I grew up attending a small and fiery little church, where I learned that we were right and you were wrong. In fact, there was a joke about us…
A Baptist minister who, upon entering heaven, asked St. Peter for a tour of the place. They moved past many different halls, each filled with hosts of Presbyterians, Methodists, Quakers, etc., until they came to a room belonging to my childhood church. St. Peter turned to the minister and said, “Shhhh – you must be very quiet now– these people think they’re the only ones up here.”
It’s easy to claim something all for yourself, but the vast nature of the world means that you probably aren’t alone in your special family traditions, and there’s even a chance that your secret handshake isn’t utterly unique.
As the author of Ecclesiastes says, “There’s nothing new under the sun.”
And that’s also true for food. Just think about BBQ – everybody I know thinks they’re the only people to do it right. But most things, BBQ included, are shared experiences. Even something that’s as tied to a culture as much as collard greens are to the South are shared with places far away and, perhaps, long ago, too.
Roman Poet Ovid wrote a lovely poem called “Baucis and Philemon,“ a touching, 2000-year-old story about love and grace and hospitality. The hospitality part includes two poor folks opening their homes to strangers and offering them a supper of greens with pork. Ovid might have meant turnip greens, he might well have meant collards, too. Even so, the whole dish sounds mighty familiar, doesn’t it?
Across time and space, we humans share a lot of experiences (and ingredients too). The way we interpret and expresses ourselves in terms of those things may vary considerably or maybe that, too, is part of the great, repetitious turning of the world mentioned in Ecclesiastes and made pop-culturally famous by The Byrds in 1965 with “Turn, Turn, Turn.”
Turning to our recipe today, Mahasti takes some liberties with her collards by gently sautéing them and putting them into a pie. It’s a riff on creamed greens – don’t squint, you know you like creamed spinach even though you may prefer to call it Spinach Maria. The dish combines two Southern favorites, collards and biscuit, with leeks and Gruyere cheese.
It’s a nice side dish that has a comforting and familiar flavor but has some nuance that sets it apart from the same old thing. Leeks bring a light onion flavor with a hint of sweet garlic, and a soupçon of maple syrup adds a hint of sweetness and a little flavor mystery that gives the whole thing the kind of uniqueness that we like in food that we put our name on.
But, if you want to call it your own, we won’t out you – you might very well have created it all by yourself. These things happen.
Tomato Head’s Collard and Creamed Leek Pie
For the biscuit:
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp. Salt
1 Tbl baking powder
½ stick unsalted butter
¾ cup buttermilk
In a medium bowl, mix all dry ingredients together. Cut butter into dry ingredients with a pastry cutter or 2 knives. Stir in buttermilk until a soft dough forms. Pat dough down into a greased 12-inch cast iron skillet or pie pan. Bake in a preheated 400-degree oven for 8 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.
For the Leeks:
¼ cup oil
4 cups sliced leek
½ tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
¾ cup heavy cream
Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add leeks, salt and pepper and sauté until leeks are tender. Add heavy cream and cook down until cream has thickened, about 2-3 minutes on medium high.
For the Collards:
¼ cup oil
1 bunch Collards chopped, about 8 cups
1 Tbl cider vin
2 Tbl maple syrup
1 tsp salt
Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add collards and cook down for 3-4 minutes stirring frequently. Add salt, cider vinegar and maple syrup and sauté stirring frequently until collards are tender, about 4-5 minutes.
For the breadcrumbs:
1 cup bread crumbs
¼ cup unsalted butter, melted
Melt ¼ cup butter over low heat. Mix bread crumbs with melted butter. Set aside.
1 cup gruyere cheese, shredded
Spread the collards, followed by creamed leeks, gruyere and breadcrumbs, evenly on top of the partially baked biscuit. Place the pie in a 400-degree oven and bake for 20 – 25 minutes until cheese has melted and breadcrumbs are golden brown.
Allow the pie to cool slightly before serving.