Collards with spicy soft potatoes

Collards and potatoes

We had a slow weekend at work, and I passed the time by reading some of the free publications in the lobby. Welladay! One particular publication had me in such a tizzy that I stood in the wait station banging my forehead against a shelf and muttering aloud, to the amusement of my co-workers. It was an editorial about honesty, and in particular about the value of honesty in politics. (Aha! I thought, he’ll discuss Paul Ryan’s little flight of fancy at the Republican National Convention.) I knew I shouldn’t start reading it. I knew I should have stopped reading it. But, I tell you, it was like a verbal train wreck. I couldn’t look away. As a former copyeditor, reading this editorial gave me the vapors. The author’s style is very distinctive. He begins by stating an opinion. Generally a far-fetched opinion, and one designed to offend as many people as possible. Then he says, “You might not agree with this, you probably don’t agree with this. But you can’t dispute it. It is a fact, an indisputable fact. They’ve done studies.” Does he say who has done which studies, or tell you where to find them? He does not. He’ll do this several times in his little essay, and you can feel him shivering with delight at the idea that he’s making so many people angry, but that they can’t dispute his incisive reasoning. And then he makes lists. Halfway through a sentence he’ll stop and try to define something and he’ll tie himself in so many knots that he gets lost and wanders for half a paragraph, and then he’ll try to find his way back into the sentence, and bring it in for a landing, but it’s too late. Ironically, this week he derailed himself by attempting to define the word, “ignorance.”

Oddly, I was thinking about honesty on the way to work this weekend. I remember discovering, when I was little, that telling a lie was a lot more trouble than it was worth, because you had to remember the lie that you told, and it generally spawned more lies, and you had to remember those as well. Oh, what a confusion! I value honesty in human beings, of the not-telling-a-lie variety. And I value emotional honesty, as well, in art, and music, and film, and literature. In my opinion, all of the cleverness and skill and talent in the world are worth nothing if they’re not backed by emotional honesty. It’s a difficult quality to define, but you know it when you see it. For me, it’s closely connected to soulfulness and grace – two other indefinable but necessary qualities. And, as I was thinking about it this weekend, I realized that part of the reason I love certain hip hop artists is that they contain high levels of these particular elements. It’s a fact. You might not agree with me, but you can’t dispute it, because it’s indisputable. They’ve done studies. So many studies.

For instance, Goodie Mob’s Soul Food, which I know I’ve mentioned before, is, to me, full of honesty and, well, soul. And they mention collards, which allows me to gracefully guide this train of thought into the station. We got some collards from the farm, and I was thrilled. I thought about preparing them in a similar style to a dish we have at our favorite Ethiopian restaurant. Flavorful, but simple, with soft, comforting boiled potatoes. So that’s what I did. I really loved this dish! I think I practically ate the whole thing all by myself, and growled at anybody that tried to take a spoonful.

Here’s Goodie Mob’s Soul Food. (again!)


1 medium-sized bunch collards (8-10 large leaves)
2 T olive oil
1 jalapeno, seeds and veins removed, minced
1 large clove garlic – minced
1 t mustard seeds
1/2 t fenugreek
1/2 t ginger
1/2 t smoked paprika
1 heaping teaspoon brown sugar
3 or 4 large potatoes
juice of one lemon
salt and plenty of black pepper

Remove the stems from the collards, and chop the leaves quite finely.

Bring a pot of water to a boil, and boil the potatoes in their skins till they’re soft but not falling apart (about 1/2 hour, depending on their size). Let them cool till you can handle them, and then peel them and cut them into 1 inch chunks.

In a large skillet, warm the olive oil. Add the jalapeno, mustard seeds, and garlic. When the garlic starts to brown, add the collards. Sautee for a minute or two. Then add the spices, sugar and about two cups of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for about an hour. When the collards feel as soft as you like them, and most of the water is absorbed, squeeze on the lemon juice, and season well with salt and pepper.

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