Monday, June 28, 2010

Sunday dinner - grilled collard greens.

You read the title of this post correctly: grilled .... collard ... greens.  !!!!!

It all started as a red bean gumbo and evolved into a zany preparation that I had never even considered.  But let me back up a bit...
I was planning originally to make a red bean gumbo with collards, but yesterday in Sacramento the mercury topped out at 102 degrees.  That isn't gumbo weather!!  I foolishly tried to convince myself that it would work out okay, but then I got so attached to the wonderful cool air-conditioned climate that we had created in our house.  This weekend was a significant first in my independent adult life.  My husband and I ran the air conditioner for more than 24 hours straight.  That's right.  It was on during the day, we left it on at night, and then we left it on when we woke up the next morning and continued about our day.  I must tell you that this is our first home with central heat and air, and I also must tell you that this isn't swamp land.  The humidity here is normally negligible, so a strong fan or a window unit can keep you decently content most days, especially in a small space.  We moved into our house last September, and we dabbled a bit with the A/C at that time, but I'm fairly certain it didn't get this level of use.  Now, we aren't too wasteful - we keep it around 77 or 78 - and we turn it off whenever it's prudent.  But lord it is luxurious!
So ... I wavered from the gumbo.  It will be a delicious dish on another day, perhaps when we are enjoying a cold spell.  It was almost too hot to grill yesterday too; I certainly didn't want to stand in front of a hot grill, babying something that needed frequent flipping or basting.  I winged it a bit and decided to make a different collard side dish to accompany a tasty Bulgur Picnic Salad, from a now-defunct vegetarian magazine called Veggie Life.  This is one of my warm-weather favorites.  It requires only 10 minutes of actual cooking, and it's a hearty and easily adaptable grain salad.  If you've had tabbouleh, then you have had bulgur.  It's a Middle Eastern wheat product that has been parboiled and really just needs a quick boil or soak to cook it the rest of the way.  This particular salad welcomes various veggies - add anything you've got that sounds good.  The original recipe called for two ears of fresh corn, but I didn't have any on hand, so I added shredded carrots and French breakfast radishes to bulk it up a bit.
For the collards, I turned to "The Ethnic Vegetarian" by Angela Shelf Medearis.  This is a fascinating book that includes recipes with African roots.  Chapters represent the following cuisines: African, Afro-Caribbean, African and Native American, Creole and Cajun, Southern, and Modern African-American.  This is really a neat book and you should check it out if you are a vegetarian in search of a unique perspective and some soulful recipes.  I found the recipe for Grilled Collard Greens in the Modern African-American chapter, and it was easy as (deep dish) pie.  You season the collard greens with balsamic vinegar, cayenne, olive oil, salt, and pepper, spruce them up with some onion and red bell pepper, then toss it all on the grill inside a foil packet.  The greens steam and absorb the surrounding flavors.  I've never had anything quite like it!  This was a truly interesting dining experience, and one that I will certainly repeat.  Just fantastic.  I imagine you could do this with other greens, such as swiss chard, but the structure of the collards helped them stand up to the heat of the grill.
I also made granola again this weekend, and I had some today for breakfast with vanilla yogurt.  Divine!

Here are the recipes from our Sunday dinner.

Bulgur Picnic Salad
Adapted from Veggie Life magazine

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon cider vinegar (plus more to taste)
2 tablespoons mayo or miracle whip (plus more to taste if you like)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 15-oz can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 carrots, chopped (I used a big handful of shaved carrots)
8 French breakfast radishes or 4 regular radishes, thinly sliced
1/2 cup parsley, chopped
3 cups cold Seasoned Bulgur (recipe below)
1/3 cup feta cheese, crumbled

In a large bowl, whisk the olive oil, vinegar, mayo, and salt and pepper to taste.  Taste the dressing and if you want more acid, add additional vinegar.  Stir in the beans and let them sit for about 5 minutes to absorb the flavors of the dressing.

Add the bell pepper, carrots, radishes, and parsley to the bowl and stir to combine.  Add the prepared bulgur and stir.  Taste the salad and see if you'd like to add additional vinegar, mayo, or salt and pepper.  Serve at room temperature, garnishing each serving with some feta cheese.

Seasoned Soft Bulgur
2 cups veggie broth
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup bulgur

Combine the broth, onion, and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.  Add the bulgur, cover, and reduce the heat to low.  Cook for 10 minutes, then remove from heat and let sit, covered, for an additional 10 minutes.  Fluff with a fork to incorporate the onion evenly.  Allow to cool to room temperature and use immediately or refrigerate until you are ready to use.

Grilled Collard Greens
Adapted from The Ethnic Vegetarian

1 bunch collard greens, washed, center rib removed, sliced into one-inch slices
4 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced 
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Heat the grill over medium heat.

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients, stirring well.  Prepare four pieces of aluminum foil, each about 24 inches long.  You are going to make two foil packets.  Stack two pieces of aluminum foil and pile half the greens mixture (including some liquid) into the middle of the foil.  Fold the long sides up to meet one another in the middle and fold the foil over twice in 1/2 inch folds to seal.  Fold the short edges in toward the center and roll down in 1/2 inch folds to seal.  Repeat these steps with the remaining two pieces of foil and the rest of the greens mixture.

Place the packets on the grill and cook for 15 minutes.  Open one of the foil packets, using tongs and an oven mitt, to test for doneness.  You want your greens to retain some structure but be soft and and cooked through.

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