Food and Drink

These Meatless Greens Are Full of Umami and Lessons from the Land

Chef and farmer Matthew Raiford celebrates Gullah Geechee culture through his cuisine.

Photo by Siobhán Egan, Styling by Bevin Valentine Jalbert
Photo by Siobhán Egan, Styling by Bevin Valentine Jalbert
Photo by Siobhán Egan, Styling by Bevin Valentine Jalbert

When Matthew Raiford steps onto his 50 acres of farmland in Brunswick, Georgia, he can practically feel his lineage in the soil. After all, Gilliard Farms was where he was raised and has been in his family since it was established in 1874, when his great-great-great-grandfather, Jupiter Gilliard, purchased the land for $9.05.

Today, the farm is owned and operated by Raiford, his sister Althea, and his wife Tia, who all help raise kunekune hogs and chickens, grow countless crops including hibiscus and purple potatoes, and are about to cultivate two acres of rice and start a charcuterie and butchery program.

“We’re getting back to those old ways on the farm,” Raiford says. “A lot of it comes from having written the book, which pushed us to dig deeper into regenerative agriculture and brought our organic farming to the next level.”The book Raiford refers to is Bress ‘n’ Nyam, which came out last year and whose title means “bless and eat” in the Gullah language. Though often solely associated with South Carolina, Gullah Geeche culture and cuisine is actually far more expansive, Raiford says, and he made it the mission of his cookbook and its recipes to show people that versatility.

“I’ve always wanted to write a book about the Georgia coast and its foodways,” he says. “So many people believe that African-American food is a monolith. And many people think that Gullah Geechee is just one thing. This culture runs from North Carolina down to Florida and it’s part of many things. The more people study it, the more they will understand.”

Though he had been dreaming about and working on the book for years, Raiford says that 2021 felt like a very meaningful time for Bress ‘n’ Nyam to be released into the world.

“Of course it is past time, but it’s also the right time for people to have these recipes resonate with them,” he says. “People feel ready and willing. It happened to come out when people were doing 23 and Me, interested in learning about themselves, actually having conversations about their elders. People were talking about The Great Migration and the reverse, which is what my dad did.”

Photo by Siobhán Egan, Styling by Bevin Valentine Jalbert
Photo by Siobhán Egan, Styling by Bevin Valentine Jalbert
Photo by Siobhán Egan, Styling by Bevin Valentine Jalbert

Not only did Raiford want his book, which he co-wrote with Amy Paige Condon, to provide a sense of place but also a sense of the plates he grew up eating. His father was a talented baker and they truly lived off the land and from the sea-from oysters to wild boar. But he also made a point to dedicate an entire chapter to vegetarian dishes, which were a household staple.

“It’s interesting to hear people go, ‘Man, you probably don’t have any vegetarian recipes in there’ when that’s the whole first chapter,” he says. “A lot of people think Black people put pork in everything. But we’re looking for the smokiness, not necessarily for the meat. I started thinking about how I could accomplish the same flavors without the meat.”

One of his best examples is the Mess o’ Greens, which uses smoked paprika, apple cider vinegar, caramelized garlic and onions, and Montreal steak seasoning to imbue that rich, umami flavor into a bowl of greens. Besides the array of seasoning, his best tip is to think outside of the collards box.”Embrace other greens,” he says. “I’ve met so many people who are like, ‘How do you make them so good?’ It’s really all those different greens. Add some mustard greens to kale with some collard and turnips and you have a multiplicity of levels of flavors. Play with your greens and enjoy the fact that the universe has given us all this.”

And perhaps the best part of the greens? What you’re left with when they’re done. Raiford’s family would drink the nutrient-rich juices, or potlikker, sopping it up with cornbread or saving it to make boiled peanuts or hearty stock. In many households, that stuff is as good as gold.

“We would never throw the juice away,” he says. “Gullah Geechee culture was about using everything until it can’t be used no more. Even when you look at George Washington Carver and his thought process of rotating crops to keep using the same soil because ‘God ain’t making no more land.’ That’s my favorite saying. That is really what it’s all about.”

Photo by Siobhán Egan, Styling by Bevin Valentine Jalbert
Photo by Siobhán Egan, Styling by Bevin Valentine Jalbert
Photo by Siobhán Egan, Styling by Bevin Valentine Jalbert

Mess o’ Greens

Yield: Serves 4-6

Ingredients:
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 2 medium yellow onions, peeled and finely diced
• 3 garlic cloves
• 2 red, yellow, or orange bell peppers, stemmed, deseeded, and cubed
• 2 pounds each collard greens, mustard greens, and kale, shredded
• 4 quarts water
• 1 cup apple cider vinegar
• 2 tablespoons Smokin’ Hot ‘n’ Sweet Seasoning (see below)
• 1 tablespoon pink Himalayan saltDirections:
1. In a large stockpot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.
2. Add the onion and sauté until translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic and caramelize, about 5-7 minutes more. Then add the peppers, stirring until they grow tender.
3. Add 1 pound of the greens, 2 quarts of the water, ½ cup of the vinegar, and 1 tablespoon of the seasoning.
4. Cook down for 15-20 minutes, then add the remaining greens and the remaining water and vinegar. The liquids will also make a strong stock, full of nutrients pulled from those greens.
5. Just before they are done, stir in the remaining tablespoon of seasoning and the salt. Serve immediately. Reserve the potlikker (nutrient-rich juices).

Smokin’ Hot ‘n’ Sweet Seasoning

Yield: Make ½ cup

Ingredients:
• ¼ cup smoked paprika
• ¼ cup steak seasoning
• 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Directions:
1. Mix the ingredients
2. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for up to 6 weeks.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat.

Jess Mayhugh is the editorial director of Food & Drink for Thrillist.

Food and Drink

Why Makrut Lime Makes a Star Ingredient in Cocktails

The Southeast Asian citrus is intensely aromatic and pairs with rum, gin, tequila, and more.

Photo courtesy of Fish Cheeks
Photo courtesy of Fish Cheeks
Photo courtesy of Fish Cheeks

I grew up with a makrut lime tree in my backyard, admiring the double leaves and dimpled citrus fruit that frequently made their way into our family dinners. Makrut limes, which are sometimes referred to kaffir limes (although the term is controversial and has been widely retired), are native to Southeast Asia, but somehow my mom willed a tree to grow in our Southern California home with great success.

To me, makrut meant savoury Thai food: steamed fish curry wrapped in banana leaves and sprinkled with chiffonade makrut, simmering tom kha gai with floating bits of the hand-torn citrus leaves, and glistening green curry accentuated by the plant’s aroma.

But to others, makrut is an ideal ingredient in cocktails and other drinks. Such is the case for Fish Cheeks, a Thai restaurant in Manhattan known for its seafood dishes and eclectic, complementary cocktail menu. Beverage director Beau Fontano knew he had to include makrut in his creations, especially because the ingredient is so prominent on the food menu. Makrut lime finds its way in several drinks, most notably as a garnish atop the Thank You Kha, a riff on the acidic coconut stew tom kha gai, and the Manao Mao, a rum-based drink that uses makrut lime bitters.

“I don’t love using the word tiki, but if you think of those tiki rum cocktails, makrut definitely works well in those,” Fontano says. “But I also love it in martinis-there’s something really clean about it. And with makrut lime, if you’re just using the leaves, you can do a lot of rapid infusions.”

Fontano only uses the leaves, because the rinds and juice of makrut limes are famously bitter. “Regular lime has a little bit more sugar content, so that’s why it’s much more approachable in cocktails. Makrut limes tend to be more dry,” he explains. “But when you use the leaves in cocktails, you just smack it to wake it up a little bit and it gets that nice citrusy, refreshing aroma which is really fun.”

The leaves are cut fresh, so each drink has the scent of makrut lime leaves wafting off of them. “I’m sure at one point I will get around to it and try to figure out how to use the juice,” he laughs.

Further north at Paper Tiger in Portland, Maine, makrut lime leaves are also prevalent in a cocktail called Something Scandalous, a tequila-based drink intended to be, in the words of bartender Nick Reevy, “crushed easily.”

Paper Tiger
Paper Tiger
Paper Tiger

“I went with tequila, specifically, because in Maine it’s 80 degrees and humid pretty much all summer,” Reevy explains. “So I made something you kick back easily. Agave has a really nice softness that elevates the makrut lime, and the main flavour in that drink is the Thai basil.”

The drink is an alluring shade of green and is rounded out by cinnamon syrup and falernum. “Makrut lime is really herbal and bright in a way no other citrus is,” Reevy adds. “It’s interchangeable with other limes, but it just adds this whole other depth of flavour.”Makrut lime has even made its way into hard seltzer, albeit a limited edition drop from Lunar. Founder Kevin Wong knew he wanted to add another citrus drink to his rotation as he witnessed the successes of hard lemonades, but already had a yuzu iteration. Makrut lime seemed like a natural follow-up.

Photo courtesy of Lunar
Photo courtesy of Lunar
Photo courtesy of Lunar

“It has a very intense citrus fragrance, almost perfumey or soapy,” Wong ponders. “Like I could see Le Labo putting out a makrut lime fragrance. It has such a commanding presence and body.”

To tamper down some of the boldness of the makrut lime, the hard seltzer uses makrut lime leaf extract, lime juice, and cane sugar. The aromatics of the lime are present without too much bitterness; instead, the seltzer is grassy, acidic, and dry. Wong recommends pairing the can with spicy foods, especially Szechuan dry pot.

The makrut lime seltzer is currently sold out, and Wong is unsure whether or not another batch is in the works. “I feel like makrut lime is the greatest secret unknown to the Western world,” he says. “It’s in medicine, candy, herbal drinks, cosmetics and aromatherapy. I think we did the seltzer too early, and I don’t know if the world is ready for us to bring it back yet. Maybe in a couple of years.”

But judging by the growing popularity of makrut lime in beverage menus, the comeback might be sooner than he expects.

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Kat Thompson is a senior staff writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @katthompsonn.

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