Callaloo, or calaloo, is the name for both a spicy Caribbean soup or stew and the edible leaves of several tropical plants that are used to make the stew. The plants used for this dish are large leafy plants with starchy edible roots, called taro, dasheen, tannia, amaranth, or yautia. Where none of those vegetables are available, some cooks substitute spinach or collard greens. Callaloo recipes, and the use of different types of leaves, vary by region, but the stew always contains some kind of leafy vegetable. Stewed callaloo leaves are eaten as a side dish with many meals or used as a sauce.
This stew was originally made by slaves and emigrants from West Africa. The recipe included native vegetables and okra, which were replaced by plants indigenous to different Caribbean islands. In Trinidad and Tobago, taro leaves are steamed and served as a hot leaf vegetable, as well as used in a callaloo soup. Jamaican cuisine serves it as steamed amaranth leaves or an ingredient in their version of the stew. Puerto Ricans favor tannia or malanga in their stew, while other islands have their own variations.
Recipes for callaloo stew often contain the ingredients salt pork, okra, crabmeat, shrimp, chilies, thyme, cilantro, and garlic. Some versions call for adding chopped root vegetables like yams, yautia, or taro, and green bananas, and individual cooks put in other ingredients they have on hand to give it their own touch. In Trinidad and Tobago, coconut milk is also added to the recipe. The resulting thick, chunky soup is served with fried or sticky dumplings, macaroni pie, pounded yams, boiled green bananas, or rice.
Many varieties of greens used for this dish grow wild in the southern United States, the Caribbean, and tropical Central and South American regions. Jamaican callaloo, or amaranths, are part of a group of ornamental plants that reseed readily from high-quality parent plants and can easily be grown in a backyard garden. Most varieties of the plant require large amounts of water and plentiful sunshine. These plants generally grow large heart- or oval-shaped leaves, so they also require room to spread.
Callaloo leaves have all the nutritional benefits of other leafy green vegetables. They are high in fiber, iron and calcium, and contain large amounts of vitamins A, B, and C, lutein, amino acids, and carotene. While fresh leaves provide the most nutrition, they can also be purchased in cans at specialty or native grocery stores.