Just add bacon
Delving into the world of vegan cooking, Southern-style
Colette returned from a stroll downtown the other evening with a delightful new book, Vegan Soul Kitchen: Fresh, Healthy, and Creative African-American Cuisine, by Bryant Terry. Terry, whose recipes and essays have been featured in a wide range of publications and other media, including NPR, New York Times Magazine and Yoga Journal, is a staunch advocate of cooking with “sustainably grown real food” and of ritual and celebratory feasting as a way to promote and effect community-building. He is also involved in the national CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) movement, and his first book (co-authored with Anna Lappe), Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen, won the 2007 Nautilus Award for Social Change.
While many current food writers and chefs are exploring these ideas, Terry’s book is distinct for a number of reasons, particularly the “suggested soundtrack” for every recipe—for both cooking and eating. Examples: “I’m a Man” by Bo Diddley for Garlic Broth-Braised Brussels Sprouts; four versions of “Salt Peanuts” (Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, and Bud Powell) for Spicy Goobers; and “African Herbsman” by Bob Marley for Mixed-Herb Marinade. Some of the recipes even include suggested films (Country Man for Roasted Root Vegetable Ital Stew), art (Keba Konte’s Soon to be Free for New World Red Rice), books (Race Rebels for People’s Punch) and even sitcoms (Sanford and Son for Cinnamon-Applejack Toddy).
Also unique to the book is Terry’s playfulness with language: The dessert chapter is called “Sweet Thangs,” and his introduction implores readers to “[E]xplore the food, words, images, and music. Shake ya a**, watch ya self, and getcha grub on!”
The seed of his book, Terry says, was his citrus collards with raisins redux, which he calls the “quintessential staple of African American cooking.” Colette and I prepared it the other night. It was absolutely divine, the raisins providing a wonderful sweetness and soft-crunchy texture—nothing like a good vegan dish to complement a 16-oz. rib-eye, rare.
Coarse sea salt
2 large bunches collard greens, ribs removed,
cut into a chiffonade*, rinsed and drained
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2/3 cup raisins
1/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
In a large pot over high heat, bring 3 cups water to a boil and add 1 tablespoon salt. Add the collard greens and cook, uncovered, for 8 to 10 minutes, until softened. Prepare large ice water to cool the greens when done.
Remove the greens, drain, plunge into ice water to stop cooking and set the color. Drain gently in colander.
Sauté the garlic in the oil in a medium sauté pan on high heat for about a minute. Add the greens, the raisins, and 1/2 teaspoon salt, and sauté for 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in orange juice, and cook for an additional 15 seconds. Do not overcook (collards should remain bright green). Season with salt to taste and serve immediately. (Terry claims that this also makes a tasty quesadilla filling.)
*For the chiffonade cut, remove any stems from the leaves, stack several, and roll tightly lengthwise, and then slice into narrow strips by cutting across the roll with a sharp knife.
Overall the book is a pure delight, not only to cook from but also to read. My only complaint is that the suggested songs—and films, art and books—are so wide ranging that it would be a rare, and huge, collection that would include even half of them—not only Sarah Vaughan, Toots and the Maytals, and Wu Tang Clan, but also J Dilla, MF Doom, Sinead O’Connor and Joan Jett. We happened to have Cassandra Wilson’s Blue Light Till Dawn, from which Terry recommends “Sankofa,” for the collard greens, but Henri confesses to not owning a copy of Tha Carter III, recommended for Upper Caribbean Creamy Grits With Roasted Plantain Pieces. On the other hand, I’m sure Terry would approve all improvisation, with the exception of Henri’s suggestion to add bacon to most of the recipes.