Thursday, May 30, 2013

Soul Music = Soul Food

Have you ever been somewhere or maybe you are just driving along listening to the radio, and a song comes on that you instantly find yourself swinging your head and tapping your feet to? There is a distinctive energy and rhythm to the song, the emotion is raw and heartfelt, the vocals are smooth and sassy. It’s hard not to smile and sing along to the “feel good” nature of it. 

Soul Music

There is something about soul music that touches your soul. It’s like soul food, you get a comforting feeling from it all. 


This year I want to examine connections between music and food.

One of the first ideas that came up when I was brainstorming links between music and food was soul music. When thinking about soul music and food, it’s easy to think of what kind of food would go with soul music … soul food!

I did some research on soul music and soul food, and I found out how connected the two were in terms of the time of their emergence and significance to the black experience in America during the civil rights movement in the 1960s. It’s fascinating to learn how much music and food can mean to a group of people.

Soul music originated in the United States around the 1950s and early 1960s, combining elements of African American gospel music, and rhythm and blues. It became popular in the charts in the 1960s, elevated in part by the civil rights struggles of the time and enabled by the creation of channels and infrastructures run by black entrepreneurs for black artists, most notably Motown Records. This lead to a major shift in American popular music as black music achieved mainstream success and topped the charts, which played a significant role in furthering the civil rights movement by inspiring, mobilising and building the identity of black Americans, and highlighting the social issues they faced.

A song that exemplified the civil rights movement and became an anthem was “A Change is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke. In the song Cooke expresses the hardships faced as a black man in 1960’s American society. Although it highlights discrimination and racism, it also inspires hope that a change is going to come.

The use of the term "soul food" emerged in the 1960s, with the rise of the civil rights movement during this time. As African Americans identified with each other, calling each other “soul brothers” and “soul sisters”, and listened to “soul music”, they started to refer to their food as “soul food”. Soul food originated in the home cooking of African American slaves, where using locally raised, gathered foods, discarded meat and other inexpensive ingredients, a distinctive cuisine was formed with limited means. As segregation laws prohibited African Americans from eating out at restaurants, coming together over home-cooked meals was an important part of community and belonging, as well as political organising. Some staple soul food items include cornbread, black eyed peas, Hoppin’ John, hushpuppies, collard greens, okra, ham hocks, cured and smoked hog jowl, chitterlings, candied yam and sweet potato pie. 

Nowadays soul food is synonymous with dishes like macaroni and cheese, deep fried chicken, chicken and waffles, and barbecued ribs which are widely considered as comfort foods – foods with significant amounts of sugars, carbohydrates and fats! All the things that might be a little bit bad for you but hit all the right nerves in your taste buds. This food is good. When you eat this food it makes you feel better.

Music and food brings people together, and it’s better with a little soul.

I researched how to cook soul food and came up with this.

A plate of soul satisfying comfort food.

Clockwise from the top - kale, cornbread, candied sweet potato, black eye peas with bacon and fried chicken!


Black eyed peas with bacon

Black eyed peas? I thought they were just a hip hop group!

I have seen and eaten these peas before but didn’t know their name until I learnt about and cooked this soul food dish which is traditionally eaten on New Years for good luck and commonly served as a side dish. Recipes generally require simmering the peas with bacon or smoked ham hock/smoked turkey for flavouring until cooked.

Here’s my take on black eyed peas.

Place 1 cup of dried black eye peas in a colander and rinse several times, then put the in a large bowl or pot with 2 inches of water to cover. Soak overnight. Drain and rinse.
Heat a little olive oil in a pot, add 3-4 slices of diced bacon and fry until crisp. Then add in ½ diced onion, 1 clove of crushed garlic, 1 teaspoon of chilli powder and fry until the onion has softened. Add the drained black eyed peas into the pot and enough chicken stock to cover the peas by 1 inch. Simmer the black eyed pea until tender (about 30 minutes), adding more stock as necessary so that it doesn’t dry out. Season with salt and pepper to taste before serving.

Candied Sweet Potato (or Yams)

A popular soul food side dish – sweet buttery potatoes with a little spice kick. It’s very simple to cook, all you need to do is make a syrup to cover the sweet potatoes and cook (boil or roast) until they are soft.

Here’s the recipe that I put together from reading a few recipes. I cooked the sweet potatoes as I would if I was using normal potatoes and made up the syrup, tasting until I got a desired flavour.

This is for quantity of 500g of sweet potato (one large one).

Peel and chop the sweet potato roughly into 2-3cm pieces. Place the sweet potato pieces in a pot, cover with cold water and bring to boil. Simmer on low heat for 7 minutes until they have softened. Drain the sweet potatoes and put in a baking dish.

In a small saucepan, melt 25g of light brown sugar, 40g of butter and 2 tablespoons of water together and simmer until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat and stir in ¼ teaspoon cinnamon, ¼ teaspoon ginger, ¼ teaspoon allspice, 1/8 teaspoon of nutmeg and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice.

Pour the syrup over the sweet potatoes in the baking dish and roast in an oven preheated to 200C for 30-40 minutes.

At 10 minute intervals I would take the dish out of the oven and mix the sweet potatoes around, spoon the syrup over to make sure the sweet potatoes were covered and continue cooking. 

Mash some candied sweet potato on your cornbread

Collard Greens (Kale used as substitute)

A typical soul food meal would not be complete without “mess o’ greens” aka collard greens.

Collard greens was a dish that evolved from African slaves getting leftover greens from plantations and unwanted parts of meat like ham hocks, pig’s feet etc. Slowly simmering the leftovers together in a large pot, a simple but delicious vegetable dish was created and formed a part of every meal.

I wanted to cook collard greens but couldn’t find any so kale was the next best thing. Any kind of bitter greens like beets or mustard is also suitable. This dish usually involves simmering the greens for 30-60 minutes over low heat but I only cooked my kale for a few minutes to maintain a freshness but it was still very flavoursome. You can also use bacon instead of a ham hock.

Wash and tear the kale into large pieces.

In a large pot, sauté ½ diced onion and 3 cloves of crushed garlic until tender. Add 3 cups of water and smoked ham hock, bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes for the water to take on the smokey hammy flavour of the hock. Then add the kale and cook for a few minutes until tender, seasoning with a little salt to taste.

Deep Fried Chicken

(Adapted from Fried Chicken recipe from American Food and Soul Food and Southern Cooking)

•    1 whole chicken, cut up into 10 pieces (2 legs, 2 thighs, 4 breast quarters, and 2 wings)
•    peanut of canola oil for frying
Chicken Marinade•    2-3 cups buttermilk
•    1 tablespoon salt
•    2 teaspoons ground black pepper
•    1 tablespoon chilli/cayene powder
•    1 tablespoon sweet paprika powder
Chicken coating•    2 cups milk
•    3 cups flour
•    ½ - 1 tablespoon garlic powder
•    ½ - 1 tablespoon onion powder
•    ½ tablespoon salt
•    ½ tablespoon ground black pepper
•    ½ - 1 tablespoon chilli/cayene powder (optional, add if desire a bit of heat)

In a bowl or rectangular pan large enough to fit all the chicken pieces in add the buttermilk, salt, pepper, chilli and paprika powder. Use a fork to mix and combine the spices with the buttermilk.

Add the chicken pieces into the buttermilk mixture, making sure that most of the chicken is covered with the buttermilk (add more buttermilk if necessary).
Cover and refrigerate for 12-24 hours. The longer the chicken marinates, the juicier it will be.

Take the marinated chicken from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before frying and leave to come to room temperature a bit.

In a large bowl, add milk. In a shallow pan or plate, add flour, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper and chilli/cayenne powder. Line a second baking sheet with greaseproof paper.

Remove a piece of chicken from the buttermilk and dip into the milk, shaking off the excess milk. Then dip chicken into the flour mixture and shake off the excess flour. Transfer to baking sheet lined with greaseproof paper and repeat with other pieces of chicken.

Fill a pot or pan with 1.5-2 inches of oil. Heat up the oil until it reaches ~160-170C.

Carefully lower the chicken pieces into the hot oil (work in batches to prevent overcrowding). Fry the chicken for a few minutes until the bottom side is golden, turn the chicken pieces over and continue to fry for a few more minutes until it is golden. Keep turning the chicken pieces every now and then, until the chicken is a deep golden brown, cooked through and crisp. This should take around 10-12 minutes (note that the chicken breast and wings will have shorter cooking time). Adjust the heat as necessary to return the oil to the proper temperature.

Remove pieces of chicken and drain on paper towels. If desired, sprinkle over the chicken pieces a little salt.

Cornbread muffin recipe by Victor Kimble from SBS Food.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Stir Fried Pickled Mustard Greens with Chicken and Pork Balls

We all try to be well-meaning with our pantries as it’s a means of survival and makes economic sense, but it always ends up with a clutter of foods.

Everyone has a pantry packed with…

Food so you don’t need to make trips to the shops all the time.

Food that you buy during a sale on the premise that you will use it but it ends up hidden in the back of your cupboard and you forget about it.

Food that you bought to cook one dish and never needed for anything else.

Food that is handy to have around for quickly whipping up a meal at anytime.

Food that is non-perishable in preparation for an emergency….an apocalypse…

The usual suspects are dried pasta, rice, lentils, nuts, spices, a range of condiments and various canned goods like chickpeas, tomatoes and tuna.

No matter how much I eat, the amount of food in my pantry is always increasing rather than decreasing. I think this is due to the fact that I like trying to cook new things and experimenting so I accumulate a lot of food items overtime. It’s easy to do a spring clean of your wardrobe and donate your clothes to the Salvos but I hate throwing out food and you can’t give away half empty packets and jars. I am working on minimalising my pantry and thinking about what I can use up when I plan my meals but there will always be items that will remain a staple and I know I will use on a regular basis.

What do you always have in your pantry that you regularly use?

I have pickles.

One of my pantry staples is pickled mustard greens. It’s cabbage like with a distinct horseradish-mustard flavour. Good for stir fries and in soups.

While pickling food was invented as a means of survival to preserve foods through the seasons, and even though it results in food with a pungent, salty or sour taste which can be an acquired taste, it’s becoming widely enjoyed. All sorts of pickles are appearing more and more on restaurant menus as appetizers, sides and condiments, adding another dimension of flavour to dishes.

Pickles are the new “it” food.

You basically know when something is an ‘it’ food when Portlandia have done a skit on it ;)

Check out the video on Youtube We Can Pickle That or pickle your website

People may make a fuss over pickled foods these days but I’ve grown up on them. It’s a key component of many Asian cuisines – Korean food would be nothing without kimchi, a Vietnamese banh mi would not be complete without pickled carrot, the pickled vegetables that accompany Japanese meal sets are mandatory and I love the mixed vegetable and fruit pickles you get as sides with Indian meals that you can mix into the rice along with the curries or slap onto some naan bread.

Pickles are essentially a cheap pantry staple, an easy way to feed a family on a budget. My mum always has a stash of pickled vegetables in the pantry to add as a side to complement meals or use in cooking a dish. It adds another layer of flavour and texture to a dish, and the acidicness enlivens the palate. A bowl of plain congee with some pickled vegetables on top is a simple treat in the morning. 

This is one of those economical simple home cooked dishes that my mum cooked frequently for the family. The dish is prepared by stir frying pickled mustard greens with chicken and sliced pork balls. 

Stir Fried Pickled Mustard Greens and Chicken and Pork Balls

(An original recipe Blue Apocalypse learnt from her mum)

Serves 4-5 with steamed rice. 


Notes: Quantities below are approximate. My mum would always add a bit more meat to feed a family but you can add smaller quantities of meat. Taste as you go while seasoning with the fish sauce, oyster sauce, sugar, salt and pepper until you get desired balance of flavour. 

•    300g pickled mustards greens (buy packaged pickled mustard greens in vacuum packs at Asian supermarkets)
•    200-300g chicken breast, chopped into bite sized pieces
•    150-200g pork balls, sliced
•    2-3 garlic cloves, sliced
•    5 red bird’s eye chillies, deseeded
•    1-2 tablespoons fish sauce
•    2-3 tablespoons oyster saue
•    1 teaspoon sugar (to taste)
•    salt and white pepper to taste
•     ½ - 1 cup chicken stock
•    ½ teaspoon cornflour mixed with a little water to thicken sauce
•    vegetable oil

Pork balls which can be found in refrigerator/freezer section of Asian supermarkets


Prepare pickled mustard greens. Soak the pickled mustard greens for 6-8 hours or overnight in a pot of cold water (this reduces some of the saltiness/sourness). Remove and drain. Then slice the mustard greens. 

Soaking pickled mustard greens

Heat a little oil in a wok and stir fry the garlic and chillies until aromatic. Add in the chicken pieces and fry until nearly cooked. Then add in the sliced pork balls and fry for a bit. 

Add in the sliced mustard greens and season with fish sauce, oyster sauce, sugar, salt and white pepper to taste. 

Then add in some stock, bring to boil and thicken the sauce with cornflour mixed with water.

Serve with steamed rice.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Roasted Vegetable Tomato Pasta Sauce with Fried Spaghetti

When I first mastered making fresh pasta it became the holy grail. So much so, that I invented my own principle – the Blue Apocalypse Razor. I thought that this was the best and thus, the only way you should have pasta. Dried packet pasta became downgraded to the status of canned goods. This was the attitude of the young me that was just starting to cook and intent on learning how to make things from scratch instead of the pre-made stuff. Because fresh and made from scratch is always better…right?! 

I mean, I spent so much time making fresh pasta, bruising my hands kneading the dough, straining my wrist winding the handle of the pasta machine, wounding myself cutting the pasta dough…then I have to wait and watch paint dry, wait…I mean the pasta. No pain, no gain right?!

But this way of thinking shows a lack of understanding of how pasta is used and that different types of pasta have their own unique qualities.

Comparing fresh and dried pasta is like comparing apples and oranges, they each have a different taste and texture. Fresh pasta isn’t always better, it depends on how you plan on using it, the sauce accompanying it and sometimes it's a matter of if you live north or south. Fresh pasta is lighter, tender and more delicate, making it better suited to simple sauces like cream or oil based ones such as alfredo and pesto. While dried pasta is sturdier and has a bit more bite so it can take on a thicker, richer sauce like amatriciana or bolognese. In Italy, as a result of geography, climate and history, dried pasta is commonly used it the South while the Central and Northern Italy are more known for using fresh pasta. 

Dried pasta is not just some convenient, inferior, alternative to fresh pasta. Especially when you can do awesome things to it like FRY IT!

This was a tip that I received from a friend about using dried packet spaghetti which I think is the best thing that you could ever do with it FRY IT! He told me it was an old skool Italian thing but I have not managed to find anything to confirm this so it exists as some urban legend.

Fried Spaghetti

Here’s how you do it.

Cook packet of dried spaghetti in a pot of boiling salted water until al dente, drain thoroughly. Heat up some olive oil in a frying pan with minced garlic, chillies and mushrooms. Saute the mushrooms until they are browned and add in the drained cooked spaghetti, fry for a bit until the spaghetti becomes a bit crisp and absorbs all the flavours of the garlic, chilli and mushrooms. At this point you can just eat the spaghetti but serve it with a tomato pasta sauce on top and it’s the bomb. 

As the spaghetti has been fried it now provides a textural contrast against the sauce. You also get two levels of flavour – the pasta sauce and also a flavour hit from the spaghetti itself which has been infused with the aromatics of the ingredients it has been fried with. I love the garlic and chilli hit in the spaghetti and also sauté mushrooms rather than soggy mushrooms if it were to have been cooked in the pasta sauce. 

Frying the spaghetti

The amount of garlic, chilli and mushrooms added to the frying pan is up to you. It’s best to fry the spaghetti in batches so for one serve you could have 1-2 crushed garlic cloves, 4-5 sliced mushrooms (button or swiss) and as much chilli as you can handle (I go for 2-3 small red chillies, deseeded and sliced). 

Garlic, Chilli and Mushroom Fried Spaghetti 
served with Roasted Vegetable Tomato Pasta Sauce.

Roasted Vegetable Tomato Pasta Sauce

(An original recipe by the Blue Apocalypse)


•    1 (400g) can of whole tomatoes
•    1 medium carrot, grated
•    1 celery, grated
•    3 garlic cloves, minced
•    1 onion, finely diced
•    2 tablespoons tomato paste
•    2 cups of stock
•    balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper

•    roasted vegetables – 1 red capsicum, 1 paprika, 2 eggplants, 1 zucchini

Roasted Zucchini and Eggplant


To roast the vegetables

Preheat oven to 180C.

Slice the capsicum and paprika in half, place on baking tray and roast in the oven until the skin becomes browned. Remove and peel off the skin and roughly chop into 2 cm pieces.
Chop the eggplant and zucchini into 2-3cm pieces and roast in the oven for about 20 minutes. 

To make the pasta sauce

Heat some olive oil in a pot and sauté onions for a few minutes until they have softened, then add garlic and fry for a bit. Add grated carrot and celery and fry for a few minutes.

Add tomato paste, canned tomato, stock and capsicum, and simmer for 30 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and splash of balsamic vinegar to taste. Add the in the roasted eggplant and zucchini, and simmer for another 10-15 minutes. 

Serve on top of fried spaghetti.