Winter Comfort Food Meets Nourishment - Buttery Greens atop Braised Black-Eyed Peas and Chicken

This time of year, when the snow is falling, the wind gushing, and the cold biting, I find that my body craves foods that are hearty, rich, and nourishing. In other words, comfort foods. When I was younger, the term "comfort foods" had a slightly different meaning than it does to me now. It definitely meant rich, but nourishing? Not so much. As I have gotten older, my taste for real and healthy foods has proliferated, and the nourishing aspect is a key component in my style of cooking. This dish is a reflection of that concept.

Although not to the extent of beets or buckwheat, black-eyed peas have a subtle earthiness about them. Honestly, I have never been crazy about this bean. I found it rather dull on the flavor scale. Attempting to end my lack of enthusiasm for the bean, I was determined to make this dish smashingly delicious. With the aid of the spice cabinet and loving technique, a new appreciation was born. Braising the beans with caramelized vegetables, chicken, and fennel seed (the secret ingredient!), created flavorful and soft, almost melt-in-your-mouth black-eyed peas that I would be happy to indulge in regularly.

 On its own, this stew is delicious, but in order to satisfy my cravings for richly-dark leafy greens, I topped it all of with soft, buttery kale. Not only did this help the nutrition aspect, but also made the stew look ten times more appetizing. The minor bitterness that kale bears was balanced with the sweetness from the carrots and fennel in the stew. A perfect match.

I like to think that I kept things simple with this recipe, although it's important to note that one person's definition of simple can be vastly different than another's definition. Nonetheless, this dish is easy to prepare. Just make sure you plan ahead, as you must soak the black-eyed peas overnight, and cook the dish for several hours.

Braised Chicken and Black-Eyed Peas with Buttery Greens
Serves 2-3 People

1 cup dried black-eyed peas, soaked overnight
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 small onion, sliced thinly, and roughly chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
6 large cloves garlic, minced
2 quarts chicken stock (homemade if possible)
1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp. fennel (anise) seeds (I used slightly more)
1 1/2 tsp. cornstarch dissolved in 1 Tbsp. water
1 cup cooked chicken, shredded
salt and pepper to taste

3 cups loosely-packed kale or other greens
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. chicken stock
1 Tbsp. butter
salt and pepper to taste

In a medium pot, heat olive oil over medium heat and saute onions until translucent. Add garlic, carrots, and saute a few minutes more. Next add black-eyed peas, stock, and spices, and simmer with lid on for about 45 minutes, until peas are tender. Once the peas are tender, add the chicken and cornstarch mixture, and continue to simmer for 1-1 1/2 hours, until the liquid has thickened.  Season with salt and pepper.

About a half hour before the peas are done, roughly chop and rinse the kale. In a large saute pan, cook the kale in olive oil until bright green, about 2 minutes. Add the chicken stock, and cook with lid on until soft. Just before serving, add butter, salt, and pepper.

When ready to serve, ladle hot black-eyed peas and chicken into bowls, and top with buttery greens.

Love and Health,

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