Callalloo and Coocoo

Go ahead, laugh at the name of this stew and cornmeal combo–it sounds either straight out of a Dr. Seuss book or like euphemisms for….  well, I don’t need to go there.

But that’s not why I love this dish so much.  Whenever I make this thick green stew, I feel all witchy with my big pot and long spoon.  It’s flavorful and nutritious and one of those dishes for which every single ingredient is available here because–duh, Laura–it’s a Trini staple dish.

Now, I love how it is served here as a thick green puree on top of dumplings or with coocoo (a thick polenta with okra–this is how I serve it) but I don’t puree mine, which would probably make all the Trinis I know gasp and tell me that it’s not callalloo unless it’s pureed.  I’m not going to hang my head in shame at this; I just prefer a chunky soupy stew.

I also add red beans for texture, taste, and protein–another heresy, I’m sure, but I’m a Puerto Rican girl and I will not be parted from my beloved kidney beans.

I would highly encourage you to seek out the callalloo (a green leaf similar in looks to collard greens) if you have any Caribbean food shops nearby.  Otherwise, you can just use spinach–I’ve made this with spinach before and it’s been very tasty indeed.  I’d suggest baby spinach because the milder flavor is closer to the taste of callalloo leaf, but don’t sweat it if you have to use regular spinach.

Also, if you’re not a big heat-lover, you can leave the scotch bonnet pepper out or use a small corner of one.  Just be sure you don’t use a green one if that’s what you choose to do, because you do NOT want to accidentally eat that thing.

The usual provisos about quantities go here–just use what you have and season to taste.  It’s a very forgiving dish.

Enough chatter!

Go and round up:

For the callalloo:

  • 1 bunch of callalloo (or a couple of bags of spinach), chopped
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 5 or 6 cloves of garlic, minced (I bash mine to a paste in a mortar and pestle)
  • 5 okra, chopped
  • 4 or 5 seasoning peppers (small, mild peppers)–omit if you can’t find them (I’m not sure what a good alternative would be for these–yet!)
  • 1 habanero or scotch bonnet pepper, slit halfway up but NOT broken in half (
  • 2 tsp. canola or other mild oil
  • 1 tbsp. minced parsley
  • 2-3 tsp. fresh thyme, minced (if not available, use about 1 tsp. dried thyme)
  • 2 cups pumpkin (you can use acorn squash if you want), chopped
  • 1 can red kidney beans
  • 1 can coconut milk (go for the full-fat)
  • salt and pepper to taste

For the coocoo:

  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 3 or 4 okra, finely chopped
  • 1 can coconut milk (optional–it’s the traditional way to do it, but I use water because two cans of coconut milk for one meal seems a bit much sometimes)
  • Salt to taste

Now, get down to the business:

  • Start with the callalloo: In a big soup pot, saute the onions in the oil over medium heat.
  • When they are translucent, add the thyme, parsley, pumpkin, and seasoning peppers and saute for a minute or two.
  • Add the spinach, saute for a minute or two, then add the rest of the ingredients, plus enough water to barely cover it all, and bring to the boil.
  • When it boils, turn it down and let it simmer for about a half hour (until the spinach and pumpkin are very, very soft), checking water levels and adjusting seasoning.
  • While that’s all simmering and sputtering, make the coocoo: put the okra and coconut milk plus water (enough to make two cups of liquid) and salt (I use about half a teaspoon) in a saucepan and bring to a boil, then let simmer for a few minutes on low-medium heat.
  • Over medium heat, slowly whisk the cornmeal in and continue to stir constantly (with a wooden spoon once it’s all whisked in) for a couple of minutes over the heat, then turn it off and cover to keep it warm until the callalloo is done.

Serve both in a bowl, like so, doused with West Indian pepper sauce (if you’re me):

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