Simply Green

FRESH COLLARDS

In the cooler months, dark leafy greens start to show some muscle. Just look at these big collard greens! They’re dark, they’re hearty, and their chock full of calcium, vitamin A, vitamin K and many other vitamins and minerals.

Remove the stems (save for later) and lightly boil the whole, uncut leaves in water with a pinch of sea salt until they are just tender and still very bright. It is important not to overcook them. I look for them to be pliable but with lots of body,  Al dente!

Spread the leaves out on a flat tray or dish so they can cool without continuing to cook and soften.

READY TO ROLL

Use a sushi mat to roll the leaves. You’ll have to fold the leaves to fit the rectangular shape of the sushi mat.

ROLLED

Squeeze any excess liquid out of the rolls and slice them. Try angle slices as well as straight ones. I like to dot each section with umeboshi plum paste, giving the greens a salty and sour garnish and a punch of beautiful red color!  Power-packed bite-sized deliciousness. Enjoy!

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Leafy Green for Springtime Clean

Whew! After all those red beets and red beans, I’m ready for a little green food, aren’t you? Spring has just about sprung where I live and I like to step up the green leafy vegetables around this time of year.

I eat green leafies year-round. Love kale, collards, turnip greens and watercress among others. But this time of year calls for some spring cleaning liver-wise and blood-wise. By that I mean it is time to ingest some foods that will help you clean up any gunk you collected last winter.

There is so much to say about eating greens! They’re full of chlorophyl, minerals and phytonutrients! Do you know what those are?  I like this definition from about.com::

“Definition: Compounds in plants (apart from vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients) that have a beneficial effect the body. There are over 10,000 of them, and they have effects such as antioxidant, boosting the immune system, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, and cellular repair. Highly colored vegetables and fruits tend to be highest in these chemicals, but tea, chocolate, nuts, flax seeds, and olive oil are all excellent sources as well. Various families of plants tend towards certain families of phytonutrients, for example, orange foods tend to have the caretenoid group.”

Wow! Over 10,000? That’s right. And there’s no way you are going to know all of them and get them through some kind of vitamin pill.

What I’m here to tell you about today is that eating dark leafy greens every day will give your system a cleansing and besides, they are deeeelicious! Now I’m not talking about lettuce. I know for some people “greens” means lettuce. No, I’m talking about the dark leafy ones.

If you aren’t used to dark leafy greens I would suggest starting with the sweeter tasting ones like kale or collard greens. If you want to be more adventurous, get into the slightly bitter tasting ones such as watercress, turnip greens and rapini. Or, for a whole hog springtime cleanse-o-rama, get yourself some spring season young dandelion greens!

You can steam ’em, you can boil ’em, you can do all sorts of things to ’em. My favorite way to prepare the more bitter variety is to saute them with olive oil and garlic. Mama Mia!

Start with washed greens, olive oil, garlic and sea salt.

Start with washed greens, olive oil, garlic and sea salt. These happen to be called “rapini” greens.  Cut the greens, heat up some oil, add some garlic and then add the greens and sea salt. Saute these until they are all shiny and slightly wilted but still retain their bright green color.

I like a little lemon zest with my garlic and greens . . uh . . .I mean greens and garlic!

I like a little lemon zest with my garlic and greens . . uh . . .I mean greens and garlic!

Combine eating those greens with some other light grain and vegetable based meals, cut back or eliminate animal foods, and watch the caffeine and alcohol and you’ll be clean and green in no time!

Bringing the Family Home

When I lived in Atlanta, Georgia, Hoppin’ John was a very popular dish for New Year’s Day. Every year there would be a big Food section article about it in the Journal-Constitution.  I started making it not because I was a “Southern Girl” (I wasn’t) but because I loved making and serving beans and rice and wanted to try it.

Hoppin’ John is traditionally made from black-eyed peas and rice and is an extremely simple dish.  So why do people make it?  Is it because they drank so much champagne the night before on New Year’s Eve and need something plain to settle down with?  That seems sensible and valid. My own New Year’s Eve Garlic Habit is one reason I enjoy simple, uncomplicated Hoppin’ John the next day.  Just check out the roasted garlic post and you’ll see why!

Popular lore about Hoppin’ John varies but basically says serving this simple dish with collard greens and cornbread will bring prosperity in the new year. Dozens of websites repeat the story that the black-eyed peas represent coins and the collards are green like money, yada yada, yada.

I like the more historic explanation given last year in the Washington Post: http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2011-12-27/lifestyle/35288087_1_black-eyed-peas-hoppin-slave-trade.

My own take on why Hoppin’ John is a New Year’s tradition is sort of coming together as I write. Yes, there is the fact that I eat a LOT of garlic for New Year’s Eve and the plainer fare of Hoppin’ John is a welcome simplicity after all that.

But I have also been waxing nostalgic during the holidays about the fact that Christmas is an international holiday–not just an American one like Thanksgiving or 4th of July.  People all over this planet celebrate it with special foods.  Recipes abound.  And, there are people who celebrate Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice and other traditions each with their own culinary practices.

As a person who loves to cook, that concept really struck me this year .  All over the world special dishes have been cooked to celebrate the season.  People just like me who may speak another language, hold other beliefs than mine, but who love their families, their people and their faiths have expressed their devotion and desire to honor their traditions by cooking familiar and beloved special recipes.

This is the kind of food that brings family and friends home. Clumsy as I am writing about it, this is a beautiful thing that really moves me.

In the United States of America, Hoppin’ John seems like the ultimate comfort-homecoming-we-are-survivors food.  People make it for all kinds of reasons.

I just know that I like this dish and when I make it on New Year’s Day I am in the good company of the American South and all those who wish to express their hopes and postulates that we will all flourish and prosper in the New Year by preparing and serving this simple traditional food. Not only that, I am joining in the cultivation and continuation of culture and tradition–keeping those alive in my own kitchen as others do in theirs.

I’m headed into my kitchen now to start soaking my black-eyed peas.

Wishing you and yours a Happy New Year and may you indeed flourish and prosper in 2013!

HOPPIN’ JOHN

Serves 4-6

  • 2 cups dried black-eyed peas soaked in spring water for several hours or overnight
  • 3-inch piece of kombu seaweed
  • 4-6 more cups of spring water for cooking the beans
  • 1/2 cup of diced onions
  • 1/2 cup of diced carrots
  • 1/2 cup of diced celery
  • hair of the dog – um, I mean a little of that garlic!
  • 1 bay leaf
  • sea salt
  • soy sauce
  • olive oil
  • scallions sliced thin or flat-leaf Italian parsley roughly chopped or sprig of rosemary
  • Cooked rice of your choice

There are many variations for these black-eyed peas including adding some ham or pork.  I prefer this extremely simple vegetarian-style.  Kombu is a sea vegetable and is certainly not traditional to this dish.  I both soak and cook beans with kombu because the minerals help balance the fat and protein in the beans and make them easier to digest.  Nothing southern about soy sauce either but it’s what I use!

I recommend using organic beans and vegetables.  Organic and whole grain rice, too. This year I’m preparing aromatic, long-grain basmati brown rice.

Soak the black-eyed peas in spring water with a 3-inch piece of kombu.

Soak the black-eyed peas in spring water with a 3-inch piece of kombu.

Sort through the beans first to take out any stones or unwanted bits and rinse the beans in cold water a couple times.  Soak the beans in the kombu and enough water to cover them.  Get a heavy large pot and put the kombu in the bottom and layer the soaked beans on top. Cover the beans with fresh spring water.  Bring the beans to a boil then lower the heat so they simmer gently with the lid on.  Don’t add any salt yet. Adding salt at this point would make the beans stay hard.

Don’t stir the beans–just let them cook as they are.  Add cold water as needed to keep the beans covered.  The cold water will drive the heat into the beans so they cook on the inside without getting too mushy on the outside. The time these beans take to cook will vary depending on several factors but let’s estimate about an hour.

When the beans are 3/4 soft, you can add some sea salt and stir the beans.  Now the sea salt will help the beans finish cooking and will help them have a good flavor. Layer your onions, celery and carrots on top of the beans and a bit of sea salt on each layer of those.  Add some garlic and remove the bay leaf.

Cover again and let the beans and vegetables finish cooking.  The water should be just about cooked away at this point.  When the beans are done, season with some soy sauce and simmer just a few more minutes.

Serve your black-eyed peas over some rice and garnish with your favorite sprig such as parsley or scallion or rosemary.  I like a drizzle of olive oil on top. Don’t forget some collard greens and corn bread!  I will probably steam my collards and season them with salt and some slivers of preserved lemon rinds.  I’ll likely use a mix for my cornbread and add fresh non-GMO corn kernels to the batter.

There are endless variations such as using other hearty vegetables like fennel, parsnip, rutabaga or winter squash.  You can add protein into this dish.  You can add whatever herbs you love.  You can make it Cajun or Mediterranean with spices. Mainly I just want you to know how to handle these beans. Use this cooking method for any type of dried bean.