Posted by: nekojita | December 14, 2007

A Taste of the African Diaspora


Sorry for the ugly picture–hopefully I will improve!

A confluence of events caused me made me long for tastes of African provenance. It’s funny how things sometimes come together like that.

1. Nostalgia. Last week, B and I went to the Refectory and had the Bistro menu. My main course was the oven roasted orange roughy, which made me remember a dish that my mom used to make. Now, my mother is Japanese and has no connection whatsoever to Africa, but she did make a fish dish in my childhood that she learned from an African American lady at the farmers’ market in Pasadena. It involved mustard greens, bacon, fish and potatoes. My mother had been intrigued by the greens but had had no idea what to do with them. So, she asked a fellow customer, who gave her a recipe.

2. Imagination. I’ve been reading and enjoying The New Moon’s Arms by Nalo Hopkinson. Set in the fictional Caribbean nation of Cayaba, it sort of sweeps you away into a half-real world where mermaids might exist. The description of yams roasted in a driftwood fire made me want the food of the West Indies. To tell the truth, I have been having a bit of a withdrawal problem ever since we moved away from Menlo Park and the fabulous Back-a-yard Barbeque, which has the most phenomenal jerk chicken, collards and beans and rice.

3. Expedience. Kroger Market was having a sale on mustard greens, turnip greens and kale. 50 cents a pound! Plus our friend Jeff gave us a bottle of smoked dried habanero which I’ve been wanting to use for a while.

And lo! A meal of cod baked with bitter greens with a side of roasted sweet potatoes was conceived. It may not be authentically African or African-American, but I think that it fits in the the spectrum of the African Diaspora.

The greens and the sweet potatoes turned out fantastically. The greens were rather on the spicy side–even B noted that they were a tad hotter than he would have made them. Unfortunately, the fish was kinda too well done. Perhaps a different choice of fish would have been better; catfish perhaps? Maybe it should have gone farther back to African roots and become a stew rather than a baked dish? I’ll have to experiment next time.

Since the fish turned out a bit off, I’ll just list the recipe for the greens.

Bitter Greens with Bacon and Onions

2 lbs. mixed bitter greens ( I used mustard, turnip and beet)

1/4 lb. pepper bacon, cut crosswise into quarters

2 yellow onions, sliced

1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

1/4 tsp smoked ground habanero pepper, or substitute 1/4 smoked Hungarian paprika plus 1/4 tsp more red pepper flakes

3/4 cup chicken broth

1/4 cup cider vinegar

1 tbsp brown sugar

salt to taste (~1 tsp kosher salt)

1. Trim away and discard the stems of the greens. Slice the leaves and wash in several changes of cold water (these tend to be fairly gritty in my experience).

2. Cook the bacon in a heavy dutch oven over medium heat. Drain on paper towel and set aside.

3. Sauté the onions in the bacon fat until translucent and slightly soft. Set aside.

4. Add the pepper flakes, habanero, broth, vinegar, sugar and salt to the pan. Scrape up any caramelized bits clinging to the bottom of the pan. Add the greens and let them wilt. Put in half of the bacon and cover the pot. Simmer the greens for 30 minutes. Add the sautéed onions. Re-cover and simmer for another 30 minutes. Serve with the remaining bacon crumbled on top.

The spiciness of this dish really complements the creamy sweetness of roasted yams.


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