Like the jar from Trader Joe’s.
Dripping in gold, warmth, and sweetness.
My daughter’s eyes, Soleil’s eyes, the sun’s eyes, shimmer like raw honey.
Dripping in gold.
Showering us with warmth, sweetness, and unyielding love.
And occasionally stubbornness, and intense, deeply felt, unyielding five-year-old emotions.
Pure and raw.
These are the very same – stop you in your tracks, take hold of your heart and soul – eyes that stare back at me.
Piercing right through me with passion, vehemence, and absolute indignation at 4pm on New Year’s Eve.
We are both splayed out on the kitchen floor with me holding a spoon of blueberry sauce inches from her face.
The concoction slowly but purposefully working its way down the wooden spoon, onto my hand, circling my wrist, trailing my well-pronounced bluish purple veins, down my arm and delicately drip, drip, dripping on to the wood floor.
The blueberry sauce has brought us to our knees.
Well, actually, even lower than our knees.
Onto our bellies.
I have quite a fondness for all things bitter. The bitter-sour in combination agree with my taste buds the most. Especially bitter greens. Arugula, frisee, escarole, radicchio, rapini, endive, dandelion greens, mustard greens…Maybe my exposure to Italian food as a child (bitter greens) and Persian food (all things sour) has had a hand in shaping and nurturing my taste buds.
But for the longest time there has been one bitter green that I just couldn’t come to embrace. Collard greens. Not that I would ever turn away collards, unless they’ve been boiled down to mush. That goes for any vegetable boiled to oblivion. But collards wouldn’t be my first choice of greens. Again, perhaps my lack of exposure to these beloved greens of American Southern cuisine has something to do with it.
It also just so happens that this time of year our farm box and the farmer’s markets explode with such greens. And so inevitably I can expect a bunch of collards in our farm box every week. Normally, I treat collards as I do other greens. Simply. Saute in olive oil, sprinkle with salt, pepper, hit it with some sort of acid, add a little water (if needed), put a lid on it and give the rather tough leaves time to soften and tenderize. But, recently I decided to treat my collards and my taste buds to a special treat.
To a most trusted and loyal friend.
Her blood courses through mine.
As does mine through hers.
Her passion matches mine.
As does her flair for drama.
And much can be said about the paralyzing stubbornness that occasionally takes hold of our bodies and selfishly refuses to let go.
She stands her ground. (Well, more like the wood floor she is splayed across)
Unwavering and proud.
As do I.
But, Mama I don’t like blueberry sauce!
Soleil, I added maple syrup to it this time. Just taste it. It’s sweet!
Mama, you always tell me to listen to my body. And my body is telling me I DON’T LIKE BLUEBERRY SAUCE!!!
Well, your body doesn’t know what it’s talking about right now. I put MAPLE SYRUP in it!!!
Borani is a side dish or dip made with thick, creamy yogurt and an array of vegetables or herbs. It really speaks to the Persian (and my) love affair with yogurt. My favorite borani as a child and perhaps the most well-known one is borani-e esfenaj. In our house we simply call it mast o esfenaj – yogurt and spinach. Also, a great way to get the little ones to eat their spinach. Keeping with my theory that everything just tastes better with yogurt added to it, I decided to put this to the test with my troublesome greens – collard greens. And the results are fantastic. I first saute the greens with onion, garlic and turmeric. Then add a splash of water to the pan and put the lid on it and give the greens time to slowly soften. I cook the greens just long enough to tenderize but still maintain their rich color. I have also added plump raisins to this dish for extra texture and a little something sweet to chew on. Once the collards cool slightly I mix in the yogurt and a splash of vinegar (you could also use lemon juice). You can’t have bitter without sour. The vinegar also helps to balance out the sweetness of the raisins. The borani can be served as it is at this point, you could even sprinkle the top with some walnuts. But what makes this dish really sing is the caramelized red onion with sumac. You need these onions in your life. Be it topping this borani, or gracing a salad, burgers, meats. Make a big batch and have on hand in the fridge – to use at all times.
This collard greens borani is great served as a dip with some warm flat bread to scoop up all the creamy goodness. It also makes a great side dish alongside a roasted chicken or grilled fish. Or, my occasional favorite 10 pm cuddle on the couch with the borani bowl nestled snugly in my lap and a bag of crunchy chips at my side (Trader Joe’s organic yellow corn tortilla chip rounds, if you care to know). A meditative and quiet time (save for the crunching of the chips). A time for self-reflection. Where I get to acknowledge that sometimes my body doesn’t know what it’s talking about either when it comes to collard greens. All I needed to do is give them another try with a dollop of yogurt. And then just taste and marvel at the goodness of it all.
They stand above us – my husband and my first-born.
Luna. My moon girl.
Representatives of peace, truth, justice and all things fair.
Embodying all that we wish the UN could really be.
They look down at us and the blueberry spoon with kindness and curiosity.
Ok you two – time to separate you.
Says my husband as he scoops up our second born off the floor and gently cradles her in his arms and carries her off for a game of Pretty, Pretty, Princess.
Luna bends her body just so, to get a better look at me and my situation.
I lift my head slightly and come face to face with those heart melting almond shaped, chestnut brown eyes.
Warm, deep and all encompassing.
Mama? Can I lick that spoon?
A COLLARD GREENS BORANI – COLLARD GREENS WITH YOGURT & CARAMELIZED RED ONION SUMAC
Serves 6-8 as a dip or side dish
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 bunch collard greens, off the stem and cut into ribbons
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 cup water
2 heaping tablespoons raisins
1/2 cup strained Greek style yogurt, plus more if needed
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
caramelized red onion sumac, as topping (recipe below)
1- Heat the oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the onions, sprinkle with a little salt and saute until soft and translucent, about 8-10minutes. Add the garlic and saute for about 3 minutes, stirring often making sure the garlic doesn’t burn. Add the collards, in batches if necessary, turmeric, raisins, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Stir to combine. Add 1/4 cup water and cover immediately. Turn down heat to medium-low or low. Allow to cook until the collards soften and tenderize, about 20 minutes. Check occasionally and add more water 1 tablespoon at a time if necessary. Uncover and take off heat when done and allow to cool.
2- In a medium sized bowl combine the yogurt and vinegar. Add the collards and combine. Add more yogurt if you like it creamier. Season well with salt and pepper to taste. Top with caramelized red onion sumac.
Serve with warm flat bread as a dip or as a side dish. Will keep in the fridge for 1 or 2 days.
CARAMELIZED RED ONION SUMAC
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon sumac
1- Heat the oil in a medium sized pan over medium heat. Add the onion, gently season with salt and pepper. Turn down the heat and saute for about 20 minutes. Until the onion nicely caramelizes. Stir often and turn down the heat if necessary. Add the sumac to the onion in the last 5 minutes of cooking.