Saturdays at the farmers market: strollers, spinach, and celebrity sightings. (is that the Park Slope Food Coop shift shirker, inspecting zucchini sans sunglasses?) This week’s haul was particularly photogenic, with tie-dyed peppers, candy-striped etna beans, and Green Zebra heirlooms tumbling kaleidoscopically in the bottom of my market tote. While paying for my beans, I noticed a new sign in green-land—Callaloo, $6 pound. Slight green leaves with purple-tinged veins, piled loosely in a bin. “Jamaican spinach!” explained my mustachioed farmer. How could I resist?
Technically speaking, Callaloo is to “callaloo” as Gumbo is to shrimp, were you to call a shrimp a Gumbo. There are several plant species that can be used in a Callaloo, a Carribean dish of stewed greens that often includes okra and crab as well, depending on its region of origination. In Trinidad, coconut milk is a popular Callaloo addition, and the leaves of the taro plant make up most of its bulk; in Jamaica, Callaloo is often served with saltfish and is made from amaranth leaves, which are also locally referred to as “callaloo” (hence my initial confusion). Of course, taro and amaranth also go by other regional names, including bhaaji (of Indian origin, in Trinidad) and dasheen in Jamaica, respectively. Oh, and Callaloo (the dish) is also often called Pepperpot—as in, “Jamaican Pepperpot”. Got it? No? Well that’s fine, because at the Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket there is only one “callaloo”, which in this case is, botanically speaking, amaranth. Of course if you showed up at the same location on Labor Day, Callaloo was everywhere in stew form, and you were most likely eating it standing up, and out of a Styrofoam container as the West Indian parade rolled by.
Amaranth was brought to the New World by West African slaves, and is a staple of Caribbean cuisine, appearing not only in Callaloo but as a juice, in soups, and in places elsewhere occupied by spinach (such as in the callaloo rolls available at Errol’s in Lefferts Gardens). It is similar to spinach in flavor, but with a winning nuttiness, and is much milder: It does not, for example, have the metallic aftertaste or bitterness that often plagues mature spinach. With spinach it shares a density in nutrients and a quickness to cook, wilting into near-nothingness as soon as it gets a whiff of a hot pan. Against spinach in a beauty contest it wins, hands down.
My introduction to Callaloo came via Trinidad, where I was also introduced to afternoon rum punch, drunk on an airy porch. I was 14, so rum punch took primacy over Callaloo, and I remember the latter only theoretically. Since I’m not yet ready (seasonally speaking) for stewed okra and amaranth-spiked dal, I used my amaranth non-traditionally in a frittata with goat cheese.The result was a delicious and attractive change from the standard soggy brunch.
Amaranth and Goat Cheese Frittata
Goes well with a tropical porch and rum punch; serves 2-3
- 1/4 pound fresh amaranth
- 6 large eggs
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 2 ounces plain goat cheese
- 2 T butter
- vegetable oil
- freshly ground black pepper
- Kosher salt
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Wash and thoroughly dry the amaranth, and pluck the leaves from the stems, discarding the stems. Sauté the leaves in ~2 teaspoons of vegetable oil over medium high heat, 2-3 minutes or until wilted. Sprinkle the leaves with salt and set them aside.
Whisk together the eggs, cream, 3/4 teaspoon of salt, and black pepper to taste. In a 10 inch skillet over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons of butter and 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil, swirling to fully coat the sides of the pan. Add the eggs, and turn the heat to low. Sprinkle the sautéed amaranth and goat cheese evenly across the top, and continue cooking for 3-4 minutes. Transfer the pan to the oven and cook an additional 10 minutes, or until the top is set.
Place a large plate over the pan and invert the frittata onto the plate, then invert again onto a second plate. Top with additional black pepper, if desired, and serve hot.