When we normally decide what to cook for the next meal we often get inspired by what might be in season and available at the farmer’s market or one of the supermarkets which sells local produce, but sometimes cooking can also be a chance to explore new regions throughout the world. Though not in person, a culinary trip to another country gives you often a good idea about the history and influences of that country. One region many people associate with beautiful beaches, sunshine and vacation but also with poverty and colonialism is the Caribbean. When we started to look into typical dishes from this region one dish which was often mentioned was Callaloo. But the more we looked into the history and background of the dish the more we realized saying that we look for a typical dish of the Caribbean is like saying we would look for a typical dish of Europe. The Caribbean might be home to just 35 million people but consists of many different countries or still dependent territories and many of them have a very diverse history and population.
The background of Callaloo is even more complex as the word not only describes the dish but also the main ingredient which can mean a different plant depending on the part of the Caribbean. The common ground between all different versions is that Callaloo is a spicy soup or stew which is made out of edible leaves from different tropical plants. In Trinidad and Tobago for example taro leaves are used for Callaloo, Jamaicans use amaranth leaves whereas malanga is used in Puerto Rico. But also the preparations vary strongly between different countries in this region – Jamaicans make a simpler version by just using the callaloo leaf and salt whereas in Trinidad and Tobago okra and coconut milk are added to give a very different flavor profile. Callaloo is often served with rice and some seafood or meat and so in the end we decided to go for a version close to one from Trinidad and Tobago with a chicken and crab callaloo.
Callaloo is also often named pepper pot but this name doesn’t really do this version justice. Even though the dish had a pleasant spicyness from the Serrano chili the flavor profile was much more complex. The base of the dish comes from the typical Callaloo seasoning – garlic, scallions and thyme. Bacon and ham add saltiness, whereas the coconut milk balances the spicyness but also contributes a special character reminiscent of the tropical origin of the dish. The crab displays the abundance of seafood of the region. Unfortunately we weren’t able to get hold of taro leaves but spinach is often mentioned as an adequate replacement. The okra not only helped to thicken the stew but also showed the African influences of the dish. Taken together this dish not only includes many typical ingredients of the Caribbean but represents with its different culinary influences part of the history of the region - it is a quite unique dish clearly related to its region.
Saute bacon for 7-8 minutes until it starts to crisp. Drain with a slotted spoon and put aside.
Brown chicken and ham in bacon drippings for 7 minutes. Add onion, garlic and thyme and cook for additional 5 minutes until onion starts to soften.
Add broth, bring to a boil and simmer it covered for 10 minutes.
Add spinach, okra, coconut milk, bacon and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in scallions and Serrano chile and season with pepper and salt.
Serve by ladling over freshly cooked rice and some of the crabmeat.
Recipe adapted from “Cuisine at Home”
4 slices thick-cut bacon, diced
250 g (8.5 oz) chicken breast, cubed and seasoned with salt and pepper
125 g (4.5 oz) ham, cubed
2 white onions, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ tsp dried thyme
1.4 L (6 cups) chicken broth
2 bunches spinach, chopped
200 g (7 oz) frozen okra, sliced
240 ml (1 cup) coconut milk
2 bunches scallions, sliced
2 serrano chilies, diced
230 g (8 oz) crabmeat