It’s officially Spring, and Summer is going to leap out from behind a tree any second. That’s how it works, here in Minnesota. One minute you are wearing a parka, then it rains and the temps veer around and require six different jackets on any given day, then boom. Summer is suddenly present, with her green canopies of leaves, sun dancing on the ripples of your favorite lake.
You must make time for the lake. There are 10,000 of them to choose from.
Because summer is so precious, we like to start eating like it’s summer as early as possible. I’ve been smelling grill smoke since February, if you know what I mean. At my house, summer eating means taking some trips down memory lane to Jamaica.
We visited Negril a few years ago, and the food there won my heart. The Rastafarian religion is a vegetarian one, and because of that, many followers follow a cuisine of “Ital” or “vital” foods. It’s a tropical paradise, where fruits and veggies are abundant, and spices like turmeric, allspice and ginger grow wild. Ital cooks, serving all manner of tasty patties, curries, and things over rice make vegetarian fare spicy and light. Even when stewed in coconut milk, the dishes were made primarily from vegetables and fruit, with some beans here and there.
There is a leafy green on the Island, called Callaloo, which is similar to collard greens. It’s often featured in the traditional “Rundown.” Rundown is a dish whose name refers to the cooking method, which is to stew all the ingredients in coconut milk. Just about anything can be cooked in a rundown, and as you might imagine, it will be delicious. It’s a quick recipe, too, requiring very little effort.
So, to get in the spirit of sunny days, spent sipping Red Stripe on the patio, I’m making some rundown. Collard greens will stand in for the callaloo, and I am using a green plantain, which you should be able to find at the local grocery.
The green plantain may look like a banana, but it behaves more like a potato, if you can imagine that. It’s starchy and not sweet, and even a little tannic. As the plantain ripens, the peel turns progressively blacker. If you get a ripe plantain, it will be sweeter and softer, and not require the steaming step. To eat the green one, you’ll have to cut the peel off and slice it, then steam it until tender.
Then, in the beauty of the rundown, I just heated up some coconut milk and added the greens, plantain, chopped chile, and scallions.
A sprinkle of Jamaican Curry Powder gave it plenty of flavor.
I have a big jar of authentic Jamaican curry powder, pictured here. The prominent difference between this and an Indian curry powder is a strong scent of fenugreek and a pale yellow color, because it features more turmeric and less cumin. You can use your favorite curry powder, because, yah, mon, it’s copacetic.
Once the collard greens were tender, I stirred and simmered it a bit, and tasted it for heat and salt. Of course, you can make this authentically spicy with a Scotch Bonnet pepper instead of my mild little Red Fresnos, or you can double, triple or quadruple the two chiles I did use.
This creamy, spicy dish is terrific with rice, beans, jerked tofu or tempeh, or a big fat veggie pattie. I put a recipe for my favorite one in The New Vegetarian, if you want to learn to make the Jamaican answer to fast food.
Feel free to make rundown your own, and cook up whatever is fresh from the garden in coconut milk, with some chile and curry. It’s the Rastafarian way.
Jamaican Rundown Greens
If you want to use kale or chard, go ahead, the coconut milk will work its magic.
1 green plantain
1/2 can coconut milk (3/4 cup)
2-6 red chiles, chopped, or a Scotch Bonnet
1 bunch collard greens, stemmed and sliced
1 bunch scallions, chopped
2 teaspoons Jamaican curry powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1. Set up a steamer. Pare the peel from the plantain and slice it, then place in the steamer. Steam for about 4 minutes, until tender when pierced with a paring knife. Let stand, uncovered.
2. In a large skillet, heat the coconut milk over medium-high heat. As it comes to a boil, add the chiles, greens, and scallions. Sprinkle in the curry powder and salt, and stir. Keep stirring until the collard are tender but still green. Taste for spice and salt, you may want to add some hot sauce.