As we celebrate Black History Month, we reflect on the achievements of black Americans.
At the top of the list are civil rights achievements and cultural contributions such as blues music and literary treasures from such celebrated authors as Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison and James Baldwin.
For foodies such as myself, however, culinary contributions, particularly those collectively known as soul food, are prized.
Turnip greens, peas and beans from home gardens and racks of ribs are just a few examples of soul food that have become favorites on the Southern menu.
Turnips, or collard greens, served in a ham hock pot liquor and poured over cornbread have become the fare of generations of Southerners.
Those dishes became popular and they have endured because they are so good.
Greens can be grown in the home garden. Cut from the root still in the soil and the plant will regrow.
Ham hocks offer a miserly bit of meat and were considered castoffs until someone realized that smoking them with hickory wood made them a grand addition to the menu.
Cornbread, made from ground corn, was a utilitarian invention that came about because wheat did not grow in the South and was expensive.
A few more recipes inspired by soul food are okra, pulled pork and greens. I am including pimento and cheese, even though it was invented outside of the South, with ingredients not indigenous to the South, but nowhere else did it catch on as it did in the South.
Deep fried okra
Oil for frying
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning
2 pounds fresh okra, sliced 1/2-inch thick (or keep whole if you like)
1/2 cup buttermilk
Combine the cornmeal and flour, season aggressively with Tony’s. Place the sliced okra in the buttermilk, drain, then toss in the flour meal mixture. Fry in hot oil just until golden brown.
Simple pulled pork
1 4-5 pound pork shoulder
1 tablespoon packed dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon chili powder
Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning
2-3 tablespoons red pepper flakes
Hickory smoke barbecue sauce
Favorite bourbon whiskey
Combine the dry ingredients, then rub a plentiful amount into the pork. Roast low and slow at 300 degrees for 6-7 hours. Do not resist the temptation to taste just before it is ready.
Empty a jar of your favorite hickory barbecue sauce into a large bowl, add bourbon and sorghum until you have a sauce you like. Pull the pork when it is done, then mix with copious quantities of your almost-homemade barbecue sauce.
Different take on pimento and cheese
1/3 cup mayonnaise
3-4 tablespoons cream cheese at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons Valentina hot sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons finely grated onion
1 (12-ounce) jar diced pimiento
3-4 tablespoons olive salad
8 ounces coarsely shredded extra-sharp white cheddar cheese (look for an Irish cheddar)
8 ounces coarsely shredded sharp yellow cheddar cheese
Combine all the ingredients and mix well. The use of an electric mixer is recommended, but mixing by hand will work. Let stand for a few hours before use. The best application is to grill a sandwich stuffed with the mixture in a little butter.
1-2 bunches collard or turnip greens
3-4 smoked pork chops (any grocery store)
3 cups chicken stock
Red pepper flakes
Steam and wash the greens. Chop the pork chops into cubes, sauté in oil until brown. Don’t forget to season with the red pepper flakes. Add the chicken stock and simmer for 30 minutes. Add the greens a hand full at a time and simmer until done.