Sunday, June 04, 2006

Callalo Soup, or Don't be a Foo-Foo Fighter -- Flavors of the Caribbean - Part Two

Continuing my culinary journey to the Caribbean (see this jerk chicken write up for Part One), one of the many highlights of the evening was with soup of greens, okra and crab. This soup was amazing, even people who swore they don't like or were scared of okra had seconds. The okra thickened the soup and gave it a full, deep flavor and a pleasant, intriguing taste. The coconut milk sweetened the greens and the smokiness of the paprika really played well against the crab meat. It can be easily adapted for those who don't eat shellfish or who want a vegetarian version.

What are foo-foos you ask? They are plantain "dumplings," easy to make and perfect for the soup. You can skip this step, but why?

While some of the ingredients are exotic, the recipes themselves are fairly simple and not overly time consuming, and the flavors will wow you. Many of the ingredients can be found in large supermarkets or in Caribbean, Asian or Latin specialty markets.

The following recipes were adapted from my guidebook to the foods of the Caribbean -- The Complete Book of Caribbean Cooking by Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz. (Ortiz is one of my favorite cookbook authors. I hope to write more about her and her amazingly authentic cookbooks sometime soon.)

Callalo Soup (Caribbean Greens Soup)
Serves 6-8

This soup is best the same day it is prepared. Leftovers are fine, but lack some of the zing of the first day's bowl.

1 pound Swiss chard, cleaned, hard stems cut off and discarded and leafy greens cut into bite-sized pieces
6 cups chicken or vegetarian stock
1 finely chopped onion
3 chopped garlic cloves
3 green onions (scallions), rinsed, roots cut off and chopped. Use white and pale green parts.
1/4 tsp dried ground thyme
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 teaspoon smoked paprika (for a discussion of smoked paprika and where to buy it, please see the corn soup recipe here) or 1 teaspoon paprika and a few drops of liquid smoke. (See note below.)
1/2 pound cooked crabmeat (or about the same amount of tofu cubes or poached, shredded chicken breast)
1/2 cup coconut milk
10-12 ounces sliced frozen okra
salt and pepper to taste
hot pepper sauce (such as Pickapeppa, Tabasco or Blog Appetit's own Below the Belt Hot Sauce
One recipe of foo-foo (see below)

Combine the Swiss chard with the stock, onion, garlic, green onions, thyme, vegetable oil and smoked paprika (or paprika and liquid seasoning). Cover and cook over a medium-low heat, keeping contents to a slow simmer until the greens are tender. Add the crab meat (or chicken or tofu), coconut milk and okras and cook about 10 minutes until the okras are taste done. Season to taste with hot sauce, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Put two or three foo-foos in each bowl, ladle hot soup over the dumplings and serve with hot sauce on the side.

Soup Note: If the smoked paprika or liquid smoke are not available, it is okay to leave them out, but you will lose a bit of smoky complexity to the soup. If you are making the soup without the crab, you might use cubes of smoked tofu or tempeh to add that flavor back in.

Serves about 6-8

Traditionally made with a mortar and pestle, modern technology has cut down on the effort needed to make these delicious dumplings. Keep your hands well oiled when forming them so the starchy plantain mixture doesn't stick to your hands. Form them while the soup is cooking. I oiled a baking dish and put each finished dumpling into the dish as it was formed. When done, I covered with foil and kept warm in a low oven until the soup was ready to serve.

3 green plantains (do not substitute bananas), unpeeled
about 2-3 tablespoons of water
1/2 to 1 teaspoon of salt

Put the plantains in a large pot with water to cover. Cook until the plantains are tender, about a half hour. (You can check this by poking them with a fork). When the fruit inside the peel is soft, drain and carefully peel. Cut each plantain into three or four large chunks and put into a food processor. Puree, adding the water as needed to keep the mixture smooth but still very thick. It should form a ball around the blade. Adding a bit at a time, add salt and process to mix in. Taste a bit of the puree. It should have a nice balance but not be highly salted, since the soup is already flavored.

Oil hands (and keep oil or PAM spray handy) and pinch off about a walnut-size amount of the puree. Roll in your hands until rounded into a ball and put into prepared dish. Continue with rest of puree, re-oiling hands as necessary.

Keep foo-foos warm and serve with Callalo Soup.

Update: This post is part of Sweetnick's Antioxidant Rich Food Roundup, which can be viewed here
Photo Credit: Amazon

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