Callaloo is a staple here in Jamaica. It is often served for breakfast and sometimes contains saltfish. Saltfish is a salt dried and preserved cod, it is almost jerky like in texture. The salt content is extremely high and to use this you must first soak it for several hours to soften it and pull the salt out. Saltfish is often used as more of a seasoning than a main component to a dish.
Callaloo is a type of amaranth green. This grows well here and is available almost year round. You can find someone selling it in most communities and it is not often in short supply. When I think about the Jamaican diet this dish is the one that makes me the happiest. For some Jamaicans this constitutes most if not all of their vegetable intake for a day. I expected much more vegetation on my plate when I first arrived, but I was so shocked by the amount of starchy foods and meat consumed in the average diet. I cannot eat so much starchy food or I would not be able to move around!
Typically you can get callaloo either in natural state, fresh harvested or already prepared for you, cut and diced. I prefer the natural state, as I distrust that the time was taken to clean and soak the callaloo of all worms and bugs. But this is my personal fear and not one that most people consider. If buying it precut you can go to the market and watch the vendors take the callaloo and bunch it up after stripping the stringy parts, at the base, out. They then take a sharp knife and around their fist start slicing away. I find this to scary as I would likely take a large hunk of my hand off! I prepare it differently. I clean it and dry it, because dry produce lasts longer in the fridge. I then pick the pieces I want out and store the rest in a sealed container with a paper towel in the bottom to soak up the moisture if any appears. I then cut the pulpy parts off and dice away on my cutting board.
Some people prefer their callaloo steamed all the way, I prefer to saute my onions and steam at the end. I think it adds more flavor and I use coconut oil so it has great flavor. So I strip my onions and slice them thin and saute them. I add garlic and a bit of scotch bonnet peppers, not too much! I use the actual pepper and slice it open, so if you do this be aware that no matter how much you wash the pepper capsaicin is in your fingernails and will be for quite some time. I learned that using a pair of scissors to slice it is a much easier and better for small slivers than a knife. Once my base is cooking down, I then add my cut callaloo. I add a small bit of water, less than 1/4 cup and put a lid on it to allow the steam to cook it down. At this point I might add some herbs and spices, traditionally this would be whole pimento, or allspice and some thyme and a scallion. I however like to build a big flavor and add oregano and dried basil. If you use pimento be sure to pull those bits out along with the twig from the thyme and the scallion if you desire. I typically cut my scallion down to bite size pieces to make it more edible, because why throw it away?
As the callaloo is cooking down, I check on it to ensure it does not burn and dry out, I also take a peeler and pull off bits of carrot, a trick I wish I had known many years ago! I also chop up a tomato to throw in. Sometimes I add some coconut milk at the end to simmer it down in. This adds a truly Caribbean vibe to the meal.
There you have it, all done. Typically served with fried dumpling, boiled banana and or a piece of yam. If you are lucky you can find some breadfruit to serve with it. This dish is one of my favorites. I like to baste an egg with my callaloo but if I were serving this to a true Rasta I would put in broad beans instead for the protein source, I would also not saute anything, all steamed and no salt.
For those that cannot find callaloo, you could try cale or mustard greens, mustard greens have a sharper taste so be aware of this as you season it.