Collards with tiny spicy crispy potatoes


We’ll begin today, friends, with a reading from the liner notes of my new (brilliant) Jimmy Smith album, Home Cooking.

On the front of this album, there is a brilliant color photograph of Jimmy Smith by Blue Note’s talented lensman, Frank Wolff. Jimmy is standing in front of what is, to many musicians, the “soul station” in the neighborhood of Harlem’s Apollo Theatre.

Kate’s Home Cooking is located on 126th Street, not far from the Apollo’s backstage entrance. Performers such as Ruth Brown, Cozy Cole, Count Basie, Fats Domino, James Moody, Art Blakey and Horace Silver make it their prandial headquarters during the course of a week when they are playing the big A. Jimmy Smith is an ardent admirer of “Home-soul” cooking, especially the brand dispensed by Kate O. Bishop. Home Cookin‘ is a dedication to Kate. This “all blues” date musically approximates the feeling her cuisine imparts. The distance from grits, greens and gravy to swing, sounds and soul is a short one for Jimmy Smith.

This salute, Home Cookin‘, in recognition of a certain brand of culinary art that has not perished (thanks to Kate Bishop), finds Jimmy Smith and his colleagues demonstrating that the blues, if utilized when just ripe and seasoned correctly, will never lose any of their flavor either.

I love that! The whole idea. Food, music, soul. Yeah. Well, after reading this, I went out and bought some collard greens. I love greens of any variety, I really do! I know I’m not remotely from the South, so this isn’t exactly my home cooking, but I love it all the same. The idea of it and the taste of it. I’ve given some thought to what my home cooking might be. Savory pies, I guess, with greens and beans in them?

These collard greens are sort of a fusion of two different quintessential collard recipes. One is Ye’abesha gomen, an Ethiopian dish with garlic and ginger, and the other is one more typical of the American south, with chiles and bacon. Obviously, I don’t eat bacon, but I roasted some potatoes that had been chopped into small cubes, and then I tossed them with my spice mix, which has the smokey, savory flavor I associate with bacon or sausage.

I usually like my greens bright and cooked just as much as necessary, but for some reason, I wanted these collards to be meltingly soft, so I cooked them for quite a long time. The crispy potatoes on top formed a nice contrast of texture. I added a dash of vinegar at the end, to bring out the hot savory flavors, and that’s about all I have to say about that!

Here’s Jimmy Smith with Messin’ Around from Home Cookin’
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Spice mix!

I love the idea of spice mixes. Berbere, zatar, Ras el hanout, garam masala, jerk seasoning. Even the names are wonderful! In the past I’ve tried to recreate some of these using the spices most available around here – but it’s sort of exciting that, when they’re at home, these mixes contain spices that are extremely hard to find where I live. Everything about spices appeals to me – the textures, the fragrances, the colors, and, of course, the taste. It’s no wonder that they were once considered precious.

I realized the other day, as I was typing up a recipe for this very blog, that I tend to use the same spices over and over. I’ve got different combinations I like to use, but there are a few that I use a lot. I decided to embrace that fact, and to try to distill the different spices into one perfect (for me) mix. So I did! And I’m very enamored of it, because I think it’s very pretty and smells very good, too. It’s smokey, a little bit hot…it combines some sweet herbs with some more piquant spices. I test-cooked it first with some roasted cauliflower, and that turned out well, so I decided to use it in these little pies. They’re stuffed with roasted mushrooms, white beans and hazelnuts, and seasoned with my spice mix. Very nice!

white bean hazelnut pies

Over the summer, my son Malcolm invented a spice mix of his own. So I decided to accompany the pies with sweet potato fries cooked with Malcolm’s supreme spicy spice mix. They went very well with the pies! And we had a fun time putting it all together.

Here’s Mix it Up by the Kingstonians. That’s the way I like it.

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