Soul Fest Recipes

September 6, 2009 at 8:44 am

Melissa Graham

GCM Demo
To all of those who stopped by my demo yesterday at Green City Market’s Soul Fest, here are my speech notes and the recipes.

“Welcome everyone to this beautiful market day where we’re celebrating Soulfest. Soulfest? Now, I know what many of you are probably thinking. This waspy looking girl is going to do a demo on Soulfest? Indeed!

So let me start with a story . . .

Now, like many women, I wear a lot of hats. Mother, chef, business owner, Green City Market membership chair. But it’s the one hat that I’ve haven’t worn in years, that explains why I’m here today. Before I became a chef, I was an attorney and before I went to law school, I had my heart set on becoming a historian. My specialty wasn’t Ancient Rome – too old, nor the Middle Ages – too dark, or Elizabethan England – too stiff. Nope, my specialty was black history. I even wrote my senior thesis on the 1959 London race riots while I was studying in England. I could tell you stories about recording living history – interviews with the fascist who served me biscuits and tea and the Jamaican community leader who offered to grate hashish into my orange shake. But for our purposes here, the English are only relevant in their introduction of the slave trade to the Southern colonies.

Yes, my real love in history is the American South. The South with all of its Faulkneresque frailities and Tennessee Williams’ eccentricities. And you know, looking back, I think it had something to do with the food. Not to dis the other regions of the country, including the one in which I was raised and the one that I currently reside, but the South is the one region of the United States that was able to create a unique, indigenous world-class cuisine that was a distinct break from that of the homeland of its settlers. Consider that even California, now looked to as a food giant, didn’t have a distinctive voice to its cuisine until Alice Waters began buying from her local farmers in the 70′s. But who developed this cuisine? Was it the small farmer, the plantation owner’s wife, the city dweller? While they had some say, they were not the real authors of this canon. No, the creators were the servants, the house slaves, the unsung heroes who put their stamp on the food that their masters ate. And so Southern cuisine is an amalgamation, an intersection between two incredibly diverse cultures. The European and the African coming together under an oppressive, cruel, exploitative regime that as one historian wrote “bound two peoples together in bitter antagonism while creating an organic relationship so complex and ambivalent that neither could express the simplest human feelings without reference to one another.” To top it all off, the South was and is blessed with an incredibly fertile climate that didn’t just produce tobacco and cotton, but fruits and vegetables or amazing variety and quality.

The term soul food came out of the Civil Rights era when the word soul became way to describe and celebrate black culture. The first time I ever tried Biscuits and Gravy was at one of the best soul food restaurants in the country, the Florida Avenue Grill in Washington D.C. Despite the fact that the walls of this restaurant are lined with pictures of Congressmen, Senators and Cabinet officials who’ve enjoyed its food, the cab driver had a hard time wanting to leave us at this landmark given the reputation of the neighborhood. He relented and once inside we enjoyed the breakfast of a lifetime.”

The following are the recipes that I demonstrated. Local Beet readers will recognize the biscuit recipe from an earlier post.

Braised Greens
4 Servings

1 bunch greens, such as turnip, mustard, kale, collards or chard
1 tablespoon bacon grease
1 teaspoon kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 tablespoon veal or beef demi-glace, optional
Cider vinegar

Remove the hard stems by folding the leaves in half and cutting them away from the stem. Slice about 1/2-inch thick. Heat the bacon grease in a medium-large saucepan. Add the greens and cover with water by an inch. Bring to a simmer, add salt and cook until tender, approximately 15 minutes to an hour, depending upon the green (turnip and collards will take the least amount of time). You may need to add more water. Drop the demi-glace in and simmer for 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Buttermilk Biscuits
4 servings

¼ cup whole wheat pastry flour
¾ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 ½ tablespoons vegetable shortening
½ cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425° F. Combine flours, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Cut the butter and shortening into small pieces. Work the fat into the dry ingredients with your fingertips until the mixture looks sandy with smallish lumps. Pour in the buttermilk and mix with a fork until the ingredients just hold together. Knead into a ¾-inch circle very lightly on a floured surface. Cut into 8 pieces. Place on a silpat or parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes in the center rack of the oven or until light brown. Cool slightly.

Tomato Gravy
Adapted from an Edna Lewis recipe. Edna Lewis was one of the greats in Southern cooking. Anyone who’s interested in this subject should read her essay entitled “What is Southern?” published in Gourmet’s Southern cooking issue.

4 servings

1 teaspoon canola or grapeseed oil
½ pound lamb breakfast sausage
1 tablespoon bacon fat
½ cup finely chopped yellow onion
1 garlic clove, minced
½ teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1 ½ teaspoons all-purpose flour
½ pound roasted tomato puree
¼ cup milk
¼ cup heavy cream
Cider vinegar and Tabasco

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cook until just cooked through. Set aside. Heat the bacon fat in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until softened, approximately 5 minutes. Add garlic, salt and thyme and cook for an additional minute. Sprinkle flour over the pan and cook, stirring frequently, about 2 minutes. Pour in the tomato puree and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Slowly pour in the milk and heavy cream. Add reserved sausage, a few drops of cider vinegar and Tabasco and cook for 5 minutes. Taste for seasoning. Serve over the buttermilk biscuits.