Callaloo: West Indian Vegetable and Crab Soup with Coconut Milk

Callaloo: West Indian Vegetable and Crab Soup with Coconut Milk 150 150 David Rosengarten


It was a friend from Trinidad who turned me on to this terrific soup—popular in the Caribbean, and now popular in Caribbean communities in the U.S. as well. The soup takes its name from callaloo leaves, which are the very popular leaves of the taro plant—and, of course, a main ingredient in the soup. Though callaloo leaves are occasionally available in the U.S., most cooks here substitute spinach leaves, as the following recipe advises you to do. It can be served as a soup course—but if you include the pile of crabs called for in the recipe, and serve the soup with hot white rice, it makes a great main course.

Makes 4 main-course servings of soup

10 ounces raw spinach
8 okra, cut into 1/2″ rounds
4 ounces peeled pumpkin, cut into 1/2″ dice
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
4 scallions sliced into 1/2″ rounds
4 ounces salted pork (see NOTE)
2 cups unsweetened coconut milk
4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 cloves
1 Scotch Bonnet, habanero or other hot chile
3 pounds crab (either whole live crabs, well-washed, or cooked crab claws, defrosted)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1. Remove any tough stems from spinach. Place in a 4-quart saucepan. Add okra, pumpkin, onion, scallions, pork, coconut milk and 2 cups water.

2. Place the thyme, cloves and hot chile in a piece of wet cheesecloth. Tie securely and place in the saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then turn the heat to low and simmer, covered, until all the ingredients are soft (about 45-60 minutes).

3. Remove the cheesecloth bag. Discard. Remove the pork and discard. Pour half of the remaining contents of the pot into a blender, and purée them. Return purée to the pot and blend well.

4. Add the crab and cook for another 10 minutes.

5. Stir in 1 tablespoon unsalted butter (or Caribbean margarine) before serving.

NOTE: The most accessible pork ingredients to use would be either salt pork or bacon. If using either, keep the pork in one chunk. A less accessible but more authentic option would be salted pig’s tail, which you can obtain from a butcher in a Caribbean neighborhood; ask him to cut a 4-ounce piece into 4 chunks. Whichever type of pork you’re using, prepare it for the callaloo by placing it in a small saucepan, covering it with water, bringing the water to a boil, then draining the pork in a colander under running tap water.

Photo by Cynthia Nelson

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