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David Lissner
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Eat this! Reezy-peezy, a taste of antebellum South Carolina

Big Jones’ reezy-peezy.

Big Jones’ reezy-peezy.

What it is: Reezy-peezy is a historic Low Country dish of rice topped with red-pea gravy. It is traditionally made with heirloom Carolina gold rice, a precursor to long-grain rice, introduced in the 17th century, and the rare, small Sea Island red peas, an ancient type of crowder pea, related to black-eyes, with a rich, earthy flavor. Typical flavorings include smoked pork, onions, mushrooms and spices.

Paul Fehribach

Paul Fehribach

Where it comes from: An African-influenced recipe dating to 1700s, reezy-peezy originated in the Sea Islands of South Carolina with the African Creole people known as the Gullah. Some historians believe the name comes from the Italian rize a beze, an 11th-century dish of new peas and rice served at the Feast of St. Mark, indicating influence from pre-Civil War Italian settlers as well.

What to do with it: While simple versions of reezy-peezy feature simmered red peas over steamed rice, Chef Paul Fehribach at Big Jones in Andersonville updates the dish by forming the rice into crispy sauteed cakes and serving them over the pureed red peas with braised beet greens and an assortment of his house-made Southern-style pickles.

The signature ingredients aren’t available at retail in Chicago, but they can be mail-ordered. A less fully flavored approximation of the dish could be made substituting arborio rice and black-eyed peas.

Big Jones’ reezy-peezy
Chef Paul Fehribach

6 cups Sea Island pea puree
4 to 6 servings Carolina Gold rice cakes
4 to 6 cups cooked beet greens
Assorted Southern-style pickles

Heat the pea puree. Meanwhile, saute the rice cakes and cook the greens. Ladle the puree into plates or shallow bowls and top with rice cakes and beet greens. Garnish with an assortment of pickles. 4 to 6 servings.

Carolina Gold rice cakes

1/2 pound Carolina gold rice*
2 cups cold water
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons minced green onion
2 ounces mirliton chow-chow, drained and chopped finely
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chervil
1 teaspoon fresh picked thyme leaves
Vegetable oil, olive oil or butter for sauteing

In a 1-quart nonreactive saucepan over medium heat, combine the rice, water, salt, red pepper and bay leaf and bring to a boil, then cover and reduce to a simmer. The rice will cook in 15 to 20 minutes if it’s new crop, a bit longer if it’s dried. Once cooked, remove from the heat and let stand, covered, an additional 30 minutes before turning out into a shallow pan to cool. Discard the bay leaf.

Once the rice is cool enough to handle, place in a sturdy bowl and add the green onion, chow-chow, chervil, and thyme. Using either your bare hands or a stiff wooden spoon, pound and knead the rice until it’s very sticky and holds firmly when pressed into cakes. This will take some elbow grease and about 5 minutes. Alternatively, place in your mixer with the paddle attachment and blend on medium speed until the mixture forms a coarse ball.

Shape rice into cakes, 2 to 4 ounces each, depending on your taste. They can now be individually wrapped and refrigerated until needed.

Before serving, saute over medium heat in a small amount of vegetable oil or butter. When browned on both sides and steaming hot throughout, serve at once. 4 to 6 servings.

* Note: This recipe will not work with just any rice. Arborio or glutinous rice can be substituted, but the flavor will not be as good as with Carolina gold.

Sea Island pea puree

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
8 ounces shallots, peeled and coarsely chopped
1/2 ounce fresh garlic, peeled and mashed
1 cup dried Sea Island red peas
About 4 cups mushroom stock, plus more if needed
2 teaspoons salt, or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper
3 bay leaves

In a 2-quart nonreactive saucepan over medium-high heat, heat the vegetable oil until just smoking. Add the shallots and garlic and saute, stirring often, for several minutes, until the shallots just start to caramelize. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to simmer and simmer, uncovered, until peas are thoroughly cooked and falling apart. Remove the bay leaves.

Puree in the blender in batches until smooth and creamy. Add more stock if a thinner consistency is desired. The texture should be like a thick bisque. Alternatively, you can serve the peas whole. Reheat to a boil, stirring often, before serving. Makes 6 cups, 4 to 6 servings.

Beet greens

1 small onion, sliced thinly
2 cloves garlic, mashed
1/4 cup sliced mushrooms, preferably shiitakes, chanterelles or royal trumpets
Vegetable oil, olive oil or butter for sauteing
Greens from two bunches beets, washed, large ribs removed
1 cup cold water
4 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon salt or to taste
1 teaspoon chili flakes
1 teaspoon worcestershire sauce (optional)

In a 4-quart saucepan, over medium heat, saute the onion and garlic in the oil. Add the mushrooms and continue to saute until the mushrooms are soft. Add the remaining ingredients and cover.

Allow the greens to steam until thoroughly wilted. Remove the lid and stir, turning the greens over, while boiling to reduce the liquid until it has a nice intense flavor. Correct seasoning (most will prefer another 1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt) and serve at once. 4 to 6 servings.

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Eat this! Chow chow and piccalilli pickle the Southern harvest

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