What’s callaloo you ask?
These are red callaloo leaves, a new discovery of mine, but not new by any stretch of the imagination. Picked up this bunch of callaloo from Next Step Produce at the Dupont Circle Farmers’ Market in Washington, D.C. Callaloo is a member of the amaranth family. Callaloo dates back thousands of years and was a staple of the Mayans, Aztecs, and Incas. Callaloo thrives in hot summer climates. Use it as you would spinach, chard, or kale.
Amaranth grain (actually, a seed) is also edible and a complete source of protein (that is to say, it contains all the essential amino acids), unlike most other grains.
But today, I’m not focusing on the grain (which I have plans for at a later date). Today is all about the leaves, beautiful purplish-red streaked leaves. Aren’t they striking?
I love discovering new edible plants. In modern times, where the majority (i.e., more than 75%) of plant biodiversity has been lost (gone, finito, sayonara), it’s good to see something other than the same old same old. Hence my predilection for the unusual. By growing, buying, and eating diverse crops, we can help to preserve the biodiversity of plants. Plus, it’s fun to experiment with them in the kitchen.
Today, a Trinidadian-inspired stew — callaloo stew with crab — is on the menu.
Now that I’ve gone on about callaloo, I realize it’s a green that may not be readily available (although, never hurts to keep your eyes out for it), unless you live in a tropical climate (which D.C. often feels like in the summer). Fear not. No callaloo, no problem. Simply substitute baby spinach or chard leaves for callaloo.
This rather unusual looking dish is based on a Trinidadian recipe of greens, onion, garlic, okra, coconut milk, chile, crab, herbs, and spices, which are simmered and then blended with a wooden stick called a swizzle stick (or food processor, blender, or immersion blender — modern forms of the humble swizzle stick).
There’s a habanero chile in the stew, so you’d think it would be super spicy, but surprisingly it’s pretty tame from a heat standpoint. The habanero is left whole to simmer in the stew. When you leave the chile whole (vice chopping or mincing it), it imparts much less heat, but you still get that distinct fruitiness from the habanero.
Crab is often added to callaloo stew. And being that I’m from the Maryland area, the home of the Chesapeake Bay blue crab, I have easy access to this delicacy. Got up early and headed down to the Maine Avenue Fish Market, along the waterfront in southeast D.C., to pick up a handful of blue crabs. Alternatively, you can use other varietals of crab, picked lump crab meat, or go vegetarian and omit the crab altogether.
Be careful, blue crabs are feisty little guys…
I used chard and baby spinach in this version. Also, added a couple of hard-shell blue crabs to the stew.
Anyone who has sat down for a crab feast knows that blue crabs are a bit of work and downright messy to eat. If you don’t mind getting your hands dirty, add the crabs straight into the stew. Otherwise, you can pick the meat from the cooked crabs and then garnish each plate with a handful of lump crab (yum).
When you’re ready to blend the stew, remove the habanero and set aside. Be careful to fish the habanero out, you don’t want your stew to be fiery. Blend half the stew and then add it back to the pot.
Soft-shelled crabs, did you know?
Soft-shelled crabs are crabs that have outgrown their shell and must shed it before growing a bigger one. This typically happens the first full moon in May and continues through October.
This dish calls for cold beer or a white wine like Gewurztraminer.
Callaloo Stew with Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab
1 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 whole scotch bonnet or habanero chile
leaves from couple sprigs of thyme
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
12-14 okra (~1/4 pound), sliced into rounds
1 1/4 pounds leafy greens (such as callaloo, amaranth, baby spinach or chard)
2 cups water or vegetable stock
1 (13.5 ounce) can full fat coconut milk
2 large *blue crabs (split into 2 pieces), plus claws
pat of butter
Heat the olive oil in a large, deep pan. Add the onion, garlic, whole scotch bonnet/habanero, thyme, turmeric, a little bit of salt (you’ll want to reseason at the end), and okra, and cook until the onion is soft and translucent, but not browned. Add the greens, water or stock, and coconut milk, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the greens are soft, about 45 minutes.
Remove the habanero and set aside. Ladle half of the mixture to a food processor or blender and pulse until smooth but chunky consistency. Add the blended mixture back to the stew. Add the reserved habanero back to the stew.
Add the crab pieces and continue cooking another 10 minutes or so, until the crabs are cooked through. The shells will turn bright orange when they’re done and the meat will be opaque and flaky. Add the butter and lime juice to taste. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
*Note: Alternatively, add lump crab meat to the finished dish or top with a soft-shelled crab.