When your collard greens are young, tender and oh-so-sweet, a quick sauté with leeks, garlic and red pepper flakes is all you need–well, that and a piece of grilled whole wheat sourdough slathered in fresh ricotta cheese. This is spring eating at its finest.
The weather this weekend has been nothing short of glorious. After a long, hard winter, New Yorkers are eager for sundresses and sandals, outdoor drinking, and fresh vegetables. Alas, yesterday’s farmers’ market foray yielded less greenery than I had hoped. I did manage to pick up a couple bunches of small, tender collard greens and a clamshell of spring onion shoots.
The rest of Saturday was spent drinking Bloody Marys, craft beer and some ill-advised whiskey in a series of Brooklyn backyards. We capped the day off with a couple of hours of dancing to 60s soul tunes.
I awoke early this morning with a distinct craving for fried pork dumplings, perhaps with a moo shu chaser. But this didn’t seem like the best way to regain my health after a weekend of possibly excessive imbibing. And so I set about crafting a healthier dish that would take advantage of my farmers’ market bounty and satisfy my salt and spice craving.
Garlic-Ginger Tofu & Collards
- 2 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 1/2 tablespoon fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon Sriracha
- 1 one-inch piece of ginger, minced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 large pinch sugar
- 1 container extra firm tofu, drained and sliced into strips
- 3 tablespoons canola or other neutral oil
- 1 bunch collards, stemmed and roughly chopped
- 1 small handful spring onion shoots or a few scallions, thinly sliced
Combine the first eight ingredients in a shallow bowl. Add the tofu and stir gently to coat. (In a perfect world, you would have done this before you were ravenous so that the tofu had plenty of time to soak up the marinade, but my lunch was still pretty tasty.) Bring the oil up to medium heat in a large skillet. Lay the tofu pieces in, cooking them in two batches if necessary so as not to crowd the pan. Let the tofu cook undisturbed until nicely browned, rotate the pieces and continue to cook until they are firm and mostly browned. Lay the tofu pieces on a paper towel to drain and add your collards to the skillet along with the remaining tofu marinade. Cook until the collards are wilted and most of the liquid has boiled off. Stir in the onion shoots or scallions and remove from the heat.
Rice would be the obvious accompaniment, but I went with quinoa cooked with chicken stock and satueed leeks. It was good. The leftovers should make for a bright spot in tomorrow’s workday.
I’ve lost track of how much snow has fallen on New York City this winter. This morning’s commute was a sloppy one–and we’re supposed to be getting two more rounds before the week is through. My office has been a comedy of errors since the new year. Today an air conditioning hose burst while workers sanded the outer wall, creating a dusty haze that found me grabbing for my inhaler and sending everyone home early. And so, three hours after arriving at the office, I was slogging back through the slush.
I took a different route than usual so that I could swing by Whole Foods to pick up a large can of olive oil. Dreading the wet subway ride home, I roamed the aisles for a bit. The guy behind the fish counter was fervently pushing the wild Alaskan sockeye, which was on sale. My craving was so instantaneous and intense that I have to believe I’m suffering from some sort of deficiency.
I haven’t been eating much fish as of late, in part because last semester’s foray into the world of collapsing fisheries left me a bit freaked. But a quick check of Seafood Watch confirmed that wild sockeye is one of the better choices. I arrived home an hour later, popped the fish into the fridge, changed into pajamas, and spent the afternoon emailing and editing while the snow continued to fall.
By 6:00 I was ready for dinner. I had lots of root vegetables from my CSA share and some collard greens that were already looking a little sad when I bought them a week and half ago. Some of the larger outer leaves seemed salvageable. Wild salmon is much leaner than farmed, containing about half the fat but roughly the same amount of protein. I’ve found that it dries out quickly as a result, so I hatched the notion of wrapping the fish in collards to hold the moisture in during cooking.
Collard-Wrapped Salmon with Winter Roots
- 2 large collard leaves (or four medium-sized if that’s what you’ve got)
- 3 tablespoons coconut oil (butter is fine too)
- 1 medium red onion, sliced pole-to-pole
- 4 small daikon radishes, cut into large matchsticks
- 4 small parsnips, cut into large matchsticks
- 1/2 teaspoon orange zest
- 2 8-ounce wild sockeye salmon filets
- salt and pepper (including white pepper if you have it)
- Rinse the collards and steam in a lidded pan for 5 minutes or so, adding more water as needed to prevent scorching. You want the leaves to be pliable and dark green. Remove from the pan and spread out to dry.
- Rinse out the pan, add 2 tablespoons of coconut oil and bring up to medium-low heat. Add the red onion and sauté until it starts to brown around the edges. Add the parsnips and daikon radishes along with 1/4 cup water and pop the lid back on. When the vegetables have started to soften, remove the lid and cook off the water, allowing things to caramelize. Sprinkle with zest, salt and pepper. (I find that white pepper really complements the sweetness of parsnips, but it’s all good.) Remove to a plate or, if your pan is big enough, just slide them to the side.
- Rinse and dry your salmon, sprinkling both sides with salt and pepper (black in this case). If your collard leaves are small, slice each filet in half lengthwise. Add 1 tablespoon of coconut oil to the pan, still over medium-low heat, and cook the salmon for two minutes per side, starting with the skin down if you’ve got it.
- Spread the collard greens on your work surface and spoon half of the vegetable mixture into the center. Top with the salmon, skin side up. Fold the sides, top and bottom of the collards over the salmon as you would a burrito. Flip and place gently into a baking dish lightly greased with coconut oil.
- Bake in a 350-degree oven for 10 minutes and serve immediately.
This recipe makes enough for two hungry people, so scale up or down accordingly. You could easily swap in different vegetables–leeks, fennel, potatoes, carrots, etc.–based on what you have on hand.
I am neither a South Carolinian nor a vegan.
Monday morning I received an email from an acquaintance who had accidentally purchased an eighth of a cow and was looking for people to split it with given her limited freezer space. The cow in question came from Grimaldi Farms, a grass-fed, free-range, organic farm in the Hudson Valley. How could I say no?
Seven hours later, Marissa and I met up for a drink and a cash-for-cow exchange. My $50 bought me a whole lot of meat. Three pounds of ground beef and a giant hunk of bone went into the freezer for a future use. Last night I tried my hand at beef liver–a dish I’d never actually eaten before. I soaked the liver in milk and pan-fried it with a light dusting of flour mixed with salt and pepper. Oumar and I ate it with a red onion jam, arugula in a lemon dressing and pillowy egg tagliardi with a pan sauce that included butter, garlic, shiitake mushrooms, parsley and lemon zest.
This was good stuff, to be sure. But a rich, restaurant-style dinner (and, possibly, the after-dinner bourbon) took its toll. I have 24 hours to regain my strength. My cow share also included half of a five-pound top round roast. Rather than divvy it up, we decided to have dinner together. Tomorrow night Maureen, Kevin, Sara and I will be tucking into pot roast.
So tonight it’s a lowcountry vegan meal for me.
Grits with Shiitake-Seitan Gravy and Braised Collards
- 1/2 cup grits
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
- 3 cloves garlic, 2 thinly sliced and 1 minced
- 1 pinch red pepper flakes
- 1 bunch collard greens, stems removed and leaves sliced
- smoked salt
- 4 dried shiitake mushrooms
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil
- 1 tablespoon flour
- hot sauce
- 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast (While not necessary, this will really boost the flavor. And it makes a great popcorn topping.)
- 1 package (8 ounces) seitan, torn into small pieces
- 2 tablespoons minced flat leaf parsley
- salt and pepper
- Bring 2 1/2 cups of water to boil in a small pot, lower the temperature to medium, and add the grits. Whisk constantly for a few minutes until the mixtures starts to thicken. Lower the temperature until you achieve a very slow simmer. Whisk occasionally for the next 45 minutes or so. When the grits are done, season with salt and pepper.
- Add olive oil to a large pot over medium-low heat. Saute onions until they are soft and beginning to brown. Add red pepper flakes and the sliced garlic and cook stirring constantly for one minute. Stir in the collards, some pepper, a good pinch of smoked salt, and 1/2 cup water. Let simmer with the lid slightly ajar for 30 minutes or so, stirring occasionally and adding water if it starts to dry out.
- Bring two cups of water to a boil and pour over the dried mushrooms in a small bowl. When they have softened, remove the mushrooms and chop them, being sure to retain the mushroom broth.
- Add the coconut oil to a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the minced garlic. After 30 seconds, add the flour and whisk constantly for two or three minutes until the mixture takes on a pale blonde color. (Look, you made a roux!) Add the liquid from the mushrooms and whisk constantly. After a few minutes, your gravy should thicken. (Ah, the wonders of a roux.) Stir in the mushrooms and nutritional yeast. From here, you can add water as needed to keep the gravy from getting too thick. Add salt, pepper and the hot sauce(s) of your choice. I used Frank’s, Tabasco and Matouk’s Calypso Hot Sauce, which has been one of my obsessions since I discovered it while vacationing in the Bahamas a couple of years ago. Cook for a few more minutes and your sauce should start to darken. Stir the seitan (which is fully cooked) in for the last minute or so. Add the parsley off the heat.
This recipe makes enough for two people. I just polished off half of it to steel myself for tonight’s birthday party. Given that the festivities are at a dive bar walking distance from my house, I imagine the second half will make an excellent breakfast.
As any regular reader will have intuited, I have a deep and abiding affection for leafy greens–the darker, the better. The winter months can be rough for green lovers who live in northern climates, but hearty collard greens seem to fare well. They also hold up nicely in the refrigerator, unlike some of their more delicate relations.
The 20 or so guests were no match for the truly insane variety of taco fixings that were on offer. Homemade corn tortillas swaddled red chicken mole, grilled gulf shrimp, carnitas, chorizo, mushroom and corn rajas, pickled cow’s tongue, refried beans, Coca-Cola braised beef, and black mole goat (not pictured, because it was simmering away in the crockpot). There was a whole other table of salsas, cheese, veggies and the like.
New Year’s Day found us watching a trashy movie while dining on stuffed ham, black-eyed peas, and collard greens braised in coconut milk with some black cardamom I’d picked up at Union Market while passing through Washington, DC. I used this recipe from Serious Eats as a starting point for what turned out to be a damn tasty variation on a classic dish.
It is January 5th and I’m on a bit of a collard bender. Thursday morning, I poached an egg in some of the leftover greens before hopping a train back to NYC just ahead of a snowstorm. Friday I bundled up to check out the winter wonderland and get some more greens, which I sautéed with soy sausage. Yesterday I ate the collards braised with roasted delicata squash and red onion.
This morning I went with a hash that requires just one skillet and feeds one individual who stayed out a little too late, drank a little too much red wine, and spent more than she had intended in the live auction. (Luckily the proceeds benefit Just Food, an amazing organization that connects New Yorkers to fresh, locally grown food.)
Sweet Potato and Collard Hash
- 1 ounce slab bacon, roughly diced
- 1/2 large red onion, chopped
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 medium sweet potato, cubed
- salt and pepper
- 1 pinch chipotle powder (cayenne or even red pepper flakes would work too)
- 2 cups destemmed collard greens cut into ribbons
- Bring a large cast iron skillet up to medium-low heat and add the bacon, stirring frequently until it begins to release its fat. Add the onion and continue stirring frequently until softened.
- Add the olive oil, sweet potatoes and 1/4 cup of water. Pop a lid on top and stir occasionally until the potatoes soften. Remove the lid and stir every few minutes, allowing the potatoes to brown. (Now is a good time to get your coffee going.)
- Add salt, pepper and chipotle powder. Stir the collards in, ensuring that they are coated in oil. Pop the lid back on and let them steam for a few minutes. Finish with the lid off, allowing any excess liquid to boil off.
I am still working my way through the last of this season’s CSA share. Olive oil, habanero powder, salt and pepper are the only things in this dairy-free bisque that didn’t come directly from Windflower Farm or a nearby meat purveyor. This came out crazy tasty, which is a good thing since I will be eating it all week.
Sweet Potato Turkey Bisque with Collards
- 2 pounds sweet potatoes
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large red onion
- 4-6 garlic cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon habanero powder (cayenne would also work)
- 1 pound ground turkey
- 1 small sprig fresh rosemary (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
- six cups chicken stock (I used eight cubes of my frozen concentrated stock plus a couple of cups of water.)
- 1 cup apple cider
- 1 bunch collard greens
- salt and pepper
- Preheat oven to 425. Peel the sweet potatoes and cut them into large hunks of roughly the same size. Place on a cookie sheet and mix with 2 tablespoons olive oil plus some salt and pepper. Pop these in the oven and cook until soft and starting to brown, approximately 15 minutes.
- Bring two tablespoons of olive oil up to medium heat in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Chop the onion, add to the pot and sauté until soft. Press and add the garlic along with the habanero powder, adding more if you like things really spicy. (I used a heaping teaspoon and mine came out pretty damn hot.) Stir constantly for one minute. Then add the ground turkey. Cook, stirring occasionally, until all pink is gone. Season with salt and pepper.
- Puree the sweet potatoes, using water as needed to loosen the mixture. Add the purée plus the chicken stock, water and apple cider to your turkey mixture and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes or so. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
- Strip the stems from your collards, roll them like a cigar and thinly slice into strips. Add these to the pot and simmer for another 10-15 minutes.
I put the finishing touches on my first grad school research paper a little after 1:00am on December 20th, sacked out for five hours, worked a full day, and then attended my final class. I arrived home around 9:00pm, stuffed some food into my mouth and some clothes into a suitcase, and hit the road for the twelve-hour drive to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Needless to say, I was not in great shape by the time we arrived. I spent the first couple of days mentally and physically recovering.
When I came to, I found myself in a lovely house nestled in the Smoky Mountains, surrounded by good friends who’d driven in from Nashville and from Athens, Georgia. There were two wood-burning fireplaces, a pool table, a (kinda) hot tub, and plenty of booze. I was the first person up each morning and spent the earliest hours of my day under a blanket on the couch in front of a picture window. I alternated between indulging in a juicy novel and watching the mountains disappear and reappear though the mist.
On December 23rd, we hit Dollywood, Dolly Parton’s amusement park in Pigeon Forge. I don’t go in much for heroes, but Dolly certainly is one of mine and I have wanted to visit Dollywood ever since I learned of its existence.
We managed to hit all four of the excellent roller coasters, twice. My favorite was the Wild Eagle, a triumph of engineering in which you are hanging in a seat with nothing above or below. After a delightfully unnerving initial drop, the sensation is one of soaring. Our fear was replaced by a feeling of weightlessness that left us giddy.
The Chasing Rainbows Museum offered a staggering array of photos of Dolly with celebrities (Grace Jones being my personal favorite), a look back at her childhood and early years in Nashville, and an impressive collection of fan art.
Downstairs were case upon case of clothing from Dolly’s movies and tours. My closet suddenly seems so drab.
We also got to check out Dolly’s tour bus and one of her (in)famous wigs.
The quirky guy leading the tour got a shot of our whole group.
Our day at Dollywood concluded with a Christmas-themed light parade led by a zealous woman with a banjo.
The next day was Christmas Eve, our last night in Gatlinburg. After taking stock of our food reserves, I headed out do some final grocery shopping. (Miraculously, the booze supply had held.) I knew that I wanted to use the dried black-eyed peas that our Nashville friends had brought, so I was thinking Tex-Mex as I walked into the local Food City. But one look at the freestanding cooler full of collard greens and I had a new plan. These greens were glorious–and huge; one bunch would be plenty to feed all six of us. A few aisles later, I stumbled on a shockingly large display of smoked hog jowl. This store and I were clearly on the same wavelength.
The nice young man who checked me out took one look at my cart and said, “You’re a little early, aren’t you?” For those that don’t know, collards and black-eyed peas are both traditional New Year’s foods in the Southern United States. The peas offer luck and the greens symbolize wealth. Black-eyed peas, which are generally served with rice in a dish called Hoppin’ John, came over with West African slaves. Collard greens, which were considered weeds by many plantation owners, were a mainstay of the slave diet. The hog jowl and other less desirable cuts would have been more readily accessible to the slaves. This combination of ingredients is cheap, easy to cook, and can simmer away untended.
My version is a bit fancified, to be sure, but its spirit is true–as its ability to heal after a night of over imbibing.
New Year’s Day Stew
- 1 pound dried black-eyed peas
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3-4 ounces smoke hog jowl (slab bacon would also be fine), cut into 1/4″ cubes
- 2 medium yellow onions, diced
- 8 cloves of garlic, sliced
- 1/2 bottle of cheap red wine
- 16 ounces of chicken stock
- 2 bunches of collard greens, large stems removed and cut into thick ribbons
- 2 large tomatoes or 1 can whole tomatoes, chopped
- 8 ounces apple cider vinegar
- hot sauce, salt and pepper to taste
- If you’ve got it more together than I do, soak the beans in cold water overnight. If not, no worries. Just add them to a pot with enough water to cover them by a few inches, bring to a boil, simmer for a few minutes, and then let stand for an hour or more. Either way, be sure to drain the water.
- Add olive oil to a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add your pork and let render, stirring occasionally. Cook the onions for a few minutes and then add the garlic. Continue cooking until onions are translucent, lowering heat if they start to brown.
- Add the soaked and drained beans, some leftover red wine, the chicken stock, tomatoes and a good pinch of salt. If the beans aren’t covered, you can round this out with some water. Let simmer until you sense hunger. One hour is probably enough, but two hours will be even better. Add 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar, some hot sauce and lots of black pepper.
- Keep simmering while you put a pot of long-grained white rice on to boil. After 10 minutes or so, stir in the collards. (You may have to work in batches, letting each cook down a bit before you can cram the rest into the pot.)
- When your rice is just about done, taste the stew and adjust the seasoning with additional salt, pepper, cider vinegar, and hot sauce. (I went with plenty more of all of these.) You can let this simmer or even turn off the heat for a while if you’re not ready. I tend to like my collards a little more al dente than is traditional, but I leave that up to you. Serve the stew ladled over the rice in low bowls and get ready for a glorious new year.