I don’t know how it happened. Maybe it was the blue eyes. Or maybe it was the bald chef head, which seems to be a recurring theme. Or maybe I was just really hungry. But before I knew it, I was adding collard greens and sweet potatoes to my grocery list last week. I like sweet potatoes. I like collard greens. But together? That was new unchartered territory for me. But after reading a recent article in People magazine on Sam Kass, a new 29-year-old chef working in the White House, I made plans to make his recipe. After all, if it’s good enough for the White House, who am I to argue?
Kass’ path to the White House, and his duties there now, are actually quite interesting. Michelle Obama first met him while he was cooking at Avec in Chicago. He eventually was hired on as the Obama’s private chef for two years, before the First Family landed in Washington. She was so impressed with him, that once firmly ensconced in the White House, she brought him on as an assistant White House chef. Besides cooking and planning menus in the First Kitchen, he is also the first chef to have an official desk at the White House, as he is also charged with being a Food Initiative Coordinator. Not too shabby a career path for such a young chef.
He is a strong voice for organic and sustainable farming, and was one of the driving forces behind the new White House garden. He has taken improving the nation’s school lunches on as one of his projects, and is a vocal participant in President Obama’s bi-monthly meetings on improving the health of our children, alongside the chiefs of staff. In a recent profile that Mark Bittman did on Kass in Men’s Health magazine, Sam had this to say, “The responsibility of all chefs, of all people who cook, is the care and well-being of the people they’re feeding. Whether it’s in a restaurant, at home, or here, it’s the same: You have to nourish and sustain. Whenever we put food on plates, we have to take that into account.” Love that.
As for the taste of his recipe? Not bad. It’s an interesting combination that works, and it certainly is a healthy side dish that you can feel good about preparing for your family. Although I love collard greens, this is my first time cooking with them. One bunch of collards is A LOT of collards.
So far, though, my favorite collard greens come from a restaurant my sister introduced us to years ago, the Freedom Cafe in Maine. Oh and their macaroni and cheese? To die for. The food doesn’t get much better. I just saw that they have a cookbook available – one that is a definite must-have for my collection. They also note that they will be retiring and closing the restaurant next October, so if you haven’t been to it yet, and happen to be heading in, through or around Maine, do stop in.
Sweet Potatoes and Greens
Recipe courtesy of Chef Sam Kass
2 or 3 large sweet potatoes (I used 2)
2 bunches of greens (chard, kale or collards) (I used one bunch)
2 cloves of garlic
1 tsp honey
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cloves (I skipped)
salt and pepper
1/4 tbsp. olive oil or vegetable oil (this has to be a typo, I used more)
1. Peel and cut the sweet potatoes into bite size pieces (the size is not as important as the pieces being uniform).
2. Heat half the oil in pan over medium heat and add potatoes. Cook, stirring occasionally, until just brown on all sides and soft (about 12-15 minutes, depending on size). When they are cooked, add spices and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
3. While the potatoes are cooking, wash the greens (do not dry), remove stems and cut leaves into small pieces. Heat remaining oil over medium heat, add the garlic and cook for a minute before adding greens. Stir often and cook until tender. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
4. Combine potatoes, honey and lemon juice with the greens, stir and serve.
Makes 4 servings.assistant White House chef, Michelle Obama, Sam Kass, White House