

(adapted from Dorinda’s Taste of the Caribbean by Dorinda Hafner)

SERVES 3-4

  • 1 bunch spinach
  • 1 piece salt pork
  • 20 okra pods
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 handful parsley
  • 1 habanero pepper, slit down two sides
  • 1 handful celery leaves
  • 2 green onions, finely sliced
  • 2 cans coconut milk
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 Tbs butter
  • salt and pepper

First, we rinsed the salt pork thoroughly under cold water to try to wash away as much excess salt as possible:

saltporkwashed

The rinsed salt pork was ready to be simmered in about a quart or so of water:

saltporktosimmer

After about ten minutes or so the salt pork had changed color slightly.  We didn’t want to boil away all its flavor, so at this point it was removed:

saltporksimmered

Cut into four pieces, the salt pork was gathered with the other non-liquid ingredients, ready to go into the pot:

callalooingredients

Combined in a large pot with the coconut milk, the liquid immediately began to take on a green color from all that spinach:

callalooinpot

After thirty minutes the spinach, celery, and parsley leaves had wilted considerably, but not quite to the point of tenderness:

Callaloostarted

…so we gave it another half hour or so.  At this point we were starving, so we called it where it was:

callaloodone

We removed the chili and salt pork pieces and dumped the callaloo into a large mixing bowl, and as Hafner recommends, we beat the callaloo with a hand mixer to try to break up any larger pieces:

callaloothroughmixer

The finished result was a bit smoother, but still pretty chunky, which as we understand it is the outcome we were looking for:

callalooinbowl

We served our callaloo alongside some steamed white rice for a hearty, kind-of meatless dinner.

The most immediate comparison that callaloo evokes is to creamed spinach, but spicier, a little less rich, and a bit more complex.  Despite the coconut milk and some pork fat from the salt pork, the overall dish is pretty healthy and provides about six months worth of vitamin A from all that spinach, so it was a surprisingly guilt-free meal.  Trinidad and Tobago has represented itself well with this dish; we’d love to do a feature on roti with curry as well, but first Trinidad and Tobago must get past Colombia.

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