Food tells a story.
When we are eating, rarely are we thinking about where something originated from. We focus on filling our stomachs.
Soul food in particular has a history tied to a dark part of American history. This cuisine was started by African slaves and sharecroppers who incorporated their native cuisines with the meager ingredients given to them.
With its history, it’s not hard to see why it’s called “soul food.”
As someone who love Southern food, I’ve long neglected trying soul food, which is similar in terms of ingredients, but is set a part because of its roots.
I decided to try my hand at cooking a few soul food staples, though I’ll admit I probably didn’t do them justice. Not because of my lack of trying, but because cooking is not (yet) my forte. I’m working on it.
A friend of mine sent me a list of common soul food items, including fried chicken, smothered pork chops, oxtails, fried catfish, neck bones and rice, hog maw, collard greens, cabbage, black eyed peas, potato salad, red beans and rice, cornbread, sweet potato pie and banana pudding.
I knew there were a few things on the list I wouldn’t be able to do, like neck bones and rice and hog maw, so I went for something I’m already slightly familiar with — the smothered pork chops. For the sides I decided to go for collard greens and cabbage.
But when I brought my groceries home, the cabbage was missing from the bag, so I ended up only doing collard greens. And that turned out to be a good thing. The smothered pork chops and collard greens took me a few hours.
The recipe I followed instructed me to buy pork chops with the bone in because it adds rich flavor to the gravy as it simmers. Salt, pepper, Cajun seasoning, paprika, oil, onion, garlic, butter, flour and water were also in the recipe.
I seasoned the chops and browned them in the oil. I put them off to the side before adding onion and garlic to the hot oil. Once those cooked for a few minutes, I added a fourth of a cup of flour and butter to the pan. Once the flour was mixed in, I gradually added water.
I put the chops into the gravy, covered them with a top and put them in the oven for 90 minutes.
The collard greens required onion, chicken broth, water, salt, pepper, jalapeno pepper and white distilled vinegar.
I cooked the onions in a pot, then added minced garlic. I poured in the broth and let it boil for 20 minutes. Then I gradually added the collard greens, salt and pepper, jalapeno slices and vinegar before letting it all simmer for an hour and 10 minutes.
All pretty simple. Just time consuming for me because I was cooking for six other people.
When the pork chops were finishing, I took the top off to let the gravy thicken a little more. When I took them out of the oven, I was a little worried because the gravy wasn’t as dark as I expected it to be, but all worries went away when I tasted the pork chop.
What surprised me most was the tenderness of the pork. I could cut through it with just the side of my fork. The gravy had a really great flavor, too. And my family, who aren’t always my number one fan when it comes to cooking, loved it. My nephew, who’s probably a pickier eater than I was as a kid, got seconds.
The collard greens were a little bitter. My dad said I should have added bacon, but I liked them well enough. I think it’s because I’m used to eating kale, which can be a little bitter.
Even though it felt like forever to make only two items, it actually encouraged me to keep cooking. Usually I’ll cook something and become discouraged because it didn’t come out exactly how I thought it would. I look forward to making more soul food.