Slow-cooked, southern-style veggies lost a place on the American table in the last few decades, replaced by their crisp, quick-cooked cousins. The widespread influence of California & Asian cooking in the US leads some diners to equate soft texture with undesirable overcooking. It’s a shame, really, because slow-cooked, a/k/a smothered vegetables are delicious and simple to make. “Smothering” refers to low, slow cooking, allowing the veggie to stew in its own juices or a minimum of added liquid, along with key flavoring ingredients like onion, garlic, and smoked/salted/spiced meats. It’s a sure-fire way to make almost anything delicious. The basic technique is the soul of Cajun home cooking, and it lends itself to endless improvisation.
Step 1: choose your plant. I chose purple hull peas, fresh & readily available in my backyard. Whatever’s in season is a good place to start. Fresh (not dried) shelled peas like crowders, lady cream peas, limas, green beans, fresh corn cut off the cob, cleaned & torn greens, chunks of squash or zucchini, sliced cabbage, variously colored peppers….a combination of veggies is fine, too, as long as the items have similar cooking times.
Step 2: choose a “seasoning meat.” Here’s the fun part, with lots of options. Selecting a quality, full-flavored product is essential to the finished dish’s quality. Smoked sausage, andouille, tasso, salted pork, pickled pork, artisanal beef jerky (not the stuff sold at convenience stores), highly smoked ham, or thick-cut smoked bacon are worthy choices. Dice the seasoning meat into bite-sized pieces, and dice an onion and several cloves of garlic. The amount is completely a matter of taste. Start out with 1/2 cup to 2 cups of vegetables, but feel free to adjust the ratio.
Step 3: saute the seasoning meat in a little fat in a saucepan large enough to accomodate the vegetables. If you selected a lean seasoning meat like tasso, you may need to add oil or butter to the pot. Cook the meat until the fat is rendered and/or until it browns, then add the chopped onion and continue cooking over medium heat until the onion is well-colored. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant.
Step 4: Add a small amount of water, stirring & scraping the pot to release any browned bits from the bottom. Then add the selected veggie, along with a little additional water; the amount will depend on the pot’s size and volume of vegetables–an inch of liquid in the bottom of the pot is perfect. Increase heat until the liquid boils, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer until the vegetables are tender and succulent. Note: salt and pepper are essential, but amounts needed will vary widely according to the kind of seasoning meat used. Complementary seasonings are also appropriate (a bay leaf or two never hurt anything, and sage & thyme play well with veggies), according to your taste. Other potential embellishments: chopped diced tomato for brightness & color; peeled, uncooked small shrimp added to squash or zucchini while the squash is still firm, diced green pepper in corn….in short, look to seasonal foods for complementary combinations.
See, there’s nothin’ to it: plain home cooking, endlessly adaptable and delicious. No, it’s not true that wet cooking/stewing of vegetables “leaches out” all the vitamins. Yes, some are lost to the cooking liquid, but you’re supposed to eat the veggies AND the cooking liquid–over rice, perhaps, or maybe by dunking cornbread into it, or sopped up with a yeasted dinner roll. Or eat the veggies in a bowl, with a spoon, so you don’t miss a drop.