This week we took on the “Milk and Health” section of the dairy chapter of McGee’s book. This section focused on the usefulness of milk for infants, why other species’ milks aren’t the right milk for the development of said infants, milk allergies, lactose intolerance, and osteoporosis. McGee made an interesting point about how the average adult (of non-Northern-European origin) on earth can tolerate something on the order of a cup of milk per day, while the U.S. government was recommending roughly four times that amount in its nutrition guidance. While the USDA nutrition guidance has since changed (featuring a much smaller role for dairy), the role of the government in simultaneously promoting health and dairy agriculture is… schizophrenic, to say the least.
Anyhow, osteoporosis. Its the thinning of bone tissue and loss of bone tissue over time, and it’s kind of crazy common in older folks, especially women. Probably somewhere north of 200 million women worldwide are affected, and about 20 percent of North American women. So, thinking about osteoporosis, we decided to try to make something with as many calcium-rich foods as we possibly could. Since most folks can’t consume that much milk, but in fact there are many places in the world where osteoporotic bone breaks are far less common than in the U.S. and Scandinavia, they must be getting their calcium from somewhere, right? We decided to focus on non-dairy calcium rich foods. But then, because this is the dairy chapter, it wouldn’t seem right to completely skip the dairy. So. Here’s the thought process:
Because the corn is treated with lime, masa harina is calcium-rich. Masa harina plus cooking something that feels like a project instead of just any other weeknight meal? Tamales! And while most folks, myself included, tend to think Latin America, Panda and I recently learned that there’s a pretty rich tamale tradition in the delta region of my home state. Though most of the folks in Mississippi making tamales are apparently making them with meat and traditionally use corn meal instead of masa, the idea here was to riff on some things that reminded us of the delta and had lots of calcium. Hence collards, another calcium-dense food. Add some dairy, this being the dairy chapter. Voila! Creamed collards as filling for the tamales. We also decided to roast some sweet potatoes to stretch that Mississippi feel and add a little variety to our tamale filling.
So we made tamales, filled with creamed collards and sweet potatoes. Here’s what we did:
- One large-ish sweet potato
- Salt, to taste
- Pepper, to taste
- Olive oil
Dice the sweet potato into quarter-inch-ish cubes. Toss with salt, pepper, and anywhere from one to three tablespoons olive oil. Roast for about an hour at 35o degrees, or until tender.
For the collards:
- ~3 or 4 ounces bacon (I just cut a 3/4 inch chunk off one of the slabs we cured last weekend, so I’m not certain of the weight), cut into small dice
- Half of one large yellow onion, diced
- 8 very large collard leaves, chopped
- 1 cup milk (we used 2% milk; ideally, I’d have like to use heavy whipping cream, but we had the milk and needed to use it, and our hearts don’t need the fat)
- 1 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- Salt, to taste
In a skillet large enough to hold all of your collards, fry the bacon over medium-high heat. When its crispy, set it aside on a paper-towel lined plate and pour off all but about 2 tablespoons of the rendered fat. Turn down the heat a few notches and saute the onions about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they’re soft and starting to turn brown. Add the collards, salt, and red pepper flakes. Once the collards are good and wilted, reduce the heat to low and add the milk and simmer about ten minutes.
For the tamale recipe, we used Mark Bittman’s The Best Recipes in the World, so I’m not going to reprint that here. I’m sure you can find a decent one by googling though. In addition to using the collards and sweet potatoes as filling, we reserved some of the collards and sweet potatoes to make a sauce, which, of course, involves a little more dairy:
- Reserved collards and sweet potatoes (I think we had about a cup in total of the two things together)
- A big dollop – maybe a quarter cup? – of sour cream
- Chicken stock
- Salt, to taste
Dump the sour cream and vegetables in a blender and puree them. Add stock and salt until the texture and saltiness taste right to you.
This is pretty dang good. Making the tamales themselves is a little bit of a project, but it was a fun way to spend an afternoon in the kitchen together. I’d maybe step back the red pepper flakes to something like 1/2 or 3/4 of a teaspoon for more discerning palates, like Panda’s. This has got a fair amount of fire in it, and the collards and sweet potatoes could probably shine a little better with less. That said, the heat definitely mellows after a night in the fridge, if you manage to end up with leftovers.