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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Downhome Vegetarian - Cornbread and Collards

Cornbread Fixin's

Collard Makin's

Simple, but Country Elegant

All together now....slurrrrp!

I confess I’m a rib suckin’, barbequin’, unrepentant carnivore.  But, I have nice friends, including a close friend who’d rather jump on a live grenade than eat any part of anything that walks, crawls, flies, or swims.  I’ve been tempted to test that. 
When you cook for vegetarians, you start to be very inventive. No throwing juicy, delicious steaks on the barbe, peeing in the bushes, and clanging the dinner gong.  You pay more attention to flavors and color combinations, but most of all, everything you fix has to taste good and be filling. No fear. It can be done.
            Of course, there’s also the dainty, little finger in the air, ‘style-is-everything’ type of vegetarian,.  I avoid them. You probably know and despise one of your very own.  Lightly steamed breast of radish, with vinegar infused skirt of cabbage.  Served on a bed of thin sliced, gluten free, soy based, rabbit pellets.  I’d rather eat root veggies, still ripe with bovine droppings.
            I say, if you’re gonna do the dirty with the greens, grab some corn licker, bust a few brain cells, and make some stomach fillin’,  mouth-warterin’ victuals your gran-pappy would be proud to slap on his tin plate and drool down his chin.
            You know I’m talking about cornbread and collards.  Cornbread is one of the oldest American dishes.  Native Americans ground corn in the long ago, and passed the recipes on to southern colonists, who added some leavening agents and brought cornbread to such a high stage of the culinary art that even slayers of beasts will relish a tasty hunk.  Matter of fact, cornbread has been labeled one of the cornerstones of southern cuisine.  I’d vote for that, as long as you mention biscuits, barbeque, and rice.  Hold on a sec.  Gonna need more than four corners.  What about the greens?  Which brings up the savory subject of collards.  Collard is the colloquial form of the long-forgotten name “colewort,” and it comes from the same family as broccoli and cabbage.  Not a bad green gene pool.  Collards give you vitamin C, along with antibacterial, antiviral, and even anti-cancer properties.  Matter of fact, if you rub collards…..’nother story.  These days you don’t have to cut the leaves at exactly the right time and chop ‘em yourself.  That’s what the frozen section of the supermarket is for.
            Lets get cookin’!  We’ll do the collards first and let them stew while we make the cornbread.

Collards My Vegetarian Friend’s Way  (Look!  No bacon up my sleeve!)

            1  package (1 lb) frozen, chopped collard greens
1   medium onion
3   cloves garlic
1   carrot
3   tablespoons chopped jalapeños
32  ounces vegetable broth, about 4 1/2 cups
1   tablespoon salt (or to taste)
2   tablespoons vegetable oil (I use sunflower oil)

Finely chop the onion, garlic and carrot.  I use a food processor.  Heat the oil on medium-high, in a 2-3 quart pot, and add the chopped ingredients (except the collards).  Let them sweat until the onions are translucent, then add the vegetable broth.  Bring to a boil and add the collards, salt and jalapeños.  Simmer for at least 30 minutes or more.  The longer the better. Taste and add salt as necessary.  I’ve been known to splash in a little bit of vinegar and another bunch of chopped jalapeños at this point.

While the collards simmer, let’s make the cornbread. 

Cornbread  - the simple kind

2 cups yellow corn meal
1/4 cup sugar (optional)
2 tablespoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 beaten egg
1 1/4 cups milk (I use skim)

Preheat the oven to 400ºF or 200ºC.  Add about 1/4 cup oil to a 8-9 inch cast iron skillet and put the skillet in the hot oven.

Mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl.  Add the milk and mix.  Add the beaten egg.  The batter should move slowly around in the bowl, but not be watery.  If your batter is too thick, add a little more milk. If it’s too thin, add just a touch more corn meal.

Some people like to add all manner of things to the batter:  jalapeños, corn kernels, shredded cheese, crisp bacon, tongue of mother-in-law.   Do what the hell you want, but don’t ask me.  I’m making the simple kind.  ‘Course I’m the guy who likes plain vanilla ice cream and single malt with no ice, water, or vapid conversation.

Remove the hot skillet from the oven and pour in the batter.  Put the skillet back in the oven and bake the cornbread for 20-25 minutes, or until the top is slightly brown and a knife comes out clean.

            By the time the cornbread comes out of the oven, the collards will be ready.  Give ‘em a taste and add salt or more jalapeños if you need to.   See how that works?  Almost as if I’d planned it.  Now, ask gran-pappy for another slug of that liquid corn, one of the other cornerstones of southern cookin’.  Just ask gran-mammy.

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