Chef, former model and television personality Barbara Smith may not be from the South, but that doesn't stop her from cooking Southern style.
"If you're of African-American descent, somewhere along the line, you have family that's lived in the South," she tells Weekend Edition Sunday host Liane Hansen. "The foods that my mother cooked in Western Pennsylvania were Southern foods."
"I love fat because it adds such great flavor, but in moderation these days," she says.
Though she learned Southern-style cooking from her parents and her extended family in North Carolina, Smith says anyone can learn to cook Southern cuisine. But, she warns, some of the recipes in the book require quite a bit of effort.
Take, for instance, Turducken (chicken, within a duck, within a turkey), which merits its own chapter in the book. Smith's Turducken recipe includes a different type of stuffing for each, and, the chef admits, the dish is not for amateurs: "It might be something you want to try with a sister or a pal, where they do all the dressings, and you make sure you have the turkey and the duck and the chicken."
Despite step-by-step instructions for the more complex recipes, Smith says it is important to add individual flair when cooking.
"That's what I like about recipe books," says Smith. "Mine is a map, and then you take that map and go where you want to go with it."
Braise of Black-Eyed Peas and Greens Soup Yields 6 servings
Braising is a method of cooking that involves first browning an ingredient such as meat or vegetables, then finishing cooking in a liquid over low heat. This slow style of cooking allows you to create dishes with incredible flavor and tenderness. While this dish isn't a traditional braise, I use the term because there's a whole lot of slow cookin' goin' on in this soup of vegetables, black-eyed peas, meat, and greens. I like to use kale or collard greens in the recipe because they hold up well to this type of slow cooking. Serve this hearty soup with a loaf of crusty bread for dipping!
1 1/4 cups (about 10 ounces) dried black-eyed peas, or two 15-ounce cans cooked black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 cup diced sweet onion, such as Vidalia 2 cloves garlic, minced 1 cup diced celery 1/2 cup diced carrots 2 bay leaves 1 1/2 cups chopped kale or collard greens, stems discarded 1 cup diced pork, ham, or smoked turkey breast 6 cups low-sodium chicken stock or broth 2 teaspoons Creole seasoning 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste 1 cup cooked barbecued rib meat, shaved off the bone and chopped, optional for garnish
1. The day before serving, in a large bowl, place the dried black-eyed peas. Cover with water and let soak overnight. Drain and rinse thoroughly. Or, to quick-soak the peas, place them in a large pot or Dutch oven, cover with water, and bring to a boil over high heat. Remove from the heat, cover tightly, and let stand for 1 hour, then drain and rinse thoroughly.
2. In a large Dutch oven or saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, celery, and carrots, and saute for about 5 minutes, until tender. Add the bay leaves, kale or collard greens, and meat to the pot, and saute, stirring frequently, for 2 to 3 minutes.
3. Add the chicken stock, soaked dried black-eyed peas or drained and rinsed canned black-eyed peas, Creole seasoning, and oregano to the pot. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer, partially covered, for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the peas are tender.
4. Remove the bay leaves, and season with salt and pepper. Ladle the soup into bowls and serve immediately, garnished with chopped rib meat if desired.
Southern-Style Collard Greens Yields 8 servings
Collard greens are one of the oldest members of the cabbage family. This recipe is reminiscent of my mother's. She seemed to let her greens simmer away for hours! I make mine with ham hocks, which help tenderize the greens and add flavor, along with a little brown sugar to take away any bitterness. A lot of Southern families serve their greens with a side of bread to dip in the cooking broth, known as pot-likker. The broth is packed with vitamins and refers to the leftover "liquor" in the pot, after your greens have cooked. It not only tastes good — it's really good for you!
4 smoked ham hocks 1 large onion, thinly sliced 3 bay leaves 4 pounds collard greens Chicken stock or broth, or water, as needed 1 tablespoon brown sugar 2 teaspoons red pepper flakes 1 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1. Rinse the ham hocks and score the skin in several places. In a heavy 8- to 10-quart pot, combine the hocks, onion, and bay leaves with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until the hocks are falling apart.
2. Remove the ham hocks from the cooking liquid and reserve the meat, discarding the bones, skin, and fat. Strain the cooking liquid, skim off the fat*, and return it to the pot.
3. While the ham hocks are cooking, remove the stems from the collard greens and roughly chop; set aside.
4. Add enough chicken stock or water to the cooking liquid to make 6 cups. Add the chopped collard greens, brown sugar, red pepper flakes, salt, black pepper, and reserved ham. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat and cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the greens are very tender. Serve immediately.
*Defatting Ham Hocks: Since ham hocks tend to be a bit fatty, you can prepare them ahead to remove as much fat as possible. Once you have finished cooking them off, remove the pot from the heat, allow it to cool to room temperature, then cover and place the pot in the refrigerator. Allow the hock mixture to chill for at least an hour or overnight so the fat comes to the top. Skim off all excess fat before proceeding with the recipe.
Excerpted from B. Smith Cooks Southern-Style by Barbara Smith. Copyright 2009 by Barbara Smith. Excerpted with permission by Scribner, a Division of Simon & Schuster Inc.