(Hi Food Lovers – just a note to say as I completed my edits for my book I got behind on everything, including blogging here. I am attempting to make it up to you with not just one recipe, but a whole meal. These recipes are truly all new favorites on our rotation, and it feels so good to be back sharing a love of food with you here.)
It’s hard to step your baby toe into a love of food without feeling the effects of Southern Cuisine on America. Southern Cooking has become synonymous with cooking with soul, or love, or heart, or something approximating all three. But you don’t need to get philosophical to know that southern food just tastes good. With its mixture of rich fatty meat, an ample supply of butter and cheese, and tangy, vinegary liquids, most of which have been cooked long and slow, its hard not to end up with something that will make your belly and your soul very happy.
So when my southern friend Christy sent me her recipe for Collard Greens around New Years, followed up with some lovely gifts and priceless staples like grits and seasoning they use in their kitchen to achieve that authentic flavor, I knew I wanted to see if my Northern Kitchen could make those flavors appear.
Turns out, it can. I thought I’d use some of these gifts for a whole southern meal, complete with a rib recipe that we’ve been loving. The result was amazing fall-apart ribs, collard greens that were so flavorful, they tasted like they were from a restaurant in the south, and baked cheddar grits that were so good they’ll make your toes curl. Or at least make you want to curl up for a nap. All of these make up such quintessential comfort food, it’s no wonder it’s called soul food.
So let’s start with the my favorite:
Collard Greens à la Christy
This recipe has a short cut that I highly recommend: buy the seasoning packet from Uncle Wiley’s which my friend sent me. Whatever kind of magic is in there, it sure makes for some delicious greens. If you don’t want to bother, just play around with your garlic powder, salt and pepper until it tastes seasoned. The salt pork adds some salt too so go easy at the start of it simmering.
This recipe delivers you a huge pot of good for you greens, plus a whole bunch of broth that I sipped for the next three days and just made me feel amazing. I was writing a lot that week, and I would get so excited when I brought up a hot, salty mug to sip while I worked. Christy said it’s called “pot likker” and all I know is its pretty life affirming. Or at least during editing season. I found my collard greens at my local store so hope yours carries it too.
Collard Greens à la Christy (printer version here):
When I got the photo of the recipe, it was officially titled “Collards and Peas” which just sounds like a great dish, doesn’t it? She said her husband traditionally makes the peas separate from the collards by boiling them in a little chicken broth, which is what I did. Then you just serve it together. But here is the cast of characters:
“Collards and Peas”
3/4 container of peas, soaked overnight, then cooked in chicken broth (can use frozen)
1/2 an onion
3 bunches collards, sliced
1 salted pork pack (I had a large package and just used a slice that was about one inch thick and it was just right)
garlic, salt and pepper (or use Uncle Wiley’s seasoning packet)
3 stalks celery (I sliced them and loved them, but you don’t have to if you want to just use it for flavor)
dollop of chicken bullion
Optional: add a splash of malt vinegar at the end.
Trim collards from stems which are bitter. Then chop them up and place them in a huge pot of water. Add pork, onion, spices, and a huge dollop of chicken bullion. There is no right or wrong ratio for the peas and collards, essentially just throw everything into a pot, bring to a boil, then simmer until leaves are tender. You can also served with black-eyed peas and diced tomato.
So you’re going to want to pin this recipe too.
I don’t know about you, but after having eaten great ribs from friends and restaurants, I was sort of in the camp that I would let them make them and I’ll happily eat them.
But then I found this recipe from Chef Charlie McKenna in Better Homes & Gardens, who has some deep southern roots and an award winning BBQ restaurant in Chicago. He made ribs seem…doable. So when my daughter asked for ribs for her birthday a while ago, I tried them, and they were SO easy and SO good: falling of the bone, smokey, juicy, and well-seasoned.
The secret is you flavor them up with mustard and the rub, then cook them low for 2 hours, sealed in a tin foil envelope, so they stay really juicy. Then flash grill them for 10 minutes with BBQ sauce. The rub mixture makes enough for 3-4 rack of ribs, and I store mine in a tightly sealed jar. And I have made my own sauce, but in a pinch, I have used a good jar too.
I love that you can cook these all year round if you use an indoor grill pan. One rack of ribs feeds our family very comfortably.
Oven-to-Grill Ribs (printer version here):
- 13 1/2 pound rack pork loin back ribs
- 1/4cup yellow mustard
- 1cup BBQ Rub
- 1/2cup BBQ Sauce
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. With a pastry brush, spread the mustard all over both sides of the ribs. Generously sprinkle the rub all over both sides of the ribs.
- Place ribs in the middle of a double thickness of heavy foil cut 6 inches longer than the ribs. Wrap ribs in the foil. Bake for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until tender (the two middle bones of the rack should start to pull apart easily).
- Remove ribs to a tray (discard liquid in foil packet). Spread the sauce all over both sides of the ribs. Grill on the rack of a covered grill directly over medium heat for 15 minutes, brushing with additional sauce every 5 minutes, turning once. Adjust heat as necessary to prevent burning.
- Place celery seeds, cumin seeds, mustard seeds, and coriander seeds in a spice grinder and grind until fine. Mix together with remaining ingredients. Store leftovers in a dry, cool place.
- Whisk all ingredients together in a large saucepan and bring to a simmer. Simmer, covered, for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cool to room temperature. Cover and chill up to 2 weeks.
Baked Cheesy Grits
Normally I test totally new recipes like this, but turns out Baked Grits are very easy and with the help of butter and cheese turn out delicious no matter what you do. (Ok, scorching the bottom of pan might not work). I merged a number of recipes online, which were all very similar, keeping notes as I went, and they turned out just the way I was hoping. Maybe it was the authentic grits sent from Georgia? Now my mind is dreaming about fried polenta.
Baked Cheesy Grits (printer version here):
5 cups chicken broth
1 1/4 cups grits, rinsed
1/2 t. garlic salt
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. pepper
1 cup (4 oz) sharp cheddar, divided
1 cup (4 oz) monterey jack
1/2 cup milk
- Preheat oven to 350°. Bring chicken broth just to a boil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat; gradually whisk in butter and grits. Reduce heat, and simmer, whisking constantly, 5 to 7 minutes or until grits are done. Remove from heat.
- Add seasoning, milk, half the cheddar cheese and all of the monteray jack cheese. Stir until completely combined and cheese is melted. Taste for seasoning, adjusting if needed. Add eggs and combine well. Pour into a lightly greased 11- x 7-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with remaining half cup of cheddar cheese.
- Bake, covered, at 350° for 35 to 40 minutes or until mixture is set. Let cool for 5-10 minutes before serving.
I hope you take a trip to the South via your taste buds and try these out! They are delicious and memorable, and with friends like Christy, definitely Soul Food.