10242017182642_500x500As part of our “Quarantine Cooking” series, UPF acquisitions editor Stephanye Hunter made Coconut-Braised Collards and Funche de Coco (Coconut Grits) from Von Diaz’s Coconuts and Collards.

Stephanye’s comments:

A combination of memoir and recipes, Von Diaz’s Coconuts and Collards is simply a joy to read. Diaz moved from Puerto Rico to Atlanta when she was a child and learned to cook from her mother, Mami; her grandmother, Tati; and her neighbor, Miss Donna. Over the years, Diaz began to make connections between the Southern food around her and the Puerto Rican dishes influenced by African and indigenous cultures. The result is this book, a stunning collection of recipes that pays homage to her family’s history and both cultures.

There are so many recipes worth making in Coconuts and Collards (see my coworker Marthe Walters’s picadillo, for example). However, my favorite dish from this book combines two simple recipes: grits and collards. Southern staples, these two dishes regularly appeared on my family’s dinner table throughout my own childhood. In these recipes, however, Diaz adds a distinctly Caribbean flavor to the Southern classics. The collard greens are simmered in coconut milk, which beautifully compliments their bitterness. The grits, also cooked in coconut milk, are creamy and luscious. I used vegetable broth instead of chicken broth in both recipes, as Diaz suggests, to keep them vegetarian. I highly recommend eating them together, like we do in the South: a pile of steaming grits topped with a heap of greens.

Coconut-Braised Collards

Von Diaz says: Growing up, I was always served collards prepared the same way: some kind of pork and stock, with maybe a tomato, some onions, and always cooked until they were dark olive-green. I love collards and, like all other greens, want them to be a bright color and have some texture. This quick, simple recipe highlights that strong collard funkiness and tastes deceptively rich for a vegetarian dish.

Serves 4 as a side

  • 1 large bunch collards, rinsed well in several changes of water
  • 1 bunch scallions
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter (optional; to make the recipe vegan, omit the butter and double the coconut oil)
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1½ cups coconut milk, fresh or canned
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • ½ teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  1. Cut off the bottoms of the collard stalks, then coarsely chop the leaves and stems and set aside.
  2. Cut off the bottoms of the scallions, then thinly slice the whites and greens.
  3. Melt the butter with the oil in a large wok or skillet over medium-high heat. Add the scallions and sauté for 1 minute.
  4. Add greens and sauté for another minute, stirring well to incorporate, then add the coconut milk and soy sauce and bring to a simmer.
  5. Lower the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, stirring frequently, until the collards reach your desired doneness—7 to 10 minutes, or longer if you like your greens more tender. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Funche de Coco (Coconut Grits)

Von Diaz says: Ever since Miss Donna introduced me to a proper grit, I’ve become obsessed with them. There’s nothing I wouldn’t eat over grits and nothing I wouldn’t put in them. They are, to me, a perfect food.

Funche is basically corn grits and was a dish served to enslaved indigenous and African people during Spanish colonization. It remained a common dish until the last century and was most often mixed with brown sugar and milk. Some food historians believe it went out of fashion because it became associated with blackness and poverty. Here’s my take on a Southern (and once Puerto Rican) staple and a fusion of both cultures. Whenever possible, use fresh homemade coconut milk. It’s wonderful topped with Coconut-Braised Collards.

Serves 4

  • 2 cups chicken stock (see Note)
  • 2 cups coconut milk, homemade or canned
  • 1 cup stone-ground grits
  • ½ teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  1. In a medium-heavy saucepan or Dutch oven, combine the stock and coconut milk, then slowly whisk in the grits and salt until well incorporated.
  2. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to low. Cover and simmer, lifting the lid to whisk often, for 45 minutes to 1 hour, adding more water or stock as needed until the grits are creamy and thick.
  3. Stir in the butter and season with pepper and more salt if needed

Note: You can easily substitute vegetable stock or water to make this dish vegetarian.

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