22 November 2009

Collards à la George

George and I love visiting the Durham, NC farmer's market every weekend. It is part of our special Shabbos ritual, which I know is all backward, but the market does make us very happy and it is something we look forward to doing together. Lately we have bought collards from a special stall that only sells kale and collards—but what collards! The farmer bunches them together loosely and stands them on their stalks in huge dark woven baskets. The leaves glow mysteriously from within, and they seem so alive that I always feel like they are breathing very very slowly. Whenever I am forced to buy produce from the supermarket, the vegetables always look so cowed compared to farmers' market vegetables. I feel sorry for people who don't have farmers' markets near them; no wonder they don't enjoy their vegetables.

Tonight George cooked our collards. First he washed half of a bunch, but then he got bored and went away to rest. Later he returned, washed the rest, and chopped them up. In a large pot he sautéed onions and garlic. When they had mellowed into a darker sweetness, he added an umeboshi (pickled plum), some soy sauce [you might need gluten-free soy sauce like San-J], and a little bit of salt. Then he covered and cooked the greens quite some time. Mmm.... I cannot convey to you how absolutely savory they were. Although they tasted like golden raisins had been added, the sweetness actually came from the onions!

I'm really glad that we are learning so many ways to cook collard greens. I feel like so many of the traditional Southern foods are inaccessible to vegetarians. Also, although we live in a heavily Mexican area with many fresh carnicerias around, I feel intimidated by Spanish, the foreignness of the culture and cooking, and the large amounts of chicharonnes and tins of lard I see. Also, I haven't found a Mexican vegetarian cookbook that appeals to me.

Anyway, I am going to post a wish-list of good ol' Southern or Mexican dishes I'd like to learn:
fried green tomatoes
tomatillo salsa
sweet potato pie
Hoppin' John
old fashioned grits
vegetarian bbq
fresh corn tortillas

Any other suggestions would be welcome, as to be honest I just don't know these cuisines that well. Go ahead and post in the comments section below.


Cousin Leo said...

Dear Sarah: I'm addressing a couple of items on your wish list. First, however, please let me recommend my fellow Chicagoan Rick Bayless' terrific cookbook, "Mexico One Plate at a Time." Although not a vegetarian cookbook per se, it does provide a unique and well-researched insite into authentic Mexican cooking, and provides many vegetarian alternatives. Many of his recipies are available on his website, www.rickbayless.com. Among these are several salsa recipes, including one on your list, tomatillo salsa.
A note of caution. When cooking with tomatillos, I always blanch them first, for no more than 30 seconds, husk and all. Blanching eliminates the microscopic bugs that seem to like the underside of the leathery husk, removes the stickiness on the outside of the fruit (technically, a berry), renders the husk easy to peel off, and just plain tastes better.
About fresh corn tortillas: unless you're going to be eating them a lot, don't bother. The equipment and the time it takes to make them far outweigh the cost of good store-bought corn tortillas. Your time is better spent sampling various brands (look especially for locally-produced ones) and deciding which one you like best. They keep in the fridge for up to 3 weeks, and freeze pretty well too (although freezing does make them more brittle). Since you have so many carnicerias around, your research will give you a reason to go inside one.
But if you insist on learning how to make your own, you're going to need a tortilla press. Get yourself a good cast iron one (garage sales are a great source for these) not one of those flimsy aluminum jobs. You need at least an 8-inch diameter. Next, you'll need a bag of corn masa. Mazteca is the best brand. They have one flavored with lime that is super yummy. Every bag of corn masa has a recipe for tortillas, or try Rick Bayless'. The method is always the same: you make a ball of prepared masa and press it between two pieces of plastic wrap. Work quickly, lest the masa sticks to the plastic wrap. These are then cooked. I use a hot, non-stick omelette pan for this. They also make great chips by cutting them into triangles, sprinkling with adobo and putting them in a hot oven.
Good luck, chiquita!

Sarah said...

Thanks Leo! That's really good advice. I've been craving fresh tortillas ever since I first experienced them at a restaurant called Stonehenge in Berkeley, CA. Somehow they tasted better than even the very best tortillas I could buy. But you're right; it's obviously a pain to do it that way! Thanks for the tomatillo tip as well--I'm totally going to try them now.

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