The Incredible Inedible Dasheen/Callaloo

    Throughout the Caribbean markets, you can find piles of hairy, dusty root vegetables called dasheen.  The same thing in the south Pacific is called taro.  It's a starchy root similar to a potato.  But unlike the potato, it can be stored for long periods of time in the tropical heat and humidity.  Along with yams, tania, and sweet potatos, dasheen is part of the group of starchy roots called simply "ground provisions" by West Indians. 

   The dasheen grows like a large beet underground and is topped by a bush of broad, green leaves.  The leaves are called callaloo and are sold separately.  They are steamed or boiled and served like spinach, or else put into "Callaloo Soup", which appears on the menu of just about every West Indian restaurant we find around here.

   The interesting thing about this plant is that anyone considers it edible at all.  In its raw state, both the leaves and roots of this plant are rich in crystals of calcium oxalate.  Eating them has been compared to chewing on a mouthful of fiberglass.  Some even recommend wearing gloves when chopping the leaves as the crystals can irritate the skin.  Fortunately, the viscious little crystals are broken down when cooked.  I wonder who was brave enough to figure that out?  Just don't eat this plant raw!

   Every recipie I can find for Callaloo soup is different.  It's one of those "use up the leftovers" recipes.  It often uses okra as a thickener..but I left that out of my version because I don't really like okra.  Crab, shrimp or lobster meat seems to be used interchangably.  And pork of some sort keeps showing up.  Anyway, the callaloo leaves impart a rich vegetable flavor and a green velvet texture to this tasty soup.  Unless you have an unusual West Indian market nearby, you'll probably have to substitute kale or spinach, but if you can find the real thing, it's worth it!

Callaloo Soup

2 bunches of Callaloo leaves, de-stemmed & chopped (about 4 cups)   OR substitute kale or spinach

1 quart of fish stock

6 strips of bacon

1 onion, peeled & chopped

2 carrots, peeled & chopped

4 cloves of garlic, minced

2 Tbsp butter

1 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves

1/2 lb peeled shrimp, crab, or lobster

salt & hot pepper sauce to taste

    Fry bacon in onion & butter, drain any excess fat.  Add callaloo, carrots, garlic, thyme, and stock and boil for 30 minutes.  To make a very smooth, velvety soup, blend now with an immersion blender.  Add shrimp and cook 5 or 10 minutes longer.  Season to taste and serve.

 

     Now for the bottom part of this plant--the dasheen.  Basically anything you can do with a potato, you can do with a dasheen.  The texture can be slightly gummier, and the taste a bit nuttier when compared to a potato.  We made "dasheen chips" (just like potato chips) and they tasted just like toasted pumpkin seeds.  I have a weakness for french fries, and since I don't have a deep fryer on board, I'd make oven fries.  At least I thought I would before I learned that regular potatoes spoil pretty quickly in the tropical heat.  So now I can do the same thing with dasheen

Dasheen Oven Fries (works well with regular potatoes, too)

2 Dasheen, peeled and cut into wedges, (or 3 Russet Potatoes, each cut into 10-12 even wedges with skin on)

5 Tbsp melted duck fat, vegetable or peanut oil

Sea salt, fresh ground pepper

 

Adjust oven rack to lowest position and preheat to 475.  Place dasheen/potatoes in large bowl, cover with hot water and soak 10 min.  Coat baking sheet with 4 T. oil, tsp salt, and tsp pepper.

Drain dasheen/potatoes and dry thoroughly with paper towels.  Toss with 1 Tbsp oil.  Arrange in single layer on baking sheet, cover with foil & bake 5 min.  Remove foil and continue baking 15-20 min until bottoms begin to brown.  Loosen from pan with metal spatula, turn wedges over and bake another 5-15 minutes.  Drain on paper towels, Sprinkle with salt & serve.