Southern Snacks Cookbook

The Southern Sympathy Cookbook

I'm P.C., and I have studied food and cooking around the world, mostly by eating, but also through serious study. Coursework at Le Cordon Bleu London and intensive courses in Morocco, Thailand and France have broadened my culinary skill and palate. But my kitchen of choice is at home, cooking like most people, experimenting with unique but practical ideas.

I live, mostly in my kitchen, in my hometown of Memphis, Tennessee.

Cast Iron Collards

Cast Iron Collards

I adhere very solidly to tradition of eating black eyed peas and greens on New Year’s day for luck and prosperity.  I have a wonderful New Year’s Eve tradition, so on New Year’s Day, I usually sleep in, then curl up on the couch with a book while a pot of peas and some collards stew away on the stove – minimal prep and minimal work.  But this cast-iron skillet, bacon-fried version of collards is a quicker method, if you don’t get around to cooking until its almost time for dinner. If you really sleep in after a night out. Or they make an excellent accompaniment to a  bowl of slow-cooked peas.

I think these are collards for people who don’t like collards.  The bacon of courses helps, as does the fact that these are thin strands of greens, rather than a big leaf.  And the sugar slightly caramelizes the greens and the bacon, adding an interesting touch of sweet.  A big bunch of collards wilts down to a small amount – this makes about 2 cups of cooked greens, so its just enough for a small side.  These are really interesting used as a garnish on a big bowl of black eyed peas or hopping john, just place a tangle of the collards on top. They could even add an extra dimension to soft, slow cooked collards.  You can certainly double the recipe or make multiple batches.

Cast Iron Collards

1 large bunch collard greens

1 Tablespoon vegetable oil

6 strips bacon

1 garlic clove

a pinch of red pepper flakes

1 Tablespoon sugar

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

Cut the leaves of the collards away from the hard center stems.  Stack the leaves up in bunches of about 6, then roll each bunch into a cigar.  Cut the collards into thin ribbons. Place the collard ribbons in a colander, shuffling them around to make sure they are well separated.  Rinse the collards thoroughly and shake as much water of as possible.  Lay the collard ribbons out on a tea towel, then roll them up in the towel to blot off as much water as you can.  A little damp is fine, soaking wet will be a problem when you add them to the bacon grease.

Put the vegetable oil and bacon strips into a large, deep cast iron skillet and cook over medium heat until the bacon is very crispy and the fat has rendered out.  Do not be tempted to raise the heat or the grease will get too hot and scorch the greens.  When the bacon is crispy, remove it to paper towels to drain.  Drop the garlic clove and the red pepper flakes into the pan and cook for just until the garlic starts to brown and is fragrant, about 20 seconds.  Remove the garlic clove.

Carefully add the collards to the pan, standing back because the moisture on the greens will spit.  Stir the collards to coat in the bacon fat and cook, stirring frequently for about 5 minutes until the greens are wilted.  Add the sugar, baking soda and salt and stir well.  Chop the bacon into rough pieces, add them to the greens and stir. Lower the heat, cover the pan and cook the greens for about 8 minutes, stirring frequently, until they are tender.  Watch carefully so they do not burn.  The greens will be dark and soft, with a few crispy edges here and there.

Serve immediately, sprinkled with a little pepper vinegar if you’d like.

Serves 4 as an accompaniment 


Black-Eyed Pea and Cornbread Skillet

No self-respecting Southerner, I boldly say, would let New Year’s Day pass without at least one bite of black- eyed peas. They bring luck and good fortune for the New Year, and everyone can use a little bit of that. Hoppin’ John is traditional in many quarters, but peas slowly cooked with a piece of pork are the norm for many. I like to vary my black-eyed pea intake, from my classic recipe to a big bowl of Good Luck Gumbo. But no matter how you eat them, cornbread is the traditional accompaniment to black-eyes. So here’s a recipe that kills two birds with one stone, and is tasty to boot.

This recipe is very simple, though it has a couple of steps. It’s easily done while watching the football game, which I understand is a popular New Year’s Day activity, or while resting on the sofa after some late-night revelry. Season this to your own tastes, lots of spicy Creole seasoning or just a touch, tomatoes with green chile or without. I find country ham “biscuit slices” readily at most markets in vacuum packages, but whole slices are just fine. Chopped “seasoning pieces” are great for seasoning, but don’t make great eating, so avoid them. For some prosperity to go with your New Year luck, serve these with greens, like Foldin’ Money Cabbage.

Black-eyed Pea and Cornbread Skillet

For the Black-eyed Peas

4 ounces center cut country ham biscuit slices

Half of a small yellow onion

2 garlic cloves

2 bay leaves

1 teaspoon Creole seasoning (I like Tony Chachere’s)

12 ounces frozen black-eyed peas

3 green onions, white and light green part only, finely chopped

2 Tablespoons butter

1 Tablespoon flour

1 (14.5-ounce can) diced tomatoes with green chile (or plain diced tomatoes), drained

Salt to taste

For the Cornbread:

1 cup yellow cornmeal

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

2 cups buttermilk

1 egg

2 Tablespoons butter, melted and cooled

For the Black-eyed Peas:

Cut the country ham into small cubes and put it in a saucepan with the halved onion, garlic and bay leaves. Pour over 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil, skim off any scum that rises, lower the heat to medium low and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes. Add the black-eyed peas and ½ teaspoon of the creole seasoning. Simmer for 1 hour, or until the peas are tender.

Drain the peas, reserving the cooking liquid. Discard the onion, garlic and bay leaves. Rinse out the bean pot and return it to the heat. Melt the butter in the pot, then add the chopped green onions and cook until soft and translucent, but do not brown. Sprinkle in the flour and stir until smooth and pale. Stir in 1 cup of the cooking liquid and cook until the sauce is thickened and reduced slightly, about 8 minutes. Season with the remaining ½ teaspoon Creole seasoning (or to taste). When the sauce has thickened, add the peas and ham and stir to coat. Stir in the drained tomatoes and cook until the sauce has reduced a bit more and just coats the peas, about 5 minutes. Taste for seasoning and add salt if needed.

Brush a 10-inch cast iron skillet with oil. Scrape the cooked peas into the skillet and smooth the top. Set aside while you make the cornbread.

For the Cornbread:

Preheat the oven to 350°.

Stir the cornmeal, baking soda and salt together in a bowl using a fork. In a large measuring jug, measure the buttermilk, then add the egg andmelted butter and beat until combined. Pour the buttermilk into the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Spread the cornbread batter over the top of the peas in the skillet. Carefully transfer the skillet to the oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until the cornbread is puffed, golden and set.

Serve immediately.

Serves 4

Good Luck Gumbo (Black-eyed Pea and Collard Gumbo over Rice)

I am not an overly suspicious person. Sure, I have my little quirks, but I don’t worry about black cats, walking under ladders, throwing spilled salt over my left shoulder. But there are a few traditions that I adhere to because, well, it can’t hurt. Particularly if that tradition involves delicious food. So on New Year’s Day, I always eat black-eyed peas and greens. For luck and prosperity. Sometimes I eat them separately, but this gumbo includes all the ingredients for a good year. The traditional ingredients of good-luck hoppin’ john (rice and black-eyed peas), which is another New Year tradition in the South, plus greens for prosperity. Here’s a little more information on Southern luck traditions.

This gumbo can be made the day before and reheated, which is a boon if you have been out all night celebrating. Just reheat, cook some rice and add the collards. I highly recommend using smoked ham hock stock. It really gives the gumbo a smoky, earthy, rich flavor. Making it in the slow cooker is a breeze, and you can do it ahead of time. If you can’t manage, look for ham stock at some grocery stores, or use the combo of chicken and beef.

Good Luck Gumbo

1 pound smoked sausage, such as kielbasa

2 Tablespoon olive or vegetable oil

1 onion

1 green pepper

4 stalks celery

1 Tablespoon flour

1 teaspoon creole seasoning (I use Tony Chachere’s)

6 cups ham hock stock*, or 4 cups chicken stock and 2 cups beef stock

1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes

1 pound black-eyed peas, fresh or frozen and thawed

1 ½ cups long grain white rice

3 ½ cups water

Collard leaves

Cut the smoked sausage into bite-size cubes. Heat the oil in a 5 quart Dutch oven, add the sausage and cook over medium high heat until the sausage begins to brown. Finely chop the onion, seeded bell pepper and celery. I do this in a small food processor, one vegetable at a time, pulsing to chop the vegetable finely. Add the “trinity” vegetables to the pot and stir. Cover the pot and cook for five minutes to soften the vegetables, then remove the cover, stir well and cook until everything is nice and soft and any liquid has evaporated. Stir in the flour and cook a further minute, then stir in the creole seasoning. Pour in the stock and the canned tomatoes with their juice. Bring to a boil and cook for 10 minutes uncovered, reduce to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes. Add the black-eyed peas and continue cooking for another half an hour. The gumbo should reduce and thicken slightly. The gumbo can be made up to this point, cooled and refrigerated, covered, overnight.

When ready to serve, cook the rice. Stir the rice into the water in a large saucepan with a tight-fitting lid. Bring to a boil and boil until almost all the water is absorbed and little air bubbles form in the rice, about 10 – 12 minutes, stirring a few times to prevent sticking. Remove from the heat and tightly cover the pan.

Cut the collard leaves in half and cut out the stems. Stack the leaf halves, three at a time, on top of each other and roll up like a cigar. Cut the leaves into thin ribbons. You can further chop the collard ribbons if you’d like.

Heat the gumbo to a low boil over medium high heat. It will thicken as it sits, but loosen up when heated. But add a little water if you need to get things moving. Add the collards, stir, and cover the pot. Cook until the collards are tender and wilted, about 5 minutes. Serve over cooked rice. If you have saved some ham hock meat from making the stock, dice that and stir it into the gumbo as well. And if you’d like, sprinkle some hot sauce over the gumbo.

*Smoked Ham Hock Stock

Hock Stock is an amazing cooking medium for field peas, beans and greens, as well as a great base for soup or gumbo. I always look for a naturally smoked hock (not one that has no artificial smoke flavoring added). I get these from farmers market vendors when I can, and make a batch of stock to freeze.  I can then have to the long, slow cooked taste in quick versions of my favorite southern dishes.

1 large smoked ham hock, cut into three pieces

1 onion

2 carrots

2 celery stalks

1 Tablespoon black pepper corns

3 bay leaves

Place all the ingredients in the crock of a large slow cooker. Add 10 – 12 cups of water to fill the crock. Cook on the low setting for 10 – 12 hours. Strain the solids from the stock and refrigerate for several hours. When the stock is cold, skim any solidified fat from the top and discard. Strain the stock through cheesecloth to remove any last bits of debris.

If you’d like, pull the meat from the ham hock pieces and dice. It is a great addition to any soup or beans you are cooking with the stock.

The stock will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week or can be frozen for up to a year. The same goes for the hock meat, in a separate container from the stock.

Makes 6 – 8 cups

Green and Gold Collards

Greens on New Year’s Day are an important tradition here in the South. It’s a wish for prosperity in the new year, you see, greens representing the foldin’ money you hope to have in your pocket. Collards are a traditional green and here you can add a little wish for some jangly change in your pocket too with the golden coin-like dumplings. Serve them with some black-eyed peas, and you are in for a year full of good luck.

I know many people who turn their nose up at collards, and I agree that a flavorless collard is not worth the time, so you need to make a nice smoky, porky stock to cook them in, so the greens are well flavored, and the potlikker is mighty tasty too. So here’s a little primer on cooking collard greens. Fresh whole collards are readily available here in the winter. I buy mine at the special Winter Farmers Market, though the good produce stores have them too. A bunch is usually a little bit over a pound. Prepping collards takes a little love, but then doesn’t all good food? I fold my collard leaves in half, cut out the stem from the middle and discard it, the roll up stacks of leaves and cut them into strips, about an inch wide. I drop all these in a big colander and submerge the colander in a sink of cold water. Swirl the greens around, pick up the colander and let the water drain out, then drain the sink and repeat the process three or four times. Shake most of the water off the collards, then they are ready for the pot. Ok, I’ll concede here. Nowadays you can find washed and chopped collards in the bagged salad department at the grocery. I don’t live in your house, so I am not going to know. Though I’d give these a rinse too. If you really can’t find either of these options, look for frozen collards and thaw them according to the package.

Smoked ham hocks are a natural with greens, producing the right smoky pork flavor. You’ll find ham hocks in the smoked meat section of the grocery (usually near the sausage, with the salt pork etc.). Or ask the butcher. I am fortunate to have some really good local farmers that provide naturally smoked ham hocks, which are ideal. Read the labels, some “smoked” hocks really just have smoke flavoring added and these are not very good, as they produce a sort of metallic taste. If you can’t find real smoked ham hocks, use real smoked bacon or hocks that have not been smoked. I love field peas and beans cooked in smoked pork stock, so when I get my hands on some good smoked hocks or bones from smoked ham, I make a big batch of stock (just cooking the meat and water) in a slow cooker and freeze for use whenever I want that great Southern flavor.

So if any of this seems like a lot of work on New Year’s Day, never fear. You can make the pork stock a day ahead (or months, as I said above). Cool and refrigerate the stock with the hocks still in it, then reheat, remove the hocks and proceed. You can prep the collards a day ahead too. Trim, cut and wash them, shake out the water and put them in a plastic bag with the top loosely tied in the crisper drawer.

Corn bread is the traditional accompaniment to greens, but I also like to make a nice golden dumpling to simmer in the luscious potlikker. The dumplings just soak up that flavor.

Green and Gold Collards

For the Collards:

2 nice big hunks of smoked pork hock (about a pound)

8 cups water

1 onion, diced

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Lots of fresh ground black pepper

1 bunch of collard greens (a little over a pound), cleaned and cut (see above)

2 Tablespoons cider vinegar

1 Tablespoon sugar

For the Dumplings:

¾ cup all-purpose flour

½ cup yellow cornmeal, preferably stone ground

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup buttermilk

2 Tablespoons shortening or lard, melted

Pepper Vinegar, for serving

For the Collards:

Drizzle a tiny bit of oil in the bottom of a 7- quart Dutch oven and heat over high. Add the ham hocks and brown the sides as best you can. Hocks are a funny shape, so this is not a perfect science. When you’ve got some nice brown, pour in the water and scrape up and any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the diced onion, red pepper flakes and a really nice grinding of black pepper. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, cover the pan and cook for about two hours, until the meat is falling off the bones of the ham hocks. Remove the hocks to a plate.

Turn the heat up under the hock stock, and when it begins to boil, add the greens by big handfuls, stirring each addition until the greens turn bright green before adding the next handful. When all the greens are added, bring the pot to the boil. When the stock is bubbling and the collards are shakin’ in the pot, reduce the heat, cover the pan and cook for 30 minutes.

Mix the vinegar and sugar together, and after the greens have cooked for 30 minutes, stir it into the greens and cover the pot. Continue cooking for about another 15 minutes, but if your collards are not going nice and soft and dark green yet, add 10 more minutes or so until they do. Make the dumplings at the end of that cooking time.

For the Dumplings:

Sift the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt into a large bowl. Stir in the buttermilk and melted shortening and stir just until everything is combined and moistened.

Take the top off the collard pot and bring the stock back up to a boil. Drop heaping tablespoons of the dumpling batter into the pot, cover and cook another 15- 20 minutes, until the dumplings are cooked through.

While the dumplings are cooking, pull the meat off the ham hock bones and shred it with a fork, removing any skin. Stir into the collards right before serving. Add a little salt if you want, though that hock does a lot.

When ready to serve, scoop the collards and dumplings into big, deep bowls and spoon over the potlikker. Pass a bottle of pepper vinegar or some hot sauce.

Serves 6

Try this Pink-Eyed Pea Pepper Pot recipe with black-eyed peas if you want a non-pork accompainment to these collards.

Foldin’ Money Cabbage

Foldin' Money Cabbage

So we’ve discussed that Black-Eyed Peas are good luck on New Year’s Day, representing any number of things. Greens are said to bring prosperity in the New Year, largely because they represent foldin’ money.  Many people choose to cook up a mess of collards or turnip greens, but I choose cabbage, for what represents a stack of good green money more than cabbage. And like the black-eyed peas, I include some instructions to help the recipe along.

This is a real trip South, cooking greens with smoked turkey necks, but that lovely smoky flavor makes a real difference.  And it can be a nice departure to cook the greens with turkey if you cook your black-eyed peas with ham.  I find the turkey necks in the smoked meat section of the store (did you know there was a smoked meat section?), where I also find ham hocks, other smoked turkey parts and salt pork and the like.  If you can’t find smoked turkey necks, a smoked ham hock will do.  And when buying the cabbage, look for a whole head with the darker green outer leaves still attached.  You may find these more readily at farmer’s or produce markets, or ask the produce person in the supermarket if they have a head that hasn’t been cleaned up for display. Don’t worry about blemishes, and just rinse off those outer leaves.  The dark green leaves really add color and texture to the finished product.  These greens can be left simmering on the stove for hours, you can even take them off the heat mid-way and then start up again if you get interrupted. If you’d like to pull the meat off the turkey necks and serve it with the cabbage you can, though there won’t be too much meat, or just discard them. If you use a ham hock, I’d definitely serve the meat.

Foldin’ Money Cabbage

I usually find the turkey necks already cut into pieces, so I use about 4 chunks.  Or cut up a whole neck.

1 smoked turkey neck, cut into chunks

½ cup sugar

2 Tablespoons Creole seasoning (I like Tony Chachere’s)

1 head green cabbage, with the dark outer leaves intact

Put four cups of water in a large Dutch oven (5- 7 quart) and add the turkey necks. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, cover and simmer for 30 minutes.  Add the sugar and Creole seasoning, stir, cover and simmer for an additional 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, rinse the cabbage well to clean those outer leaves.  Do not discard the dark green leaves.  Cut the cabbage in half and remove the core from each side.  Slice each cabbage half into thin strips, then cut the strips in half.  Make sure to get the dark outer leaves cut into strips, they tend to fall off when slicing.

Remove the turkey necks and set aside.  Drop in the cabbage strips, shuffling to separate them, into the simmering water.  Give the cabbage a quick stir, then cover the pot and simmer for 20 minutes.  Take off the cover and check that the cabbage is wilted down.  If not, cover again and simmer until it is.  When the cabbage is wilted, cook over medium-low heat with the cover half on the pan for an hour or so until the liquid is reduced to just a little potlikker in the pan.

Makes 4 nice bowls

Black-Eyed Peas for Luck

Black Eyed Peas

I have always known that on New Year’s Day, you eat black-eyed peas for good luck in the coming year.  My parents weren’t necessarily the strictest adherents to this philosophy, but some how or another, black-eyed peas generally made an appearance on January 1.  We had a family friend who made Hoppin’ John, and sometimes we’d end up at their house, even just for a brief stop and spoon full of black-eyed peas.

Now, I never knew that eating good luck peas was a particularly Southern tradition.  But over the years, I have been informed that it is in fact very Southern and generally a practice relegated to our part of the world.  To me, black-eyed peas on New Year’s just is.

But in the interest of accuracy, I did a little research to discover more about the meaning behind this tradition.  What I found out was that eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s day is a Southern tradition said to bring good luck.  Beyond that, the ideas were so diverse, you just know that no one really has an answer.  The black-eyed peas are for luck, or prosperity, the peas represent coins and greens foldin’ money. The peas swell when cooking, which means an increase in your fortune. Eating humble food shows that you are a humble person worthy of good fortune. Peas bring peace.  The idea dates back to the Civil War, it dates back to the ancient Babylonians.  Whatever.  As I said, eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s day just is.  It is what you do.

Many Southerners prefer Hoppin’ John on New Year’s Day, which is a black-eyed pea and rice dish, but I really just prefer the peas alone. You can of course, serve these over some cooked rice.  Cooking like this is more about instructions than a true recipe, so I’ll lay out mine here.

Around New Year now, I find fresh black-eyed peas in the produce section, which is my choice.  The runner up would be frozen black-eyed peas. I cook the black-eyed peas the same way I do most field peas or shelly beans, with cured pork. Traditionally, I would say dishes like this were made with fatback, or streak o’lean (fatback with some lean to it), salt pork or ham hocks. I have turned to country ham slices, because they are readily available around here and give a nice, rich, salty flavor to the beans.  I look for some center cut slices and cut those up, but a few “biscuit” slices or a handful of pre-cut chunks will work. You can use bacon if that’s what you can lay your hands on.  If you are making a big mess o’ peas, you could go for a ham hock, but for this amount a ham hock is just too big.

I use half chicken broth for flavor, but cut it with water because the reduced liquid – the potlikker – is too salty with all broth.  You can use all homemade salt-free stock or all water if you prefer.  You can add more or less garlic as you like.  Add a nice amount of hot sauce at the beginning of the cooking to season up that potlikker, but don’t go overboard.  You will serve these with that sauce bottle on the table of course. Do not add any salt during before or cooking.  The ham will take care of that.

For the last few years, I have shared the luck by taking a little black-eyed pea making kit to family and friends, and as a hostess gift to a New Year’s Eve party.  To do this, pack the peas, ham and garlic in a resealable container or ziptop bag, and drop these into a gift bag with a box of chicken broth and a small bottle of hot sauce and the recipe. This is a great dish for New Year’s Day, because all you have to do is throw everything in a pot and let it simmer away.  Serve it with some greens (we’ll get to that later) and a slice of cornbread, and you are bound to have a good year.

Black-Eyed Peas for New Years

1 pound black-eyed peas

3 – 4 ounces country ham, cut into pieces

3 cloves garlic

2 cups low-sodium chicken broth

2 cups water

A few grinds of black pepper

1 really good dash of hot sauce, plus more to serve

Pick over the black-eyed peas to get rid of any green or bruised ones.  Put the peas, ham and garlic in a pot, add the broth and water, then stir in the hot sauce and pepper.  Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover the pot and simmer for about 45 minutes.  Remove the cover and cook a further hour, until the liquid is reduced and the peas are very tender.  Stir occasionally to prevent the peas from sticking to the pot, but if you stir too much, they’ll get mushy.

You can remove the ham and garlic before serving or leave them in. Serve warm.

Serves 6 as a side, 3 as the your whole meal