“Best of” lists and top-twelve countdowns litter the airwaves and blogosphere alike, rehashing the highlights of the passing year on an endless loop. 2012, for better or for worse, was a year of pivotal events that will continue to cast a long shadow over the future of many. Even for those living it, the true meanings of those days are hard to take in, to fully appreciate and turn over rationally in one’s mind. At least on a much smaller scale, it’s safe to say that the successes and celebrations far outnumbered the moments of despair on this little blog, and incredibly, BitterSweet survives to see another year. Still, I’d much rather move forward, onwards and upwards, rather than continue to look back. Shouldn’t we start making new memories to rejoice in right away?
New Year’s Eve is one of the few times I allow myself to be superstitious in the least. Adopting the practices of a dozen different cultures, the momentous occasion is typically observed by a day of cleaning, scrubbing the physical grime and digital disorder out of my life. Kagami mochi is prepared and erected in the kitchen, although never eaten. (Our tradition is to set it on fire a week into the new year, but that’s another story.) Most importantly, of course, are the first few foods, which must be just as full of symbolic luck as they are flavor. Greens are necessary no matter what the course, promising wealth in the form of monetary greens later. Peas and beans swell when cooked, suggesting prosperity. The combination of the two more directly represent health, because what could be more wholesome than greens and beans? I think you see where I’m going with this.
Hoppin’ John, the southern staple, featuring collard greens, black-eyed peas, and rice, has tons of unfulfilled potential. Typically weighed down with pork but light on spices, through my eyes as an outsider, there seemed to be room for improvement. Turning the dish into a creamy, well-balanced risotto, it can play the role of either a side or the star of the show on any dinner table. Incredibly savory and soothing, it’s the perfect heart-warming and rib-sticking dish for these chilly early January days. Whether it actually brings in luck or not for 2013, anyone should feel lucky enough just to steal a bite.
Hoppin’ John Risotto
1 Bunch (About 1 Pound) Fresh Collard Greens, Thoroughly Washed and Dried, Stemmed and Chopped
1 14-Ounce Can (1 3/4 Cup) Black-Eyed Peas, Rinsed and Drained
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine or Coconut Oil
4 1/2 – 5 Cups Vegetable Stock
1 Medium Yellow Onion, Diced
1/2 Medium Red, Orange, or Yellow Bell Pepper, Diced
2 Stalks Celery, Diced
3 – 4 Garlic Cloves, Finely Minced
1 1/2 Cups Sushi Rice*
1/2 Cup Dry White Wine or Water
1/2 Cup Full-Fat Coconut Milk
2 Tablespoons Braggs Liquid Aminos or Soy Sauce
1/4 Cup Nutritional Yeast
1 1/2 Teaspoons Dried Thyme
1/2 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
1 Dried Bay Leaf
1/4 Teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
1/4 Teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1/2 Teaspoon Liquid Smoke
Salt and Pepper, to Taste
*Purists may cry afoul, but yes, sushi rice is my grain of choice for risotto. Arborio or carnaroli are the “correct” options, but I find sushi rice every bit as creamy, tender, and clean-tasting, not to mention far cheaper.
Begin by prepping all of the vegetables so that it’s a streamlined process to add them all in later. Starting heating the oil and margarine or coconut oil in a large stock pot or saucepan over medium heat. Pour the vegetable stock into a separate saucepan and heat over a second burner on medium heat. Keep this covered, just below a simmer at all times.
Add the chopped onion into the large pot, stirring to coat the the hot fat. Sweat and saute for 2 – 4 minutes, until semitransparent and aromatic, before tossing in the bell pepper, celery, and garlic as well. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for about 5 – 8 minutes to soften all the vegetables, just barely beginning to brown them around the edges. Add in the rice last, stirring well to coat with the oil and vegetable liquid, for about 2 minutes or until somewhat translucent in appearance.
Deglaze the pan by slowly pouring in the wine or water, carefully scraping up any bits that might be stuck to the bottom. Turn down the heat to medium-low. Add in the coconut milk, liquid aminos or soy sauce, nutritional yeast, and all of the remaining herbs and spices. Bring the liquid up to a simmer, and once it has mostly absorbed into the rice, add in 1 cup of the hot stock. Continue to cook gently, stirring every few minutes to check on the consistency, adding in another 1/2 – 1 cup of the stock as needed. The rice should cook for about 20 – 25 minutes, until tender but creamy. In the final 10 minutes of cooking, incorporate the beans and greens, adding the greens a few handfuls at a time so that they can wilt down and not overflow out of the pot.
Always keep the mixture looking somewhat liquid-y without being soupy; remember, this is not a pilaf where you want dry, distinct grains. Add salt and pepper to taste, and remove the bay leaf before serving. Enjoy immediately, as the rice will continue to thicken as it cools.
Makes 4 – 6 Servings