“ According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.” 1 Corinthians 3:10
A traditional Sunday lunch in Trinidad and Tobago consists of rice, beans, stewed chicken or beef, callaloo, macaroni pie, ground provisions and a fresh green salad. This is usually accompanied by a large jug of juice. Having such a wide array of dishes, there is generally enough left over for the next day.
Callaloo is a well-blended hodge podge of ingredients. To the unfamiliar eye it may appear unappealing – a thick, green mush. Once you get past the appearance, it is absolutely delicious and very nutritious. But what really is a callaloo? What does it consist of?
The main ingredient is the dasheen bush leaf. The leaves are obtained from the taro plant (Colocasia esculenta) and are best for cooking when young and tender. Some people use the “rolled” leaves :younger leaves which have not yet matured to unfurl in all their glory and splendor. Others use the more mature, open leaves. The leaves may be folded or shredded and the stems are sliced.
To the bush, tender, sliced okra pods are added. The okra produces mucilage when sliced and cooked. This helps to improve the viscosity of the final callaloo. To obtain a thicker product, a greater proportion of okra may be used.
Good crab is another staple for a great callaloo. Some cooks use salted meat as an alternative to crab. This is particularly useful to cater for persons with seafood allergies. The best type of crab for callaloo is the “blue crab”, although any type may be used depending on availability and budget.
To these three basic ingredients, the flavourings are now added. Chipped pumpkin adds flavor and nutritional value. The taste of the callaloo depends on the right blend of chives, parsley, celery, fine thyme, garlic, onions, hot pepper, pimento peppers, salt and black pepper. There are also some “secret ingredients’ added by various cooks; these are indeed “secret” and personal and are best revealed by individual chefs.
The pot is “set” as we say, by placing the crabs or meat into the pot first, then adding all the seasonings, the pumpkin, okra, a green hot pepper and lastly the dasheen bush stems and leaves. These are covered with water and coconut milk before placing the pot on the lighted stove.
The coconut milk is traditionally obtained by grating dried coconuts and washing the grated flesh with water. The liquid which results after squeezing out the flesh and straining is called the coconut milk. Today, the coconut milk may be added as a powder obtained from the supermarket.
When the mixture has boiled and been allowed to steep for at least thirty minutes, all the flavors become infused and the leaves become soft. At this time it is ready for blending or “swizzling”. Traditionally a swizzle stick was used but now an electric hand held immersion blender could be used for this step. This ensures that the mixture is homogeneous and smooth in appearance and texture.
The final result is rich, thick, green and flavorful soup. It is strengthening. It is delicious. Those who are adventurous enough to try this green ‘goo’, in spite of its daunting appearance, are pleasantly surprised by its effect on the senses and tastebuds.
Even though all who make this dish using the same, basic ingredients and follow the general procedure outlined previously, the final sensory outcome may differ. As was mentioned each cook has their personal adjustment to create the best callaloo. Some use crab, others use salted meat and still others make it a vegetarian delight. The blending process may be longer or shorter depending on the cook’s preference for texture. These variations to the method underscore the different tastes of callaloo from different kitchens.
In Corinthians 3:10 we are told: “I have laid the foundation… but let each one take heed how he builds on it.” The basic recipe is set but the alterations made determine the outcome. It is our privilege to have a blueprint for life given to us by Christ. It is our duty to cautiously construct our lives using that blueprint and adding to it, not our personal interpretation but the building blocks made available through God’s Word.
Let us carefully review the foundation upon which we must build our lives and then identify the blocks which are to be placed on that foundation. After the Mosaic Law, came the gospel through Jesus Christ. In the gospel we are told that the two main commands which we must follow are: to love the Lord your God; and to love your neighbor as yourself. These two form the foundation upon which we are to build our lives.
We cannot say that we have faith and approach our heavenly Father in prayer, if we do not have love for our neighbours. Even our enemies deserve our love; our non-judgmental love. We cannot truly love God if we harbor animosity for anyone. The challenge we face in this foundational structure is to be able to love those who are unlovable or difficult for us to love.
So if someone does something to hurt you, you need to love God so much that there is no place in your heart to harbor the effect of that hurt. In other words, in obeying the first command you shield yourself from missives that are designed to make you susceptible to breaking the second command.
So our foundation from Christ is love: God’s great love for us which commands us to love Him and to love our neighbours. This love we display must be pure; it is not a fickle love; it is not an intimate love. Rather this love is a mature, inveterate, deep-rooted love for humanity which mirrors God’s love for us, even though its value can never approach the value of God’s love.
What then are our building blocks? According to Phillipians 2:3-4, upon the foundation of love we need to lay humility. This humility must manifest itself in service to others, valuing others above yourself. This must not be advertised or done in a flashy manner. No, it must be done humbly, letting the receiver of your service feel valued and honored.
Service could mean lending a helping hand to someone who is unable to help themselves. For instance an elderly person may be unable to do simple household chores. This ought to be a wonderful opportunity for you to render service with humility; a chance for you to roll up your sleeves. Without fanfare, you can delve into such tasks as clearing a yard, mending a fence, tending to plants, doing groceries, or cooking. It does not matter what task you select; it should not be for personal glory; as long as it helps someone, you undertake that task, clothed in humility.
James 2: 14 -17 provides us with another building block: charity or generosity. Whatever resources you may have, however limited they may seem, take from them and give generously and graciously to those who may be more in need than you. Do this along with the first building block of humility.
Again charity does not need to be announced. There is no need for a megaphone or Facebook post. Give so that your right hand does not even know what your left hand is doing. This block requires some measure of detachment. When you disconnect from the tangible, from material possessions, then giving becomes second nature. It becomes easy to give and deny yourself without being sanctimonious.
Finally Romans 12:14-21 provides the cement to bind the building blocks together. Humility and charity come together in love. A loving response to an unloving gesture can soothe the savage beast. Have you ever noticed how quickly an arrogant and hubristic manner can be undermined by a soft and gentle response?
In my lion years, as described in my first book, From Lion to Lamb, A Spiritual Journey, I was the arrogant one who would be tamed by a loving word or deed. This is one lesson I learnt well and increasingly practice. Perhaps one day I will master this lesson! We are usually unaware of the type of turmoil, mental, spiritual, emotional, or some combination of these, which manifests as a physical misdemeanor. This is why it is critical to respond compassionately especially when wronged.
These foundational blocks laid by Christ may seem foreboding. So too our Callaloo appears unappealing. However, just like the dish, the building blocks of humility, charity and love prove to be sensory delights bringing joy and satisfaction to the famished soul.