by Sean Keeley, culinary specialist, Lincoln Land Community College
Food is a global language. “If you know what people eat, you can find out where they’re from,” says Fredrick Opie, author of “Hog and Hominy: Soul Food from Africa to America” and history teacher at Babson College in Massachusetts.
Black-eyed peas are one of my favorite vegetables, and I like to blend in okra sometimes – both ingredients from Africa. Certain peppers come from Africa as do watermelon and yams. Do you prefer Coke or Pepsi? The kola nut was chewed by West Africans for its caffeine and brought to America. Cooking methods invented by African cooks like deep frying and barbequing are very much a part of the American food profile. Southern cuisine was greatly influenced by black chefs. Soul Food, which is a closely associated cuisine of the South, is a widely recognizable part of the American food culture.
If you are a fan of farmers’ markets you will find lots of greens there this part of the season. Slow braised greens were always featured on my spring menus as a base for a fish or chicken entrée. They are comforting and flavorful and also a superfood full of essential nutrients. Collards are the oldest member of the cabbage family dating back to prehistoric times. Greens, as a dish, originated in ancient Greece, but it was introduced in America by the first Africans to arrive. I am most grateful for the African influence on American cuisine. You can find out more about black-owned businesses at the Springfield Black Chamber of Commerce Facebook page at www.facebook.com/sbcc.il/ and I hope you are able to support 217 Black Restaurant Weekend.
1 1/2 pounds meaty smoked ham hocks
2 medium yellow onions (about 1 pound), sliced into 2-inch lengths
4 medium cloves garlic, crushed
2 quarts homemade chicken stock, low-sodium store-bought chicken broth, or water
3 pounds collard greens, woody stems trimmed and leaves cut into thick ribbons (see note)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Apple cider vinegar, to taste (optional)
In a large pot or Dutch oven, combine ham hocks, onions, garlic and chicken stock and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook at a bare simmer until hocks are very tender, 2 to 3 hours.
Remove ham hocks from liquid, transfer to a cutting board, and pull bones from meaty and fatty parts. Discard bones. Chop up meat into chunks and return it to pot.
Add collard greens, pressing down to submerge in liquid. Return to a simmer and cook, uncovered, until collards are very tender, about 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add vinegar to taste, if desired, then serve. You can add vinegar to the pot or let individual diners season their greens at the table.
NOTE: many variety of greens can be used along with collards. Kale, mustard and Swiss chard are great. Be sure to remove the woody stems before cooking. Swiss chard can have colorful stems and the more tender part of these can be diced and used.
Want to know more?
Lincoln Land Community College offers associate degree programs in Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management and academic credit certificates in Culinary Arts and Baking/Pastry. For more information call 217-786-4613 or visit www.llcc.edu/hospitality-culinary-arts.