This is one delicious dish unique to North African cuisine. The deep green cilantro and chard stew the vegetables simmer in is a vibrant green hue for good reason. You can see the nutrition in its gorgeous color, and you can be sure that the flavor of this stew will inspire so many new dishes to add to your dinner repertoire! This green stew of chard and cilantro tastes fantastic and has that fragrant aroma of toasted garlic and cilantro common in some of my favorite dishes such as mulokhia, fasulya, or Syrian lentils with pasta. The stew is a broth braised with sautéed green chard, cilantro leaves, and garlic that is pureed into a fine green paste. This is truly a uniquely flavorful and nutrient dense stew to incorporate with many recipes, whether you wish to add fish, meat, or other vegetables. In the traditional Egyptian recipe of my grandmother, this healthful green broth is cooked with the nutritious root vegetable, taro, for a hearty stew to ladle over rice or quinoa for a delicious and complete plant-based meal.
What on earth is COLCASS or TARO?
Colcass is a common stew made in Egypt during the winter months. Colcass is simply the Arabic name for taro. It is a hardy root vegetable that is brown on the outside, but white flesh on the interior, with pink or purple striations. I could not find it fresh here in Chicago, although it is sold in the frozen aisle in any Middle Eastern market. I’d like to take minute to describe the incredible health benefits of taro below, but if you have no access to fresh taro or a Middle Eastern grocery store, then you could simply use potatoes or parsnips as I mention in the recipe.
Taro is commonly used in Asian and North African cuisines. Used as a local winter vegetable, it reflects the natural habit of eating what is in season. The vegetable is a brown tuber root that must be peeled. Once peeled, it is washed thoroughly to remove the slimy texture. The resulting vegetable is a gorgeous white and fibrous root that is similar to a parsnip and potato if they were cross-bred. There are pink striations throughout giving it a lovely color. Taro is high in fiber, antioxidants vitamins A, C, E, B6, folate, and it is even an excellent source for potassium, iron, and magnesium. Because of all of its high nutrient contents, taro is an excellent source of carbohydrates, and can help prevent heart disease and improve gut health due to all of the polyphenols found in the vegetable. It is definitely worth trying it, and is easy to implement if you use the frozen version from the Middle Eastern grocery aisles.
The Basic Ingredients
Taro, Parsnips, or Potatoes, the choice is yours!
As I mentioned, you may have a hard time finding taro. If you find it in the Middle Eastern market, you only need the vegetables in the bag, and not the frozen green herbs packet included (this recipe makes it from scratch!) Aside from using taro, you could use diced potatoes or parsnips. The most significant part of this recipe is the green broth made from the cilantro and chard. It’s important to use local and seasonable vegetables on hand, and because potatoes and parsnips are plentiful during the winters in Chicago, it makes for an excellent and delicious substitute. This dish inspires so many others because the broth is so tasty with many things. My kids could not stop licking up the broth from their spoons! I plan to cook this again with fish, cauliflower, chickpeas, and many other vegetables in this very broth. You will really love the base!
Colcass in Egypt, is originally made with the broth of stew beef. My mom simmers meat with cardamom, bay leaves, coriander, salt and pepper when she makes this dish. Because I make this colcass as a plant-based version, I use vegetable broth but add on the referenced spices. I still sometimes cook stew beef on the side to offer it to my girls. They love this recipe with meat, and if you are a meat eater, please know that the meat is so incredible with the green stew of colcass!
Green chard and cilantro
To make the stew, you need one bunch of green chard, with the thick stems removed. You also need one bunch of cilantro leaves. Some cilantro stems are fine to include, as they are so full of flavor. You need to chop all the leaves in a food processor and then set them in a sieve to drain the water. This is so that you can easily sauté the greens to a crisp. If there is excess water, you will merely boil the leaves, but we want to toast them crispy. Once you add the garlic to the toasted greens, you will add some ground coriander, and the fragrant scent of garlic and cilantro will have you mesmerized. At this point, some broth is added and it is all pureed fine with an immersion blender, or a pestle if you have the patience and want to do it like my Teta (grandma in Arabic) did.
Once the remainder of the broth is added, I add cardamom, salt, and pepper and let it simmer for about 5 minutes.
Large, diced root vegetables are added, and if you are making the traditional Egyptian recipe, the cooked stew beef goes in at this point as well. The stew simmers for 5-10 minutes until the diced vegetables are fork tender. Potatoes can crumble, so you want to be sure to use a firm potato and not over cook it. The green stew is so flavorful and nutritious, I cannot wait to make this stew again with parsnips, potatoes, and even drizzled over white fish.
Check out my how-to video below:
Taro in Chard and Cilantro Stew
- 2 tbsp olive oil or safflower oil
- 1 bunch green chard (2 cups chopped)
- 1 bunch cilantro (1 c chopped)
- 2 tbsp minced fresh garlic
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp cardamom
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 cups vegetable or meat broth
- 2 cups diced taro, peeled and washed well or substitute peeled and diced parsnips or potatoes
- In a large pot over high heat, heat the oil.
- Strain the chopped chard and cilantro and then saute in the hot oil. Stir it around every 2 minutes for about 6-10 minutes, until it becomes dark green and crispy.
- Add the minced garlic with the ground coriander and mix well until fragrant.
- Add 1 cup of broth. Grind the leaves against the pot with a pestle, or use an immersion blender until the greens become fine in the broth.
- Add the remainder of the broth, along with the cardamom, bay leaves, salt and pepper and allow to simmer for 5 minutes.
- Add the diced vegetables and cooked stew meat, if you are adding meat. Simmer for 5-10minutes until the taro, potatoes, or parsnips are fork tender. Be careful not to overcook.
- Serve with rice and a lemon wedge and enjoy!