I grew up in the northeastern suburbs at a time when iceberg lettuce ruled the salad bowl and frozen blocks of spinach always found themselves nestled deep within the freezer. There was no thought that Swiss chard, mustard, or arugula would possibility work as the magical key to that cartoon hero’s muscles. No, it was a serving of over-cooked brackish-hued leaves that continually showed up.
Now, while I must claim the New York suburbs for my entire attitude it is the south that gets the honor be being my birthplace. In the spirit of full disclosure we left before I was able to stand on my own. The few return trips we made as a family back to Atlanta to reconnect with friends and family showed me the accent I wish I got, and the possibility of replacing spinach. My cousin Edith was a grand cook and the first foodie I ever knew. She had a spare room with all four walls lined with cookbooks; had a penchant for collecting exotic cookie cutters. I remember a hunt we took to Chinatown when I was in my early twenties, and she was now visiting us, to a store she read about for a very intricate dragon shaped cookie cutter. We found it. I don’t recall ever eating one of her cookies though.
It was those foreign meals I had in the south that stuck with me. In particular were the collards cooked with bacon that shone a whole new light on the green. We ate bacon but never after breakfast. Mind you I was not adverse to spinach it was just so limp or drowned in a creamed style boil–and-serve pouch in my mother’s kitchen. There was a bitterness laced by the smoky bacon with the add bonus of the bacon bits hidden among the leaves of those left-behind collard greens.
Migration is a good thing for now in the market I can the find Brooklyn-ease accented collards. A countertop resplendent with these board leaf greens seems more apt to act as a fan for some young lady suffering the vapors than a component of an idea. My kitchen is alive with the possibilities that only memory and desire can inspire.
Black Bean Stew – yields 6 to 8 servings
2-bunches scallions – trimmed of roots
1/2-pound dried Spanish chorizo
1-pound boneless and skinless chicken thigh meat
1 poblano – seeds discard; and chopped
5 garlic cloves – roughly chopped
1 jalapeno – minced (seeds discarded to lower heat)
1-teaspoon whole cumin
1-teaspoon whole coriander seed
1-pound ripe tomato – roughly chopped
1-cup chopped Italian parsley
3-cups cooked black beans
1-bunch collard greens – center rib discarded
Salt and pepper to taste
Separate the onion portion of the scallions for its green tops. Cut each into 1/2-inches keeping them in separate bowls.
Cut the chorizo into 1/2-inch pieces and place in a 6-quart pot over a medium heat. Allow the chorizo to release its fat and brown. Once the chorizo has browned remove from the pot and add the chicken. Brown the chicken. Remove and hold with the chorizo.
In the pot add the scallion whites, poblano and jalapeno, and cook to lightly caramelize the scallions. Then add the garlic, cumin and coriander cooking for a few minutes, stirring constantly. Return the chorizo and chicken back to the pot along with the tomatoes, black beans and chopped parsley. Stir in one cup of water, and allow the stew to come to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook for one hour.
In the meantime, wash and chop the collard. Bring a full kettle of water to the boil. Place the collards in a colander and pour the boiling over the collards allowing them to wilt. Let the collards cool in the colander.
After an hour add the collards and scallion greens, and continue to cook the stew for 20 to 30 minutes longer. Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve over rice with a wedge of lemon.