Growing up in San Francisco, I never heard of soul food. Mom generally prepared French, Italian or German dishes.
Once I moved to Southern California, I discovered the joys of Mexican food. I don’t care if it was tamales, burritos or a 15-cent taco burger from Taco Bell, I ate Mexican food every chance I got. Except for that first crunch of jalapeno pepper, which blistered my tongue, I loved every bite.
The first thing I ate when I relocated to Oklahoma was turkey fries.
I didn’t order them. It was someone’s idea of a joke.
Stupid me ordered seconds. I thought it was the restaurant’s version of chicken nuggets.
I found Oklahomans eat a lot of sausage gravy, frog legs, shredded barbecue sandwiches, chicken-fried steak and fried hand pies, none of which I had heard of on the West Coast.
After moving across the state line to Arkansas, I noticed Razorback fans put chocolate gravy on canned biscuits.
No, I’m not a fan.
I also discovered sweet tea, pinto beans, fried potatoes, fried okra, fried corn, fried green tomatoes and unfried peach cobbler.
But in all my moves, no one ever served me soul food.
What is soul food?
According to Wikipedia, it’s a variety of cuisine originating in the southeastern United States, common in areas with a history of slave-based plantations.
“A large amount of the foods integral to the cuisine originate from the limited rations given to slaves by their planters and masters. Slaves were typically given a peck of cornmeal and three to four pounds of pork per week, and from those rations come soul food staples such as cornbread, fried catfish, barbecue ribs, chitterlings and neckbones.”
Fried catfish: The best thing I discovered in all my moves. And I lived here 20 years before I screwed up the courage to even taste it.
So, I’m a slow learner.
I plan to speed things up after checking out “Soul: A Chef’s Culinary Evolution in 150 Recipes” by Todd Richards. The two-time James Beard Award nominee, Iron Chef competitor and owner of Richard’s Southern Fried (Best of Atlanta 2016 winner) has fashioned a fascinating collection based on his culinary journey from the simple staples of his childhood in Chicago to his award-winning cuisine showcasing the limitless possibilities of pork, collards and sweet potatoes.
The chapters in the book are organized by featured ingredients, including collards, onions, corn, tomatoes, stone fruit, beans and rice, eggs and poultry, etc.
Among the recipes are Onion Broth with Onion Dumplings and Braised Chicken Wings, Bacon, Collard and Fried Egg Sandwich, Fried Chicken Gizzards with Honey Mustard and Fermented Ramps, Blackberry-Balsamic Roasted Venison, Blue Crab, Apple and Horseradish Salad, Pan-Fried Skin-On Trout, Oxtail Pot Pies, Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Collard Green Butter, Shrimp, Field Peas and Andouille in Smoked Tomato Broth, Grilled Peach Toast with Pimiento Cheese, Fried Chicken and Sweet Potato Waffles, Candied Bacon and Turnip Hash and Crispy Chitlins and Hot Fried Rice.
Oh my, if this is soul food, count me in.
Chicken Thighs and Barbecue Beans
• 4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
• 4 teaspoons kosher salt
• 2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
• 2 tablespoons blended olive oil
• 1 pound dried white beans, soaked in water overnight
• 2 cups diced yellow onion (from 2 onions)
• 1 1/4 cups diced green bell pepper (from 2 bell peppers)
• 1/2 cup diced celery (about 2 stalks)
• 4 garlic cloves, smashed and minced
• 1 1/2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
• 6 cups (48 ounces) chicken stock
• 2 bay leaves
• 1/8 teaspoon fennel seeds
• 1 cup packed light brown sugar
• 1/2 cup ketchup
• 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
• 2 tablespoons coarse-grain mustard
• 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
• 2 scallions, thinly sliced
Sprinkle the chicken thighs with 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper. Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Sear the chicken thighs, skin side down, in the hot oil until golden brown, about seven minutes. Turn the chicken thighs over and cook until browned, about five more minutes. Remove the chicken from the pan.
Add the beans, onions, bell peppers, celery, garlic, red pepper flakes, chicken stock, bay leaves and fennel seeds to the pan and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until the beans are tender, about 90 minutes.
Stir in the brown sugar, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, vinegar and remaining 2 1/2 teaspoons salt into the pan. Return the chicken thighs to the pan and simmer until the chicken is done, about 10 minutes. Remove and discard the bay leaves. Let stand for 25 minutes.
Sprinkle with remaining 1 teaspoon black pepper and scallions before serving.
Makes two servings.
Cush-Cush is a type of cornbread of African origin.
Bet you never added popcorn to your cornbread before.
• 1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) water
• 2 teaspoons kosher salt
• 2 cups plain yellow cornmeal
• 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
• 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
• 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
• 1 tablespoon popcorn kernels, popped
• 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
• 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
Preheat the broiler with the oven rack six to eight inches from the heat.
Bring 1 1/2 cups water and the salt to a boil in a saucepan over medium-high heat.
Combine cornmeal, baking powder, nutmeg and cayenne pepper in a heatproof bowl. Add the boiling salted water and stir until combined. Let stand five minutes.
Fold the popped corn kernels into the cornmeal mixture. Let stand five minutes.
Heat oil in a 12-inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Spoon the batter into the hot oil and spread into a 1/2-inch thick circle. Fry until golden brown, about eight minutes.
Transfer the skillet to the preheated oven and broil until the bread is golden brown, about eight minutes.
Turn out the cush-cush onto a serving dish. Spread with butter. Let stand five minutes.
Break into pieces and serve in a bowl with buttermilk and molasses.
Makes eight servings.
Collard Greens with Smoked Ham Hocks
• 4 smoked bacon slices
• 3 bunches collard greens (1 1/2 to 2 pounds)
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 2 small yellow onions, thinly sliced
• 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
• 1 pound smoked ham hocks, at room temperature
• 4 cups cold water
• 1 cup bourbon or whiskey
• 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
• 2 teaspoons kosher salt
• 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
• 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Freeze the bacon 25 minutes. Remove and cut the bacon crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces.
Fill a sink with cold water. Place a cutting board near the sink. Stack four collard green leaves on top of each other. Remove the stems with a sharp knife. Cut the leaves into 2-inch squares. Repeat with remaining collard green leaves. Rinse in cold water. Drain.
Heat the olive oil in a 4-quart stockpot over medium heat. Add the bacon. Cook until crisp, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Transfer bacon to paper towels to drain, reserving the dripping in the pot. Reserve bacon pieces for garnish.
Return the pot to medium heat. Cook the onions and garlic in the hot bacon drippings two minutes stirring often. Add the ham hocks and cook five minutes, turning every 45 seconds or so. Pour 4 cups cold water over the ham hocks and add the bourbon and vinegar. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook 25 minutes.
Stir in one quarter of the collard greens. Continue adding the collards, one quarter at a time, stirring after each addition. After all collards have been added, simmer two minutes. Sprinkle the collards with salt and pepper and cook until the greens are tender, one hour to 90 minutes.
Remove from the heat and stir in the red pepper flakes. Let stand 30 minutes before serving.
Meanwhile, remove the ham hocks. Cool slightly. Pull the meat from the bone. Chop the meat. Discard the bones. Return the meat to the pot with the greens and stir.
To serve, sprinkle the collard greens with the reserved bacon.
Makes six servings.
Note: Because Richards hates to toss out perfectly good food, the above recipe is accompanied by one for Pickled Collard Green Stems.
Yes, Richards includes desserts in his book.
Blueberry Fried Pies with Meyer Lemon Glaze
• 1 cup granulated sugar
• 2 tablespoons cornstarch
• 3/4 cup water
• 1/4 cup dark rum
• 1 teaspoon orange zest (from 1 orange)
• 1/4 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
• Pinch of kosher salt
• 1 thyme sprig
• 4 cups fresh blueberries (about 1 1/4 pounds)
• Erika Council's Pie Crust (recipe follows)
• All-purpose flour, for dusting
• 1 large egg
• 4 cups (32 ounces) vegetable oil
• 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
• 2 tablespoons Meyer lemon juice
• 1 to 3 teaspoons heavy cream
Whisk together sugar and cornstarch in a saucepan. Add 1/2 cup water and whisk until combined. Whisk in the rum, orange zest, vanilla bean paste and salt. Add the thyme sprig. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture is thickened, 12 to 14 minutes.
Remove from heat and fold in the blueberries. Let stand for 30 minutes. Remove and discard thyme sprig.
Cut the pie crust in half. Refrigerate one portion until ready to use. Roll out remaining portion to 1/8-inch thickness on a lightly floured surface. Cut the dough into 10 circles with a 4 1/2-inch round cookie cutter, re-rolling scraps once. Repeat with remaining dough half.
Spoon about 1 tablespoon filling into the center of each dough circle. Whisk together the egg and remaining 1/4 cup water. Brush the edges of the pies and fold over so the edges meet. Press the edges together with a fork to seal. Repeat the process with the remaining dough, filling and egg wash.
Heat the oil in a skillet over medium to 375 degrees. Fry the pies until golden brown, about four minutes. Turn and cook about two more minutes. Drain on paper towels. Let cool 20 minutes.
Whisk together the confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice in a small bowl for the glaze. Whisk in the heavy cream, 1 teaspoon at a time, until desired consistency is reached. (Makes 1/2 cup.) Drizzle pies with the glaze.
Makes about 20 pies.
Erika Council's Pie Crust
• 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
• 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
• 1 teaspoon kosher salt
• 6 ounces (3/4 cup) very cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
• 1/3 cup very cold vegetable shortening
• 6 to 8 tablespoons ice water
Place the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times until combined. Add the butter and shortening and pulse until the mixture resembles small peas, eight to 12 times.
With the processor running, drizzle 6 tablespoons ice water through the food chute. Process until the dough begins to form a ball. (Add up to 2 more tablespoons, 1 tablespoon at a time, if needed, to reach desired consistency.)
Turn the dough out on a lightly floured work surface and shape into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 30 minutes or up to two days.
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