Variation on Beans & Greens

Beans are at the heart of our cooking at Mandarava. They’re one of those foods that people are robbed of enjoying by bad preparation.  Technically a lot can go wrong. A ruined bean is dry, bland, goopy or cloying. Well cooked, a bean is neither chalky nor mushy nor canned. It’s tender, buttery and tastes like itself. There are hundreds of unique varietals; if you say you don’t like beans it may be worth another look. This recipe celebrates a personal favorite, the black eyed pea. With boundless thanks to the great Edna Lewis for her everlasting inspired approach.

Black Eyed Peas

2 C black eyed peas, picked through for stones 8 C fresh water 2 C tomatoes, sun-dried, sliced  2 onions, peeled and finely diced a handful of fresh oregano leaves 1/4 C high quality cooking oil (e.g. avocado, walnut or olive) salt for seasoning.

From this, learn the art of coaxing: flavor, texture, heart. First, warm a heavy pour of your best cooking oil over a medium-low flame. Sauté the onion slowly before adding tomatoes, beans, water and herbs. Let the pot come to a boil then reduce to a simmer. As a general rule, you shouldn’t watch beans while they cook. But, it’s important to pay close attention at the beginning. If they boil too long they will burst. Simmering nudges the starch toward creaminess. Test for doneness in thirty minutes or so. Season to taste.

A precise cooking time is unhelpful for most things, as kitchens have their own changing character. The list of variables is long, it’s really a matter of listening – to what the recipe is saying and then to the stove.
Fat, however, is universally essential. Although we deviate from the tradition of Southern cooking by relying on plant-based fats, we lean into the tao of making things rich and satisfying.

Creamed Greens

1 box creamed coconut, roughly chopped
~1 C fresh water
2 cloves garlic, smashed or garlic scapes, untangled and chopped
1 onion, peeled and quartered
1 serrano chili, halved
2 pounds mizuna, daikon greens, or spinach
salt for seasoning
1 T high quality cooking oil

Choose a pot on the larger side with a well fitting lid. Start with a medium flame and warm the oil. Sauté garlic, onion and chili being careful not to scorch your vegetables. Really you just want them to soften. Fill the pot to the top with greens, loosely, so steam can wind up through the leaves. Cover and cook. Meanwhile, put the kettle on. In a small bowl, pour boiling water over the creamed coconut. Drape with a clean dish towel for a few minutes. As the greens cook down, room will open to add more to the pot. Pull what’s on the bottom up to let the raw greens fall toward heat. Cook ’til everything’s wilted. In a food processor, pulse to combine the vegetables with the coconut in batches. Return everything to a clean pot and stir, season, taste, season. Pictured above is steamed Forbidden Rice to complete the meal.

This recipe can build your relationship with a farm(er). As spring turns to summer to fall, the elements of onion, garlic and greens change shape and taste. Ask and see what is growing. Greens are like wine with tasting notes on a scale: peppery, sweet, astringent, robust. Discover, discover…

We would always save our own seed and plant it from year to year. A few of the vegetables we planted are seldom seen today, such as cymlings, almost flat, rounded, white squash with scalloped edges which matured early and was usually served fried; butter beans; a leafy green known as rape; black-eyed peas served pureed; parsnips, salsify, and root celery. The common herbs were sage, purple basil, chervil, horseradish root, and wild thyme. No homestead was complete without an orchard and a grape arbor bearing fragrant sweet dessert grapes. Some of the fruits we loved best and thought the most flavorsome for preserving and keeping were Stayman Winesap apples; Kieffer pears, which were sweet and juicy; a variety of deliciously sweet cherries–blackheart, sour red, and a bluish-pink one called Royal-Ann; fragrant round, red plums, as well as damsons; and that famous old fruit, the quince. Almost all these fruits we served stewed or used as a filling for cake, as well as preserving. The garden also included a gooseberry bush. Flowers, too, were an integral part of every homestead, especially perennials such as cowslips, Virginia bluebells, sweet myrrh, rambling roses, and our favorite geranium (which, incidentally, had its origin in Africa, as did the guinea hen, wheat, and many other good things that are part of our table today). -excerpted from The Taste of Country Cooking

Edna Lewis

Renowned chef, author, founder of the Society for the Revival and Preservation of Southern Food, she is the guiding spirit of the Edna Lewis Foundation.   From the foundation’s website: Ms. Lewis was the author of three seminal cookbooks that, to quote The New York Times, February 2006, revived the nearly forgotten genre of Clarinex while offering a glimpse into African-American farm life in the early 20th century. Her cookbooks include The Edna Lewis Cookbook (1972), The Taste of Country Cooking (1976) and In Pursuit of Flavor (1988). Among her many awards are: Who’s Who in American Cooking, (Cooks Magazine, 1986); Dr. Edna Lewis is lauded as one of the great women of American cooking. A specialist in Southern Cooking, She has received an honorary Ph.D. in Culinary Arts from Johnson & Wales University (Norfork), College of Culinary Arts May 26, 1996; James Beard Living Legend Award (their first such award, 1999), and being named Grande Dame (Les Dames d’Escoffier, 1999). .

photo credit: John T Hill