Tag Archives: collards

FRIED OKRA, FRIED GREEN TOMATOES, FRIED EVERYTHING

Our local farmers market is moving into full season. Corn is making a tentative appearance, and there are tomatoes in abundance – all sizes, shapes, and colors – in every vegetable stall. This last week we went to the larger market in Torrance and were surprised to find green tomatoes. I am used to seeing them later on as the season begins to taper off. Fried green tomatoes is to my mind one of the great Southern delicacies. We bought some. Then we saw okra! And the timing was perfect. Carol is away on vacation. She avoids okra as much as she avoids onions. I believe that her aversion arises from childhood. She grew up in Louisiana and spent many days in East Texas. She bought her lunches in the school cafeterias, and she declares (although I think it is an exaggeration) that stewed okra and tomatoes, along with collards that had been cooked beyond recognition, were served every single day. She insists that there is no preparation of okra that will pass her lips. My reply has always been that she just has never had okra prepared correctly. Then we all laugh at the standing family joke.

When we lived on the Texas-Mexico Border, I made the mistake of declaring that I didn’t like menudo. A co-worker informed me that I had never had HER menudo, and the next week she brought a big pot of the soup for lunch. Being a slow learner, I made the same comment at various gatherings, and the outcome was always the same: somebody would bring a batch of their lovingly made tripe soup.  And I would eat the soup along with the ever-expanding chunks of tripe. I still don’t like menudo. Never say you don’t like a particular dish. It will be seen as a challenge.

On the other hand, be very careful in saying how much you like a particular dish. Years ago, we visited Thailand where I was treated royally. The first night was a banquet where they served roasted suckling pig. As the guest of honor, I was treated to the crispy skin along with the tail and snout. I said how much I enjoyed it (I really did; it was delicious) so that for every evening meal for two weeks in various parts of the country, I was treated to roasted suckling pig complete with snout and tail. I have not eaten roasted suckling pig since.

Back to okra. I agree with Carol: tomatoes and okra is not a favorite. The dish seems to bring out the worst quality of okra, the slime. Deep-fried okra with a crispy corn meal coating is another story. In my view, it is delicious. Fried green tomatoes have a distinctive citrusy tang, but they are a variant of the same preparation method, along with hush puppies, fried catfish, battered cutlets, chicken fried steak, or even fried chicken. But that’s one of the things that makes Southern home cooking so good – frying. Think deep-fried Twinkies.

These recipes are not authentic. Usually you can just shake cut okra with some seasoned cornmeal and fry it. The slime binds the cornmeal to make a crispy fried coating. Same with the green tomatoes. Instead, I have used a flour-egg-buttermilk-cornmeal coating; I like the extra body (and calories) that the coating brings. I am certain that Carol would still not like the okra. I served the vegetables with battered pork cutlets. It was a very brown plate, and my mother would not have approved of the absence of green vegetable – collards, maybe?

RECIPES

Fried Okra, Fried Green Tomatoes, and Breaded Pork Cutlet

Ingredients

  • 1 pound (about) fresh okra pods
  • 3-4 medium green tomatoes
  • 4 thin-sliced  pork cutlets
  • flour
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 dashes Tabasco sauce (optional)
  • bread crumbs
  • oil for frying

Method

  1. Wash the okra and cut it crosswise into ¾ inch rounds
  2. Cut the green tomatoes into ½ inch slices
  3. Dust the pork cutlets in flour and pound with the edge of a saucer to flatten. Turn over while pounding and season with salt and pepper.
  4. Dust the okra slices and green tomato slices with flour.
  5. Combine the beaten eggs and buttermilk. Dip the floured okra, tomatoes, and cutlets in the egg mixture. Then  dip in a plate filled with the bread crumbs until completely covered.
  6. Let the vegetables and pork  rest on cooling racks for 15 minutes.
  7. Fill a deep-sided heavy pot with 2 inches of frying oil. Heat to 350°F. Fry okra, tomatoes, and pork separately, turning frequently, until well browned. Remove from the oil with a spider and drain on paper towels. Keep warm in a 170°F oven until everything has been fried. Serve immediately.

 

 

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FEIJOADA

This is not the real thing, so Brazilians who might be reading this should not comment that it is missing an ingredient that made their mother’s version the best that ever was or that the recipe has an ingredient that makes the dish NOT feijoada.  Traditional recipes often call for unpeeled pork tongue, snouts, ears, and tail. This recipe has none of those.  The two essentials are black beans and meat. This recipe has both. If you serve this dish, you should be aware that the only thing you will want to do after the meal is to take a nap. Be warned. Feijoada is usually described as the national dish of Brazil. The first time I ever had it was over 40 years ago. One of several international colleagues served it at his home as part of sharing among us at the end of long work weeks. Over time we enjoyed cuisine from Brazil, Argentina, Japan, Greece, Australia, Turkey, India, and Pakistan – and of course, the United States –  so it was an excellent culinary world tour.

I have been thinking of making feijoada for our Sunday family meal for some time, but it seemed like a lot of effort. Now, the inspiration is the coming together of a number of things. First, Sarah has engaged a lovely young woman from Brazil to help with the children so that Sarah can focus more on the restaurants and on a cookbook that will be published soon. Second, Bia, the young woman, brought a gift with her, The Brazilian Kitchen by Leticia Moreinos Schwarz (Kyle Books). Finally, I was up for cooking Sunday dinner.

The cookbook is so beautiful that I bought my own copy. The author is from Brazil but an American culinary school graduate and professional chef. Her recipes are simplified and often modernized versions of traditional dishes. Instructions are clear, and the images are mouth-watering. Like me, you may have a hard time finding Brazilian ingredients in your local grocery store. Of course, these days you can order them online. The most basic and hardest-to-find ingredients are sweet and sour manioc starch and manioc flour. To add to the confusion, in the USA sweet manioc starch is often called tapioca flour. You can substitute one for another, but then – as I found out – the results won’t be the same.

To go with the feijoada I made hearts of palm salad and pão de queijo, a delicious Brazilian cheese bread that we first enjoyed in an eclectic restaurant in Redondo Beach. This is where I ran into trouble. Schwarz’s recipe for the bread called for both sweet and sour manioc starch. All I could find at the store was tapioca flour. The resulting batter was so sticky it stuck to everything and was impossible to shape into balls, but after some extended time in the refrigerator before baking, the results were still excellent.

Here’s the recipe for my version of feijoada. Many recipes call for carne seca, akin to jerky but not so tough. As a substitute, I used fresh beef seasoned with dry meat rub and dried in a warm oven for several hours. I also used the slightly spicy Portuguese sausage, linguiça. As an aside, many beans contain phytohemaglutinin which can cause nausea, vomiting, and even blood problems. The toxin is inactivated by cooking at boiling temperatures. Red kidney beans are said to have the highest content, cannellini beans next, and others down the line. Black beans have lower levels.  It has been reported that very slow, low-temperature cooking, like sous vide or a slow cooker set on low, fails to raise temperatures sufficiently to inactivate the toxin, so if you are concerned, you should cook the beans in a pot at a good boil. In any event, be prepared for a hearty meal and the need for a long nap.

RECIPES

Feijoada

Ingredients

  • 1 pound black beans
  • 1 pound beef cut for stir-fry
  • dry meat rub (your favorite)
  • 4 slices smoked bacon, cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 stalks celery, chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • beef stock
  • 1 pound linguiça, cut into ¾-inch slices
  • 1 pound pork stew meat
  • salt and pepper
  • 4-6 cups cooked rice
  • parsley, chopped finely
  • 2 oranges, peeled and cut crosswise into ¼ inch rounds
  • farofa (recipe follows)
  • cooked collard greens

Method

  1. Soak the beans overnight with enough water to cover them at least two inches deep.
  2. Spread the pieces of beef in a single layer on a foil-lined baking pan, sprinkle with dry meat rub, and heat in warm (170°F) oven for at least 8 hours to dry out, turning occasionally.
  3. In a large, heavy bottomed pot, cook the bacon pieces over medium-low heat until the fat has rendered and the bacon has started to crisp. Stir in the onion and cover the pot for 5 minutes to sweat the onions. Add the celery, bay leaves, and garlic. Then add the beans with their soaking liquid, and enough beef stock to cover the beans. Bring to a low boil and cook until the beans are tender, about 2 hours. Add additional beef stock as needed.
  4. Add the dried beef, linguiça, and pork. Continue to simmer until the meats are cooked through, about one hour. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.
  5. Arrange a mound of hot, cooked rice in the middle of a large serving bowl or platter and top with parsley. Surround the rice with the feijoada. Arrange sliced oranges around the feijoada. Serve immediately. Pass the farofa separately, to be sprinkled on top of the feijoada if desired. Serve with collard greens that have been braised, covered, with additional bacon and water for 30 minutes or until the collards are wilted and cooked through. Drain excess water from the collards.

Farofa

In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, melt 2 tablespoons unsalted butter. Stir in 1 cup of tapioca flour. Stirring frequently to avoid burning, cook the mixture until the flour turns a golden brown. Remove from the heat. Serve with a spoon so that it can be sprinkled over the feijoada.

 

 

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CORNBREAD AND SPRINGTIME IN EAST TEXAS

This is the best season to be in East Texas. The winter rains have filled up the ponds and encouraged the emerging leaves into a hundred different shades of green.  The days have warmed without the blazing heat that will begin in only a few weeks. The nights are still cool and perfect for sleeping.

Unlike most of the rest of Texas, the “Piney Woods” are set on rolling hills which are filled with Southern pines, hickories, sweet gums, maples, and oaks of several varieties. This time of year, though, the redbud trees announce themselves as well as Spring. Beautiful shades of pink and red light up the woods.

More hidden in the depths of the forests, dogwoods hang like clouds in the shadows. The branches spread, and the white sepals seem to drift suspended. Close up, the markings remind us of the legend of the dogwood serving as the wood of the cross. It seems appropriate that the beautiful show occurs in the Spring.

East Texas has not lost the commercial opportunities of the redbuds and dogwoods. The Palestine Dogwood Festival (that’s Pal’-a-steen, Texas) provides visitors an opportunity to eat street food, watch the crowning of the festival queen, and tour the beautiful woods.

There are lots of foods that typify East Texas, including fried catfish, hush puppies, greens of all sorts (collards, kale, pokeweed), and at other times of year, black-eyed peas.  For me, though, the quintessential food is cornbread.

Cornbread is almost universally popular, especially in the South. Craig Claiborne, the famous New York Times editor and food critic from Mississippi declared that there are more recipes for cornbread than magnolia trees in the South! Yet finding good recipes for plain cornbread in cookbooks is a difficult task.  Moreover, the popularity of packaged cornbread kits has made it even harder to find a real home-made chunk of cornbread.

If you decide to bake your own cornbread,  there are  decisions that need to be made.  Cornbread made from white cornmeal tends to be more popular in the east with yellow cornmeal gaining increasing popularity the further west you travel.  Northern cornbread, or “Yankee cornbread” as it is commonly called in East Texas, usually contains some sort of sweetening – molasses, maple syrup, sugar, or honey;  Southern cornbread  usually does not contain sweetening, but these distinctions between north and south are not absolute.

This is a version of Southern cornbread, baked in a cast iron skillet as, in my opinion,  all authentic cornbread must be. Some time ago, we had an informal family competition for the best cornbread recipe. This was my entry. One of my daughters used a recipe from one of her friends. It contains sugar (heresy!) and is more like cake. But it is so good that you could wind up eating the whole thing by yourself. I plan to post that recipe in the near future.

RECIPE

 

Southern Cornbread

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons bacon fat for greasing the baking pan
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 jumbo eggs, room temperature
  • 1½ cups buttermilk
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

 Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F (218°C) . Grease a 9 inch cast iron skillet with bacon drippings and place in the oven 10 minutes before you are ready to pour in the batter.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients: flour, cornmeal, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
  3. In a small bowl, combine the wet ingredients: buttermilk, beaten egg, and melted butter. When they are well combined, stir them into the dry ingredients.
  4. Mix the batter for only a few beats until the mixtures are combined and the large lumps have been smoothed. Do not overbeat.
  5. Remove the heated skillet from the oven, pour in the batter, and immediately return to the oven. Bake for 15 minutes in the top half of the oven. Turn  the skillet 180 degrees and continue to bake for another 15 minutes or  until the top is lightly browned. Remove from the oven, cool for about 5 minutes, then cut into eight wedges, and serve immediately while still warm.

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