Although I've lived the lion's share of my life in the west, I was born in the South. Florida, to be precise. And, there were some classic southern foods that I still crave. Black-Eyed-Peas (not the band) and Collards. Yes. Any time. I always keep a pound or two the 'meaty' little legumes in the pantry, and when I see big bunches of bright green Collard greens ... my oh my.
Collards are one of the easiest of 'greens' to dive into if you're not generally a fan of big green leaves. I'm married to a guy who really doesn't like kale. He can't tell me why. He just doesn't like it. But, I can put a big old mess of Collard greens in front of him and he inhales them. Go figure. They do tend to be a little less bitter, perhaps? And, they'll happily adapt to any number of different preparations. One way I like to make them is in a West African-style stew, with peanuts and yam, and the sheer size of the leaves make them perfect for 'wraps' .... think rolling them burrito-like around rice, beans, and vegetables. Then, don't forget that they're great shredded into salads or tossed into hot rice. I generally braise them, however.
Black-Eyed-Peas are a classic in the South, too. Hoppin' John is a 'must have' on New Year's Day throughout the region, because it is thought to bring a prosperous year filled with luck. The peas are symbolic of pennies or coins, and a coin is sometimes added to the pot or left under the dinner bowls. The dried legumes are widely available, are very inexpensive and simply 'play well' with all manner of flavors, vegetables and grains.
Rounding out the 'bowl' of collards and black-eyed-peas were chunks of previously frozen butternut squash that I'd peeled, cut up and tossed into the freezer several days earlier. I put them into a steamer basket in a deep pot, with an inch or so of water, sprinkled them with some of my stand-by 'Old Bay' seasoning, and steamed them to perfection is about 10 minutes. The grand thing about putting chunks like this in the freezer is that you can grab 'just enough' for a meal. An entire, huge, peeled butternut squash sitting on your cutting board can be a little intimidating. Even putting some in the fresh bin of the fridge seems to make me feel anxious about 'using it in time!'. Freezing solves that.
So, let's get cooking?
Set up your mis-en-place of:
Braising pan/pot with lid.
Your prepped Collards (or other greens) - one large bunch, tough bottom-part of stems removed, and leaves roughly torn.
Cooked Black-eyed-peas (or other bean).
Squash in a steamer set up.
A mix of onions (one chopped), garlic (4-5 cloves minced) and sliced peppers ( I happened to have a red bell, a Poblano and a Jalepeño).
Seasonings - I'm using the Salty-Savory-Sweet "Everything But Salt Blend" tonight - but you could use Oregano, Marjoram, Bay Leaf, Old Bay Seasoning or your choice.
Braising liquid (vegan stock or water).
Sauté the onions, garlic and peppers for a few minutes, drizzling enough of the braising liquid to keep things moving.
Then add the greens and seasonings. This is where you add the rest of the broth/braising liquid, cover and let it simmer for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Collards actually benefit from some quality alone time over the lowest possible simmer.
When the vegetables have gotten relaxed and happy, toss in and stir the pre-cooked black-eyed-peas. I made a pound of them in the Instant Pot a couple days earlier - as basic as possible so that I could serve them with a BBQ sauce, and then pivot to this preparation later in the week. That's the beauty of batch cooking.
I always pre-soak dried beans - Reno, Nevada is high-altitude (4,412') and if I don't they'll end up less then tender. I put the beans in a bowl, cover with water, the night before. Drain it sometime the next day. Put them into the Instant Pot with salt, pepper, and maybe some onion. High Pressure for 4 - that's right! Four minutes. Natural release and they come out just as you see below - holding their shape, yet perfectly tender. Instant Pot has
Here's the altitude adjustment chart that I use:
Anyway, the Collards can simmer for about 30 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings. Feel free to turn it off and bring it back to temperature just before serving. They're great reheated the next day, so don't worry if you've made a really big batch.
About 10 minutes before supper, I steam the squash. That's all it takes. They'll be tender and hot, nicely holding their shape.
When all was ready to be 'plated', I added some of my home-made Chow-Chow and a simple little relish that I make from those tiny red Peruvian pickled peppers that I get on the olive bar at Whole Foods. I take about a cup of those in a food processor, add some granulated onion powder, some garlic, and maybe some cilantro (if I have it) and whiz it up till it's spreadable. I keep it in a jar in the fridge, and it lasts for at least a couple of weeks. It's incredible over almost anything!
So, let me know if you become a fan of Collards and black-eyed-peas.
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