You can classify this Trinidad callaloo recipe as a healthy green soup; but I prefer it as a tasty side dish alongside rice and stewed chicken.
It is made with young taro (or dasheen) leaves, pumpkin, okra, coconut milk and all the seasonings you’ll expect in Caribbean cuisine.
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Taro or Dasheen
Ever heard of taro? Or dasheen? It is a tropical root vegetable that may be one of the oldest cultivated crops. Its root corms (or small tubers) are usually peeled, boiled and served as a complex carbohydrate in place of rice, wheat products and other simpler carbs. It is most certainly a nutritious, gluten-free carb option.
Taro corms are classed in the West Indies as ‘ground provisions’ alongside cassava (yuca), sweet potatoes, eddoes, and yams (not the same as sweet potatoes).
But this recipe doesn’t use the corms. It requires the young taro leaves and stems instead (we call them callaloo bush). More mature leaves tend to irritate or ‘scratch the tongue’ so it’s best to stick to using young leaves.
The young leaves of the eddoes plant (taro’s cousin) are sometimes mixed with taro leaves – it’s tough to tell the two leaves apart. But the eddoe leaves definitely irritate the tongue … and some unscrupulous vendors tend to mix the two types. So be weary when purchasing taro leaves.
By the way, taro is called kalo in Hawaii. Here’s a wonderful illustration of the plant:
The taro plant has a toxin called calcium oxalate. Proper cooking breaks it down and makes it safe and edible. But, if you are sensitive to oxalate-containing foods or if you have a higher than average risk of developing kidney stones, you should avoid eating taro leaves.
Sometimes, the oxalate can cause itching when handling the raw leaves; so, you may want to use food-grade gloves.
Cooked leaves are rich in Vitamins C and A. They also have good levels of folate, potassium, calcium, iron, and protein.
Trinidad Callaloo Ingredients
I should mention here Trinidad callaloo and Jamaican callaloo are very different dishes. Trinidad callaloo is made with young taro or dasheen leaves (we call it dasheen bush or callaloo bush).
Jamaican callaloo is made with amaranth leaves. The Jamaican version is closer to my chori bhagi recipe but contains tomatoes and sometimes meat.
For this vegetarian Trinidad callaloo recipe, you’ll need:
- young taro leaves
- okra (or ochro)
- coconut milk
- seasonings (like culantro, cilantro, thyme, chives)
- lime juice (optional)
Here’s a look at everything:
For non-vegetarian versions, you can add crab, chicken feet, pork, pig tail, and beef.
As for equipment, you will need a heavy pot and a swizzle stick or immersion blender.
Now, like everything in Caribbean food, recipes are not fixed; everyone has their own unique callaloo recipe in Trinidad. This is mine and it’s freaking delicious!
Dasheen leaves and stems are sold in bunches at the local market. The plant typically grows in wet conditions so the leaves wilt quickly. It’s best to cook soon after purchase.
Wash the leaves and stems with warm water to remove any dirt. Separate the leaves from the stems, hold the leaves together and chiffonade them.
As for the stems, I cut the ends and peel their outer ‘skin’. I recommend adding oil to your hands before doing this since your fingers may develop slight reddish discolorations from the stems. Any type of oil works.
Here’s a look at what I do:
Break or cut the soft, peeled stems and place one side with the chopped dasheen leaves.
Peel and chop the pumpkin, onion and garlic. Slice the okra (we call it ochro) and other seasonings. You can use culantro or cilantro or whatever you have on hand to flavor this recipe.
As for pepper, scotch bonnet is the preferred option, but you can use whatever you have readily available. I use chili peppers from my garden here (see what else is in my garden in February 2020).
Or check out Cedella Marley-Booker’s scotch bonnet pepper sauce. It’s lovely!
You can use canned coconut milk or coconut cream for this recipe. But, since I had coconut pieces in my freezer, I made my own coconut milk from scratch. I also like to keep the strained bits to add into the callaloo for more fiber.
Here’s everything prepped and ready to be used:
How to Make Vegetarian Trinidad Callaloo
To a heavy pot, add a tablespoon of oil and sauté the chopped onions. Once sautéed, mix in the chopped garlic.
Next, toss in the pumpkin, okras and salt. Cover and allow to cook for five to ten minutes.
Once soften, carefully mix in the taro stalks and leaves. Add 2 cups of water and cover the pot on low heat.
Here you can add lime juice to the leaves. The juice helps to soften the leaves and prevents any tongue and throat irritation.
After five minutes, the taro leaves will shrink considerably (we say locally they boil down like bhagi). At this point, add the coconut milk, blended coconut, seasonings and pepper.
Cover again and leave for ten minutes.
By this time, all veggies should be soft and soup-like. Remove the scotch bonnet pepper (if you used it here); then swizzle or blend the veggies.
Serve as a soup. Or as a side with rice, Trinidad dhal, stewed or curried meats. Or with fried rice, chow mein, macaroni pie and barbequed meats. Callaloo is versatile and goes well with so many dishes!
I made the callaloo again recently and made a video for you. Mind you, there is some variation between the video and the exact details of the recipe. That’s Caribbean cooking for you – nothing is exact or the same.
I also forgot to show the lime and lime juice I added in with the leaves. Whoops!
Vegetarian Trinidad Callaloo Recipe
- Immersion blender or swizzle stick
- 25 young taro or dasheen leaves
- 1 onion (chopped)
- 2 garlic cloves (chopped)
- 3 cups pumpkin (chopped)
- 5 okra (sliced)
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup coconut milk (fresh if possible)
- seasonings like thyme, culantro, cilantro, chives
- pepper like scotch bonnet, chili, pimento, etc
- salt to taste
- 1 lime (optional)
- Wash all ingredients including taro leaves and stems.
- Separate the leaves from the stems.
- Chop the leaves.
- With oiled hands, peel the stems and break into smaller pieces.
- Blend coconut and strain, if making the coconut milk from scratch. Save 1 – 2 tablespoons of the strained coconut bits.
- Prepare all other ingredients.
- In a heavy pot on medium heat, sauté onions. Add garlic.
- Toss in pumpkin, okra and salt.
- Cover and cook for 5 – 10 minutes.
- Add taro leaves and stems, water, and lime juice (optional).
- Cover and reduce heat.
- After five minutes, add coconut milk, blended coconut, seasonings and pepper.
- Cover and cook for 10 – 15 minutes until veggies are soft and soup-like.
- If using scotch bonnet pepper, remove from pot.
- Swizzle or blend the callaloo.
- Cook for a few minutes more before turning off heat.