Thursday, January 6, 2011

An Odd-Numbered Year

I'm not much for superstitions.  Some of the coolest cats – literally, cats, as in meow –  I've known were black cats.  I'll walk under a ladder if it's in my way, spill salt on the floor and think only of the cleanup, or put on my hoodie, because I hate being cold, if I get goosebumps.  I even like the number thirteen and wouldn't mind living on the thirteenth floor or on 13th street, which, here in east Austin, is generally nicer than either 12th or 14th.  Apparently crack dealers are superstitious.

At some point, though, my like for the number thirteen, and my preference for odd numbers, especially odd, prime numbers, has turned into something of a superstition.  In my first kitchen job, I learned that it is good presentation to serve an odd number of food items on a plate, because odd numbers of things look more appealing.  To this day if I am putting olives onto my salad, I count out an odd number of them, despite the fact that I don't eat just three or five olives, which clearly look better than four or six olives, but instead tend to eat eleven or thirteen olives, which amount to just as large of a pile as ten or twelve olives would.  Yet I still debate, as I'm counting out my odd number of olives, whether to count the ones that I eat straight out of the can, the ones that never make it onto the salad, in the olive total or not.

For the same irrational reasons, I like odd-numbered years.  I feel that my life has more forward momentum in odd-numbered years, especially during the last half of an odd-numbered year, when my age is odd-numbered as well.  It was in the last half of an odd-numbered year that I signed up for a community garden plot and planted my first fall garden, that I took my first fiction-writing class, that I got together with Lee, and, on the last day of that same odd-numbered year, that I bought this house.  Now here I am at the outset of an odd- and prime-numbered year, 2011, during which I am going to turn 37, another odd, prime number that happened to be my favorite number growing up. 

What a lot of pressure this year is turning out to be.

To start the year off right, I decided to make the traditional New Year's meal of black-eyed peas with southern-style greens.  I'd never cooked black-eyed peas before and in fact had a bad association with them on account of a bad experience I had eating some black-eyed peas that had spoiled at a restaurant.  So my motivation to make the traditional New Year's meal was not to cook black-eyed peas, or for the luck, though I figure that these things never hurt.  Instead, I wanted an excuse to make cornbread and I was really looking for a reason to harvest and cook some collard greens from my two happy plants in the backyard.

So I cut the bottom leaves from my collard greens in the backyard, and I harvested some Lacinato kale plants from the crowded row in the front yard, and set about making a New Year's dinner that my dad said sounded like something out of Hee Haw:  slow-cooked black-eyed peas with creamed greens and cornbread.  Here's to good luck and lots of forward momentum in 2011.

Vegetarian Black-Eyed Peas
Adapted from the Fat-Free Vegan Kitchen

Apologies to the source recipe, which was fat-free and vegan, because the first step I took was to melt a quarter cup of butter into my soup pot.  I like the flavor and heartiness that butter adds to a winter soup or pot of beans, but what I really like are the flavors of onion and garlic.  I have found that surest way to infuse onion and garlic goodness into a dish is to sauté or fry the onion in some kind of fat for about five minutes then to add the garlic and continue frying for a minute or two longer.  Olive oil (two to four tablespoons) can easily be substituted for butter to keep the dish vegan, without losing any of the onion-family flavors.

I used fresh black-eyed peas, which can easily be found in the produce section of grocery stores around the first of the year.  I cooked the beans in vegetable stock (near-boiling water mixed with Better Than Bouillon stock, per instructions) instead of water to add flavor to the beans.

4 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 green bell pepper, chopped

12 ounces fresh black-eyed peas, rinsed
4 cups vegetable stock
2 bay leaves

15 oz can diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon hot sauce
fresh cracked black pepper

Melt the butter in a large soup pot over medium heat, then add the onion and fry for about five minutes, or until the onion becomes clear and starts to brown at the edges.  Add the garlic and cook for a minute longer, stirring continuously to prevent the garlic from sticking.  Add the bell pepper and cook, stirring frequently, for one to two minutes longer.

Add the rinsed black-eyed peas, the stock, and bay leaves to the pot, stir well, and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, cover, and allow to simmer for about two hours.  Stir the beans occasionally and adjust the heat as needed so that the lid on the soup pot is jangling intermittently from the release of steam.

After two hours of cooking, remove the bay leaves then add the remaining ingredients except for the black pepper.  Stir well and allow to cook for about an hour longer, stirring occasionally.  For soupier beans, leave the lid on the soup pot, or, for thicker beans, remove the lid for the last half hour of simmering.  At the end of cooking, add black pepper to taste.

Serve hot over rice or with cornbread.

Jalapeño Cornbread
Adapted from Diana's Kitchen

This is the best cornbread recipe that I have found.  The cornbread is moist, savory, and filled with corn kernels, minced jalapeño peppers, and grated cheese.  I added sliced green onions and used melted butter instead of vegetable oil, but otherwise left the recipe alone.

Well, I almost left it alone.  The original recipe called for one cup of creamed corn, but the only creamed corn I could find contained sugar and "modified food starch" and wasn't organic.  I substituted organic, non-GMO corn by filling a one-cup measuring cup with corn kernels then pouring buttermilk into the cup of corn until buttermilk reached the top of the measuring cup.

1 cup organic yellow cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup organic sweet corn
1 cup buttermilk + enough to fill cup of sweet corn (see note above)
1/4 cup butter, melted
3 large jalapeño peppers, minced
1 bunch green onions (scallions), sliced
4 oz grated cheddar, monterey jack, or colby cheese

Preheat oven to 350˚ F.  Grease a 9-inch square baking pan.

In a small bowl, combine the cornmeal, baking powder, and salt.  In a larger mixing bowl, beat the eggs then stir in the remaining ingredients.  Stir in the dry ingredients until just uniformly mixed.  Transfer the mixture into the baking pan.  Bake for 55 to 65 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Creamed Greens
Adapted from Nourished Kitchen

2 pounds thick-leafed greens (collards and/or kale)
1 large onion, quartered and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup cream
sea salt

Thoroughly wash the greens and remove the stems and thick central veins from the leaves.  Chop the leaves into large pieces.

Melt the butter in a skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and fry in the butter, stirring occasionally, for about five minutes, or until the onion softens and begins to brown at the edges.

Add chopped greens to the skillet and stir to combine.  Place a lid over the pan to wilt the greens.  Depending on the size of the pan, wilt the greens in batches until all the greens are wilted.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the cream.  Simmer for five to ten minutes, or until the cream is mostly reduced.

Season with sea salt to taste and serve hot.

No comments:

Post a Comment