Thursday, August 2, 2012

My Love Affair with Food Continues: Callaloo

Whether it has been by planes, trains, automobiles or boats, I like to fancy myself a well-traveled woman. My journeys have taken me to three of the seven continents where I’ve explored such far-flung places as Dubai, The Netherlands, Belgium, South Africa, Italy, points far and wide throughout the Caribbean and more. I’ve even been known on occasion to indulge in staycations of the mind, courtesy of my HoMedics SoundSpa machine, where at the press of a button  I am instantly soothed by the sounds of the rainforest, ocean, a thunderstorm, a summer night, rain or a waterfall.

The wanderlust within has also unearthed the gourmand within and, as such, food has been a major component of my travels. Entire chickens have fallen prey to my voracious appetite. I’ve pressed my lips to ostrich steak in Johannesburg and lived to tell the tale. And nowhere else in the world would I be able to find a better hand tossed thin crust quattro formaggi pizza than in Venice, Italy. 

The past ten years has seen me flying down to Jamaica for my own brand of Caribbean flair. Yeah mon. Everything about the island excites me, including the cuisine. No one—and I mean no one—makes jerk chicken the way that a Jamaican can. Period. The national dish, ackee and saltfish, is an acquired taste and one which, if the ackee is not prepared properly, can be hazardous to your health! And I won’t even get into the number of cases of Red Stripe beer [NOTE: You must be of legal drinking age to enter this site] I’ve no doubt consumed over the years. Yet for as many times as I’ve been to Jamaica, there was one dish that I always managed to avoid . . . until last week: Callaloo.

Callaloo is a dish similar to spinach and, as I have come to find out through a bit of internet research, can be made with a variety of leafy plants with starchy edible roots, including water spinach and taro. A recipe with its origins steeped in West Africa and brought to the Caribbean by slaves and emigrants, it is now widely eaten all over the Caribbean. I can now be counted among the many who love and eat callaloo.

I first tried callaloo compliments of Coyaba Beach Resort’s Vineyard Restaurant during breakfast on our first full day in Montego Bay a little over a week ago (July 24th). Okay, while not necessarily complimentary‒it came with a hefty $17 price tag as a topping on a Jamaican version of a Spanish omelet‒it was nonetheless a welcome surprise, especially given that, for reasons unknown even to myself, I had avoided callaloo like it was the embodiment of Mad Cow Disease in vegetable form. Hell, I can’t even make that claim with a clear conscience because I didn’t even know what callaloo was.

So there, atop my Spanish omelet, sat a tiny mound of green flecked with red (tomatoes) throughout. The way The Vineyard prepared it, it resembled chopped spinach that had been sautéed to within an inch of its leafy life. It conjured up such a horrific déjà vu moment of one of the most pathetic attempts at creamed spinach that ever assaulted my mouth that I nearly took my knife and scraped the miniscule bundle off the egg mash-up, discarded it to the side of the plate and the joys of callaloo would have once again been lost on my dining sensibilities. Instead, I boldly stuck my fork in the middle of the greenery, loaded up a heaping amount‒which was nearly all of it‒and brought the stainless steel utensil to my lips for the first of what I soon hoped would be many wonderful encounters with this lovely vegetable dish.

With a savory punch that invaded my mouth like a marauding storm trooper, the callaloo immediately took command of my taste buds and refused to relent until the last vestiges were a distant memory. The juicy lusciousness is what I recall fondly, for in that moistness, along with the happy-mouth-syndrome mélange of seasonings (I discerned the flavors of onion, garlic, thyme and pepper), was the secret to the wonderful flavors of this callaloo as it was prepared.

Some of the wonderful seasonings in callaloo . . .

I regret that I did not think to snap a photo of it. Then at least, although it would linger but soon fade from my memory, I would have a picture to remind me of the torrid affair that we shared for those brief seconds that it took me to devour it.

Oh callaloo, how I do so love you.

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