Today ends a two-week stretch of much alone time and many quiet meals. My partner has been in Germany, my oldest kid wrapped up in his new adult life, my youngest occupied with a summer internship. Nobody has been saying, "what's for dinner?" Have I missed hearing this question? It's complicated.
Tonight my family will reunite around the dinner table and I am truly looking forward to it. But last night I treated myself to one final solo meal, my dream dinner: grits topped with spicy greens gumbo. Nobody in my family but me could enjoy this dish - Henry hates onions, Jake's not fond of okra, Jonah won't eat grits. But it made me sigh happily and contentedly into my big empty apartment.
The inspiration for this meal came from the tiny handful of gorgeous okra pictured above, all that remained by the time my lazy ass rolled into the Evanston Farmers Market on Saturday morning. I wouldn't have even bothered buying such a small amount if I'd had a group to feed, but it was just enough for me, just enough to elevate an otherwise plain pot of greens into an indulgent and memorable meal.
Grits with Spicy Greens Gumbo
Serves 1. Very generously. You're worth it.
1/2 cup grits
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced thinly
1 big bunch of greens (kale or whatever - or use a mixture)
Okra (3 or 4, or more if they're tiny like mine)
2 tablespoons flour
1/4 cup or so of greens cooking liquid (see below)
1/2 teaspoon salt
Crushed red pepper flakes
Cook grits in 1.5 cups of water with a big pinch of salt.
Heat oil in a very big skillet, add onions with a pinch of salt. When onions sizzle, reduce heat to medium-low and cook for as long as you possibly can until onions are incredibly tender and sweet and golden. 15 minutes, minimum. Don't let them brown.
Meanwhile, put washed, un-chopped greens and okra in a big pot, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Boil 5 minutes, drain but RESERVE COOKING WATER and set vegetables aside to cool a bit.
Give your onions a stir. Check on your grits. Do whatever you want: drum along to some disco songs really loud, anything, you've got the place to yourself.
Chop greens and okra very fine. Remove stems from greens only if they are big and tough.
How are your onions doing? They should taste amazing. If they don't, cook them a bit more. Don't rush. Don't cheat yourself. When they do taste amazing, add the chopped greens and okra and stir well to combine. Add flour and stir until flour is fully incorporated and smells a little nutty, probably a minute or so. Add greens cooking liquid and increase heat to bring mixture to a simmer. Add salt and crushed red pepper.
Allow gumbo to simmer covered for ten minutes (check and add more greens cooking liquid if you need to) or until greens are very tender and melt in your mouth. Your teeth should meet no resistance here.
Serve on top of grits, garnished with more red pepper flakes.