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How One Brilliant Chef is Redefining Soul Food

Todd Richards, author of Soul: A Chef’s Culinary Evolution in 150 Recipes, reimagines classic soul food recipes by exploring their histories and creating new internationally-inspired food medleys.

By
Lei Anne Rabeje, Writing for
Episode #204

It’s hard to forget Todd Richards's iconic collard green ramen, the broth meshed with a hint of vinegar-y collard greens. This mix of Chinese food and soul food is an homage to his childhood, a tribute to the Chinese restaurant on 87th and Jeffrey on the south side of Chicago that defined soul food in his childhood home. But it’s only one of the 150 recipes Todd explores in his first cookbook, Soul: A Chef’s Culinary Evolution in 150 Recipes.

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His cookbook is a medley of old and new, mixing the traditional soul food with recipes inspired by a more global food palette. Structured by its main ingredient rather than the more conventional organization by course, Soul explores just how Todd builds new, exciting flavors into the more traditional soul food cuisines we know today.

“To say that African American contribution to culinary culture in America only started in 1960 would be dismissive of our entire history here. So we can’t stop in 1960, we have to move it forward also,” said Richards. “So in the book that’s why each chapter has this progression of dishes that go along in that route. The story that’s being told is that soul food is the true American food... It translates itself in different areas. New York soul food is different than Chicago soul food, West Coast soul food has all these Asian and Latin influences coming into play. It’s that blending of culture, but it still is, to me, the most American food there is.”

Richards upholds these blending of cultures through his restaurants. While Richards's Southern Fried continues to serve mainly fried chicken on its menu, its sides menu also features his famed collard green pho.

And it’s nowhere close to disappearing from the menu. As Richards looks to reopen Anderson’s BBQ in Atlanta, there will be even more chances to try out this iconic dish.

Tune in to hear more of Todd’s story and insights into the world of soul food!

Collard Green Ramen

When I was a kid, there was a small Chinese restaurant near our house that served yakamein. The noodles were always cooked perfectly, the egg cooked to a medium, and the freshest scallions topped the bowl. The broth was clear and invigorating. One of my fondest childhood memories was being given permission to slurp my food. That sound of broth and noodles being pulled into the mouth, coupled with silence in the room–no one talks when there are bowls of yakamein–is imprinted in my mind. This recipe pays homage to that dish, but with accents of Southern culture. It’s not a replication, but my interpretation and “thank you” to that restaurant for inspiring me to be a chef.

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • Collard Greens with Smoked Ham Hocks
  • ¼ cup (2 ounces) rice wine vinegar
  • 11 quarts water
  • 4 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 12 ounces ramen noodles
  • ¼ cup (2 ounces) reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 4 Pickled Collard Green Stems, chopped
  • 8 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 4 teaspoons black sesame seeds
  • Red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 2 limes, each cut into 8 wedges or slices
  • 1 to 2 (2-ounce) packages nori chips (seaweed snacks)

Directions

  1. Prepare the Collard Greens with Smoked Ham Hocks. (Don’t chop the bacon.) Keep the bacon and chopped ham hock meat separate after cooking. Set aside.
  2. Bring the vinegar, 12 cups water, and 1 teaspoon salt to a boil in a stockpot over high. Slip the eggs into the water. Cover; boil exactly 5 minutes. Remove the eggs with a slotted spoon. Let stand 5 minutes; peel and set aside. Discard the water from the pot.
  3. Add the remaining 8 quarts of water and 1 tablespoon salt to the stockpot, and bring to a boil over high. Add the ramen noodles, and stir to ensure the noodles do not stick together. Boil about 4 minutes or until tender. Drain.
  4. Place 1 tablespoon of the soy sauce in each of 4 ramen bowls. Divide ramen noodles evenly among bowls. Arrange about 2 tablespoons of the chopped ham hock meat in each bowl beside the noodle. Place about ¼ cup of the collard greens on top of the noodles in each bowl using tongs. Ladle 1 to 1 ½ cups potlikker from Collard Greens with Smoked Ham Hocks into each bowl.
  5. Cut the eggs in half. Place 2 halves on each bowl. Top with the bacon slices from Collard Greens with Smoked Ham Hocks and chopped Pickled Collard Green Stems.
  6. Garnish bowls with slices scallions. Sprinkle each with about 1 teaspoon sesame seeds and red pepper flakes, if desired. Serve with the lime wedges and nori chips.

To drink: Sauvignon Blanc, sparkling wine, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, amber beers, IPAs, Japanese beer, or hard ciders

Serve with: Green salads, poultry, pork, potato, or braised dishes

Excerpted from Soul by Todd Richards. Copyright © 2018 Oxmoor House. Reprinted with permission from Time Inc. Books, a division of Meredith Corporation. New York, NY. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Lei Anne Rabeje, Writing for Clever Cookstr
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