In Detroit’s Eastern Market, there is a restaurant called Russell Street Deli, a space twice as tall as it is wide, with about 8 tables where people sit communal-style, elbow to elbow. They come faithfully for lunch to indulge in classic deli treats like corned beef on rye, or vegetarian delights such as the roasted vegetable sandwich. On Saturdays, the line for breakfast (with specials culled from the market’s seasonal offerings) winds out the door and spills onto the sidewalk. In addition to their above-par sandwiches and omelettes, Russell Street is particularly known for its wonderful soups. I should know, because years ago I worked there for several months, first at the soup station, and later as a waitress. Back then, a cup of soup often stood in for breakfast, and provided fuel for the frantic pace of busy lunch shifts.
The soups are typically made vegetarian or vegan, with the option of meat for those who want it, so they are appreciated by all. One of the soups, Black-Eyed Pea with Collard Greens (with or without ham), was a combination that I had never tried before working there, but has since become a favorite and something I make at home fairly regularly. I do make the non-veggie version more often at home, but I’ll give the recipe both ways. (Recipe is my approximation and does not reflect the actual restaurant recipe, although to my taste buds I have come pretty darn close.) Given the recent spate of warm weather here, I hesitated to post this, thinking no one would give a hoot about soup at this point (and apparently I’m not alone in thinking this could be the last soup of the season), but then I remembered that this is Michigan, and for all we know it could be snowing or sleeting tomorrow and a hot bowl of soup could be just the thing.
I served this with cornmeal drop biscuits from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook, and they were wonderful for sopping up the broth. I never thought I’d be the type to whip up biscuits for a weeknight supper, but these were super easy and fast (I cheated and used the processor instead of cutting in the butter by hand). We also ate the biscuits as part of dessert, with fresh strawberries and whipped cream, as a rustic sort of substitute for shortcake.
Black-Eyed Pea & Collard Green Soup à la Russell Street Deli
1 lb dried black-eyed peas, rinsed and picked over
2 bunches collard greens, washed, stems removed and cut into 1-inch ribbons (you want about a pound after they’re all trimmed)
3 small or 2 medium cooking onions, diced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large celery stalk, diced small (not crucial, but I had some in the fridge)
3-4 quarts veggie stock, chicken stock or water+ ham hock (see notes)
salt & pepper to taste
optional: 2 cups diced ham
Notes: I made this just after Easter to use up some leftover Easter ham, but again, the veggie version is a worthwhile (and of course healthier) alternative. If you’re not vegetarian, but just don’t want to buy ham, I’d suggest using chicken stock for the cooking liquid. If you’re using the ham, I suggest using water plus a ham hock as the cooking liquid, but the other stocks would work fine too. The total amount of liquid you’ll need will depend on a couple factors, such as how dry your beans are and how low a simmer you can maintain. As for seasonings, the amount of salt you add will depend on your choice of stock, so just start tasting towards the end of cooking and add as needed.
Directions: Heat the bay leaf and stock or water + ham hock in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Meanwhile, in a stockpot or Dutch oven, sweat the onions and celery in a little vegetable oil, adding the garlic a few minutes in. When they begin to soften, add the beans and simmering liquid. As the beans cook, if you are using the ham hock, you may need to skim the surface occasionally to remove any scum. (I know, at this point the vegetarians are either laughing at us or going “ewww, scum?”…) Cook uncovered at a gentle simmer, stirring from time to time, until the beans are nearly fully cooked. If the liquid gets too low at any point, top it off with a little water or stock- you want the beans to be covered at all times, and the end result should be brothy, not overly thick.
When the beans are almost done, remove the ham hock and bay leaf, then raise the heat slightly and add the diced ham and collard greens. Simmer until greens are fully wilted and tender, about 10-15 minutes. (Collards can take a longer cooking, if you prefer to put them in earlier; just make sure not to overcook your beans.) Check for salt and pepper, adding as needed, and serve. I love to season this soup with a dash of Frank’s Red Hot and/or a sprinkle of apple cider vinegar.