31 July 2011

Quick Collard Greens without PORK

Right now I'm living in the South, enjoying Southern delicacies like biscuits, grits, iced tea, and crowder peas. Mm mmm gobble gobble. But as a vegetarian I can see No Trespassing signs everywhere I look. BBQ place? Yeah, I'll take the hush puppies and fried okra.

And slow-cooked collards? I don't even have to ask what those collards were slow-cooked with. It's PORK. Pork pork pork pork pork. Southern food is filled with pigs, even though I haven't seen any swine anywhere. I do not know where these doomed Wilburs are kept while awaiting their demise.

And do you know why collards are cooked with salted pork? It's because by the time those collards are done cookin', there's barely any life left in 'em. Slow-cooked collards are silky but on the point of a taste collapse.

I have a whole lot of vegetarian cookbooks and I get the distinct impression from them that collards are a tough nut for vegetarian cooks to crack. One cookbook suggests I cook the leaves with dulse and pickled plums. I did that, and the result tasted like weird sea collards. Another suggested just cooking the stems, chopped into confetti. Finally, I read in a book that collard greens belong to the mustard greens family, so first you oughtta blanch them in salted water without the lid on to leech out the sulferous bitterness. Then drain them and sauté them with other stuff until tender.

That sounded like a plan to me. I tried it and I loved my new, chewy collards with the bright, acidic flavor. They weren't silky like slow-cooked collards but alive and bursting with happy nutritious feelings. I composed a song on the spot:

Collards, collards,
I am eating you.
Collards, collards,
You're so good.
Yum yum yum,
I want some more.

I have submitted it for a Pulitzer. But the Pulitzer committee is notoriously bizarre in its tastes, so I am also submitting it for a Grawemeyer Award through the University of Louisville. They are Southern. They will understand.

Quick Collard Greens

1 ridiculously large bunch collards
juice of 3 1/2 lemons (or a mix of lemons and oranges if you want it a little sweet)
olive oil

  1. Strip the leaves off the stems and tear into pieces. Wash them thoroughly.
  2. Blanch in salted, boiling water for 2 to 4 minutes. You might have to do this batches.
  3. Drain. (At this point you can store for later use).
  4. Heat up some olive oil on slow heat. Add collards to cover the surface. Stir and cook until tender and chewy. You might have to do this in batches too.
  5. Remove collard greens and place in a bowl. Pour on lemon juice and combine thoroughly. Serve hot, room temperature, or cold. Keeps for days in the refrigerator. Goes well with music.

26 July 2011

Sally's Vanilla Egg Creams

I was an extremely rude American yesterday. It was 105º and I practically ordered my neighbor Sally to make one of her famous vanilla egg creams.

Vanilla Egg Creams

cold seltzer
cold milk
vanilla syrup (like the kind at cafés they use to put flavor shots in your coffee) *

Put seltzer in the bottom, then syrup, then milk, then top with seltzer. Serve immediately.

*Torani's "Sugar Free French Vanilla" flavored syrup is not gluten-free, but DaVinci and Monin brands are.

11 July 2011

Eggplant Parmesan, or How to Make Bread Crumbs

After harvesting 5 juicy, glossy purple Japanese eggplants, I realized I needed a new eggplant recipe. Last summer I made eggplant dish after eggplant dish, and all firmly failed except for the Patlican. So this summer I abandoned my faithless Japanese cookbooks and decided to go Old School with Mollie Katzen's Eggplant Parmesan recipe. The truth is, I don't adore eggplant parmesan, but when I was in college I slavered over eggplant parmesan subs from my local pizza establishment. So I bought some po' boy bread and got to work.

Katzen's recipe optimistically timed the total cooking time at 1 hour 15 minutes. Yeah, right. That recipe moseyed on for 4 hours and I still faced a clean-up battlefield at the end. The first time snag happened when I decided to make my own bread crumbs. You know, whiz stale bread in your food processor and voìla, homemade cheap bread crumbs. This part took me an entire hour! Months ago I had cubed some multigrain loafs and frozen them. These I poured confidently into the Cuisinart and pressed ON. After a minute, I still had frozen cubes and no bread crumbs. Also the machine was emitting that burning rubber smell that means you've been using it more than you would have to if YOU KNEW WHAT YOU WERE DOING. Which clearly I didn't, because if I had the whirling blade wouldn't have flown upwards like a UFO. That had never happened to me before.

Panicked, my next move was to remove all but a small handful of the cubes and rhythmically pulse the food processor on them, trying to jostle it into a good mood. This worked. Sort of. After 5 minutes I managed to spoon out about 1/8 Cup from the bottom. How many breadcrumbs did I need? Two full cups! My patience was the stuff of legends. I continued on for about a half hour until I had 3/4 Cup. There was no way I was going to return all the way to Kroger for a box of breadcrumbs. But I was running out of energy, and I had the sinking feeling that I was approaching this problem in a dollop-headed manner.

Suddenly I experienced a Brain Storm, a downpour of clarity. Bread crumbs come from hard stale bread, right? So what if I had some dried-out room temperature stale bread instead of cubed frozen bread? I couldn't toast those cubes so I went to the freezer and took out some sliced bread. I toasted it lightly, tore it into chunks, and then food-processed it. In a few seconds, all the bread had transformed into bona fide bread crumbs. Tears of gratitude sprang to my eyes.

That problem solved, I began dipping eggplant slices into soymilk and then tossing them with the bread crumbs. Katzen did not ask for egg as part of the dip, and I wondered how the crumbs would stick to the eggplant slices. It turned out, they wouldn't. Not unless I personally pressed the crumbs onto both sides of each slice with my fingers. Did that take 5 times longer than it should have? As Sarah Palin would say, You betcha.

Once that ordeal was over, I slid the eggplant slices into the oven. They turned out fine. While they were cooking, I should have washed dishes and begun making the Tomato Sauce to go over them. But I was dead exhausted. So instead I sat down and rested. And wished I had bought premade bread crumbs and prepared marinara sauce instead of going the from-scratch route.

After the eggplant came out, I returned to my self-imposed slavery. You won't believe this, but I actually gave myself more than double the work the recipe called for, first by making my own bread crumbs, and second by using fresh tomatoes instead of canned tomatoes. To prepare the fresh tomatoes, first I blanched them in boiling water. You do this by cutting an X in the bottom of each tomato and sticking the whole thing in boiling water for 30 seconds. Immediately remove the tomato, let it cool a little, and easily peel off the skin. Then cut the tomato in half and squeeze out the juice and seeds into a cup. That last is the hard part, because the peeled tomatoes are slippery as minnows and the juice often squirts out the back instead of the cut side. But I managed.

The directions for the sauce weren't difficult, and I managed to follow them without trouble. The final part of eggplant parmesan is just like lasagna: layer, layer, layer. A layer of tomato sauce. A layer of eggplant. Another layer of tomato sauce. A layer of grated mozzarella. Another layer of eggplant... uh-oh. I had only enough eggplant for 1 1/2 layers! And it turned out, I only had enough tomato sauce for 2 1/4 layers. Cheese? I had enough for about 5 layers. So my eggplant parmesan looked really weird. But it baked up just fine and tasted good, as if someone had slaved in a kitchen for 4 hours. And no one can tell how ugly it is when it's in a sandwich.

The following version is easier.

Eggplant Parmesan Sub Sandwich

3 large juicy eggplants, sliced into 1/2 inch rounds
2 Cups bread crumbs
2 tsp. basil
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. thyme
1 Cup soymilk
1 egg, beaten
2 jars prepared marinara sauce. Or make your own tomato sauce. It's your funeral.
some tomatoes, blanched, peeled, juice squeezed out, and chopped
1 lb. grated mozzarella
1/2 Cup grated Parmesan cheese
sub sandwich bread

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Also spray oil to grease a 9x13 glass baking pan.
  3. Mix bread crumbs with dried herbs. In another bowl, mix soymilk and egg.
  4. Dip eggplant slices into wet bowl, then the bread crumb bowl. Lay on baking sheet and in baking pan.
  5. Bake 20-25 minutes, until tender. Keep the oven on.
  6. Meanwhile, wash your dishes, prepare those tomatoes, and grate the cheese.
  7. Mix the tomatoes into your sauce for that pseudo homemade touch.
  8. Take the eggplant out of the baking pan and layer them onto the baking sheet. Without washing the pan, spoon in a layer of sauce. Add a layer of eggplant. Spoon on another layer of sauce. Sprinkle on a layer of mozzarella cheese. Repeat until you get to the top of the pan or run out of something. Generously sprinkle parmesan over the top.
  9. Bake at 375º for 40 minutes, uncovered.
  10. Toast some sub bread. Lather on a little mayo (or mustard), and several crisp, juicy slices of lettuce. Transfer some eggplant parmesan into that. Get a thick napkin. Yum de yum yum.
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