Food & Drink

Collards, Meet Coconut

A writer blends the flavors of her Puerto-Rico-to-Georgia childhood in a new cookbook


When the journalist Von Diaz was just a few years old, her family moved from Puerto Rico to Atlanta for her dad’s Army job. “I traded plantains, roast pork, and Malta for grits, fried chicken, and sweet tea,” she says. As she grew up in Georgia, Diaz picked up on the nuances of good Southern food, like the stark difference between microwaved instant grits and slow-simmered coarse-ground grits sprinkled with black pepper. Still, Puerto Rican food—and the memories of her mother and grandmother cooking with fresh lime juice, beans, and plantains—remained a lifeline back to the island and her earliest memories. That dialog between past and present is at the core of Diaz’s new cookbook, Coconuts and Collards: Recipes and Stories from Puerto Rico to the Deep South

It’s too simple to call Diaz’s dishes fusion food. What emerges through these recipes is something greater than the sum of its two cooking cultures—the mainland South and the United States’ island South. “The goal was to interpret the flavors and dishes that I love from my childhood and adapt them to a style of cooking that looks more like how we cook on a day to day basis,” she says. Take her Coconut Braised Collards, which Diaz seasons with soy sauce and keeps verdant instead of cooked to death. Serve them alongside her Coconut Grits, which owe their creaminess to the magic of grains simmered in rich coconut milk. Save room for the Rum Cake that Diaz’s mother is known to bake for every party and family gathering. Diaz, like her mother and countless other Southerners, has the dessert’s ingredients on hand at all times—“in case there is an event, potluck, or any other cake emergency.”


Coconut-Braised Collards

Caribbean flavors accent this Southern standby

Ingredients

    • 1 large bunch collards, rinsed well in several changes of water

    • 1 bunch scallions

    • 1 tbsp. unsalted butter

    • 1 tbsp. coconut oil

    • 1½ cups coconut milk, homemade or canned

    • 1 tbsp. soy sauce

    • ½ tsp. salt, or to taste

    • Freshly ground black pepper


Preparation

  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.

From Coconuts and Collards: Recipes and Stories from Puerto Rico to the Deep South by Von Diaz. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2017. Reprinted by permission of the University Press of Florida.


Mami’s Rum Cake

Just eight ingredients make dessert magic

Ingredients

  • Mami's Rum Cake

    • 1 cup finely chopped walnuts

    • 1 box butter-flavor cake mix

    • 1 (3.4-ounce) box instant vanilla pudding mix

    • Unsalted butter (amount specified by cake mix)

    • Eggs (amount specified by cake mix)

    • ¼ cup white rum

  • Rum Glaze

    • ¼ cup (4 tbsp.) unsalted butter

    • 1 cup light brown sugar

    • ½ cup white rum

    • ¼ cup water


Preparation

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a Bundt pan with cooking spray and sprinkle in the walnuts.

  2. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or a large bowl using a handheld electric mixer, combine the cake mix and pudding mix, then add the butter and eggs as directed by the instructions on the cake mix box. Add the rum. Beat at medium speed for 4 minutes.

  3. Pour the batter into the prepared Bundt pan and level it with a spatula.

  4. Bake for 33 to 35 minutes, until the cake is pale golden in color, slightly risen, and a toothpick or cake skewer comes out clean when poked in the center of the cake.

  5. Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool slightly.

  6. Meanwhile, make the rum glaze. 

    Combine all the glaze ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 5 to 7 minutes, until the sugar is fully dissolved and the glaze thickens just slightly.

  7. While the cake is still warm, poke holes throughout the cake using the same toothpick or skewer you used to test the cake for doneness. Pour the hot glaze on top; don’t worry if the cake doesn’t take in the glaze immediately. It takes at least 10 minutes for the glaze to be absorbed.

  8. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and allow to soak for at least 3 hours or overnight. Invert onto a plate, then slice and serve.

From Coconuts and Collards: Recipes and Stories from Puerto Rico to the Deep South by Von Diaz. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2017. Reprinted by permission of the University Press of Florida.


Coconut Grits

A Puerto Rican staple elevates classic grits to new comfort-food heights

Ingredients

    • 2 cups chicken stock

    • 2 cups coconut milk, homemade or canned

    • 1 cup stone-ground grits

    • ½ tsp. salt, or to taste

    • 2 tbsp. unsalted butter

    • Freshly ground black pepper


Preparation

  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.

From Coconuts and Collards: Recipes and Stories from Puerto Rico to the Deep South by Von Diaz. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2017. Reprinted by permission of the University Press of Florida.


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