This close to callaloo recipe is a mainland version of a flavorful Caribbean classic. Like the original, it’s rich with flavor and spice, and heavy on the plants – in fact, this recipe is vegan! It’s a samplefrom the cookbook Vegan Fire & Spice by Robin Robertson.
Vegan Fire & Spice Cookbook offers a Whole World of Flavor
I often hear people profess that a vegan diet is impossible for them, simply because they “like food” and couldn’t imagine that a diet void of dairy, meat, and other animal products would actually taste good. As they slog back lifeless, butter-laden mashed potatoes topped with greasy gravy, I stare at them in utter-disbelief and ask, “Have you ever heard of herbs and spices?”
Well, Robin Robertson has, and she created a vegan cookbook to combat the flavorless claims of omnivores, Vegan Fire & Spice. More focused on the spice aspect than fire (you can turn the heat up or way down, depending on your temperature preferences), this collection of recipes takes inspiration from popular dishes around the globe.
The Recipes in Vegan Fire & Spice
I was in awe of the far reaching extent of Vegan Fire & Spice. It includes dishes like Close to Callalou, Nigerian Peanut Soup, Majorcan Baked Vegetables, Turkish Eggplant, Moroccan Spiced Carrots, Vegetable Samosas, Vindaloo Vegetables, Fusian Asian Noodles, Hunan Fried Rice, and Indonesian Coconut Rice. In fact, this cookbook has around 200 far-reaching savory recipes.
As much as I love dessert, I find the baked goods and sweets recipes often overwhelm vegan cookbooks. Robin focuses on what many of us need, everyday meals. And I do mean everyday. While the flavors may be exotic, the ingredients are surprisingly accessible. Most of the recipes can be whipped up using ingredients I readily stock in my pantry. Somehow Robin has fused dozens of international flavors with American staples!
As for the layout, the cookbook is divided by region, The Americas, Mediterranean Europe, The Middle East & Africa, India, and Asia, with a recipe guide at the beginning of each regional section. The recipes are listed as appetizers, soups and stews, salads and sides, main courses, or dressings, sauces, and condiments.
With a well-stocked spice rack and pantry (rice, lentils, canned tomatoes, canned beans, peanut butter, etc.), and a week’s worth of basic perishables (bell peppers, potatoes, eggplant, onions, carrots, etc.), most of the recipes are just minutes away. Some of the recipes do call for tofu, tempeh, or seitan, which are pretty easy to find, even at traditional grocers.
Close to Callaloo made with Everyday Plant-Based Ingredients
In our earlier years my husband and I loved to challenge one another with douses of hot sauce, but these days we prefer our meals filled with flavor, not heat. Luckily, it really was easy to adjust the heat in these recipes, using just a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes when a ½ teaspoon was called for, for example. Also, Robin uses little chili peppers at the top of each recipe to denote the natural heat (when unadjusted) of each recipe, ranging from one to three chili peppers.
One recipe that caught my eye right away was the aforementioned Close to Callaloo. I first tried Callaloo many years ago on a trip with my husband to the Caribbean. Never before had we tasted so many wonderful natural flavors as we did on that vacation. Yet, to our surprise, the food store that all of the locals and restaurants shopped at on that little island was smaller than a 7-Eleven. In fact, you could say it was just a well stocked pantry.
Robin has captured those flavors in this easy, straight-forward callaloo recipe. It isn’t identical to the greens used on the islands, but it does capture the essence of this creamy, spicy, coconut milk dish.
Special Diet Notes: Close to Callaloo
By ingredients, this recipe is dairy-free / non-dairy, egg-free, gluten-free, grain-fee, nut-free, peanut-free, soy-free, plant-based, paleo-friendly, vegan, and vegetarian.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 sweet potato, peeled and diced
- 1 red bell pepper, chopped
- 1 hot chile, seeded and minced
- 1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
- 1 bunch spinach, coarsely chopped
- 1 bunch Swiss chard, coarsely chopped
- 3 cups water or vegetable broth
- 1 (13.5-ounce) can full-fat coconut milk
- Salt, to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, sweet potato, bell pepper, and chile. Cover and cook until softened, 10 minutes.
- Stir in the tomatoes, spinach, chard, and broth and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the greens are wilted.
- Stir in the coconut milk and season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Continue to cook until the vegetables are tender and the flavors are well blended, about 15 minutes.