Amaranth – the Toyota Corolla of greens.
Saturday, February 4th, 2017 at 8:04 am
I once met John (that’s him in his garden), a Jamaican, living in Toronto who enthusiastically told me about his quest to grow callaloo plants so he could cook the famous West Indian dish known by the same name. After many years of hunting about the city John finally found some callaloo seeds and began growing his beloved crop. I was intrigued to see this mystical plant that had a man talking so passionately. But when we got to John’s garden, instead of surprise I smiled in recognition. Here was a familiar low leafy stand of green amaranth just like Joe Garita had been growing for years in his Merri Creek market garden.
Callaloo is a Caribbean dish first made by West African slaves who combined traditional recipes with local Caribbean ingredients. Jamaican callaloo is sautéed green amaranth leaves with tomatoes, onion, scallions and peppers, other islands have a multitude of their own versions. All over the world Callaloo plants are ubiquitous, sort of like Toyota Corollas and once you know them,you start seeing them everywhere. Most cultures seem to have their own callaloo and each has their own name for it; in Southern India it’s thotakura, Indonesians, call theirs bayam, Greece has veleta, the Lebanese etayfe, Kenyans, dodo, while Brazilians and Filipinos have caruruand kalunay (sound familiar?)
For Joe Garita callaloo was indian spinach. He sold it at the Coburg Market where buyers from South East Asia, India, the Middle East, Southern Europe and South America sought it out with the same enthusiasm as John did in Toronto. These days at Joe’s Market Garden there’s no need to plant green amaranth it just self-sows everywhere. After taking over from Joe, we found it sprouting among our crops and treated it as a weed, but later we learned to leave patches alone and harvest it like any of our other vegetables. Green amaranth grows incredibly quickly, doesn’t seem to have any pests or diseases, is tasty and highly nutritious – I don’t know why we ever tried to resist it’s like the farmer’s dream vegetable. Bunches of green amaranth aka callaloo are on sale in our webshop and in our fruit and veg boxes this week.