“Eating kosher food comes close to soul food for me.”-Sammy Davis Jr., Celebrity Kosher Cookbook: A Sentimental Journey with Food, Mothers, and Memories
Another one of my favorite recipes (after Gene Wilder’s Mock Strudel) from the Celebrity Kosher Cookbook: A Sentimental Journey with Food, Mothers, and Memories, is Sammy Davis Jr.’s recipe for kosher collard greens.
Sammy Davis Jr. was born in Harlem in 1925. As a child, he toured the country with his father and uncle under the name The Will Mastin Trio. He sang and danced, played multiple instruments, and was a charming comedian. In 1947, the Trio opened for Frank Sinatra at the Capitol Theater in New York City. The performance launched Davis’ career as a wildly successful solo artist, and eventually led to this inclusion in the “Rat Pack” with Sinatra, and Dean Martin, among others (see First Vice-President Judy Garland for further detail).
Davis converted to Judaism after a near-fatal car accident in 1954. He spent years in physical therapy, and would wear a glass eye for the remainder of his life. Davis spent his time in the hospital reading about Jewish history. He was moved by the connection he saw between the oppression of the Jews, and the oppression of Black Americans.
“After the accident I needed something desperately to hold onto,” he later said. “I found myself being more and more convinced that Judaism was it for me. I know there’s sort of a kinship between the plight of a Negro and the plight of a Jew: the oppression, the segregation, the constant trying to survive and trying to achieve dignity.” Davis converted to Judaism in 1961 in a Las Vegas ceremony.
While Davis is popularly known for his Classic Hollywood Rat Pack lifestyle, the fight for social justice and racial equity was a central part of his life. He participated in the 1963 March on Washington with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and refused to perform at racially segregated night clubs—for which he is credited with the integration of Las Vegas and Miami Beach nightlife spots.
By the time Davis submitted a recipe to the Celebrity Kosher Cookbook, he was married to his third and final wife, Altovise Davis. The recipe he offered for collard greens, perhaps something Altovise would make, is cooked with kosher-friendly “flanken” beef short ribs, instead of pork.
This is an all-day recipe. Start in the morning if you want it for dinner, but it tastes better the next day. I made a few changes to the recipe, to clarify some instructions, so here’s the original for reference:
You will need:
- 1½-2 lbs. short ribs
- Salt and pepper
- 1 tbsp oil
- 1 green pepper, diced
- 1 onion, diced
- Pinch sugar
- Pinch baking soda
- 2 whole dry red peppers, any variety
- Salt and pepper
- Rinse short ribs, pat dry, then sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- Heat oil in a very large Dutch oven or stock pot over high heat; when oil is smoking, carefully add short ribs.
- Sear on both sides, about 8 minutes total.
- Turn heat to low and add eight cups of water. Cover with lid and cook 3½-4 hours until “meat falls off the bones.” Remove meat and set aside to cool.
- Put greens in another large stockpot with a generous amount of salt. Fill with cold water and let greens soak for 30 minutes. Swish greens around, then dump water. Fill the stock pot with clean water again. Pick greens out one at a time, swishing them around in the water to remove grit. Then tear out the thickest part of the stem, and tear the leaf into large pieces.
- Add greens to Dutch oven with broth from short ribs.
- Turn the burner to medium low and simmer greens with the lid on until they cook down, about 10 minutes.
- Turn heat to low. Add green pepper, onion, sugar, baking soda, and dried peppers.
- Cook, without boiling, for 45 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Shred short rib meat and add it to the greens, or serve whole alongside, with white horseradish and cornbread to crumble in the broth.