Turnip greens with taqueria twist
Eddie Hernandez and Mike Klank met in Atlanta in 1987, both disillusioned with their careers, both looking for something else. Klank, a native Memphian, had an engineering degree from Georgia Tech but was tired of his white collar job.
Hernandez had moved to Texas from his native Monterrey, Mexico, in the early 1970s, seeking fame and fortune as a rock star.
“I wanted to make it big,” he said. “I wanted to make it big and travel the world. Unfortunately, my dream was a little bit bigger than my talent.”
So, Klank became the manager and part-owner of a Mexican res- Book signing of “Turnip Greens & Tortillas” ($30; Rux Martin) with Eddie Hernandez and Susan Puckett Novel, 387 Perkins Ext.
What: 6 p.m. Thursday Where:
taurant in an Atlanta suburb that he soon realized served subpar food. Hernandez had laid down his drumsticks and finding himself in the area, took a job as a waiter there (after being the mayor of a tiny town in Texas; his story is long).
“The food just wasn’t good,” Klank said. “I asked the people who worked there if they would eat it, and they said no, so I asked them why they thought other people would. Eddie told me he knew how to cook so I said go on, get in the kitchen.”
It was to be a temporary move for Hernandez, who wanted to work his way up to general manager and figured he could show the kitchen staff a few things, then move back to the front of the house.
“Unfortunately for Mike at the time that we met, his food was not good at all,” Hernandez said. “I mean, really. I felt sorry for Mike because he came across as someone who cared, but I told him, ‘Mike, at the rate that you’re going, you’re gonna be broke real quick.’
“I told him I’ll go to the kitchen for a few days. I said three days and thank God I said three, because if I’d said four, I’d have 10 more years left. It’s been 30 years.” It all worked out. “I wanted to be a musician and I was unhappy when I had to give it up, but you just keep on. We all work our way through life, and Mike and I have made this great,” Hernandez said.
Klank bought out the other owners, and he and Hernandez turned the restaurant around. It became Azteca Grill, and a few years later they opened Sundown Grill, which would 15 years later change its name to Taqueria del Sol.
Today there are four locations around Atlanta, one in Athens and two franchises in Nashville.
“We started doing fast casual in 1992 for lunch,” Klank said. “Eddie and I both love street food so that’s what we did, but we took something you’d think came from a cart and did it inside the restaurant.
“Think back on what Mexican food was like then and you’ll remember it was totally different. We were doing food no one else was and doing fast casual before other people were, too,” Klank said.
Hernandez’s Hispanic spin on Southern favorites has made him a rock star of a different sort than he originally envisioned, a highly respected Southern chef. Last year the partners were nominated for a James Beard Outstanding Restaurateur award, and Hernandez has just published his first cookbook.
“Turnip Greens & Tortillas,” cowritten with Susan Puckett, went on sale last week and she and Hernandez will be at Novel from 6-7:30 p.m. Thursday to speak and sign.
While the restaurant also serves authentic Mexican food, Hernandez’s signature style is riffing on Southern staples. He readily shares the credit for this with Klank.
“He knows what he’s doing. I give him as much credit as possible because he’s a big part of our success. He took me all over the South to teach me what the food was about,” Hernandez said. “He comes up with ideas ... he might say see what you can do with snap peas or lady peas or whatever.”
Refried black-eyed peas is one of the whatevers.
“The black-eyed peas idea was mine,” Klank said. “But Eddie makes it happen, like with the Memphis taco. It’s basically mine because I barbecue, but I gave Eddie my recipe for barbecue sauce and of course, he changed it. Still, it’s a Memphis barbecue sandwich, just in a tortilla instead of a bun and with some Mexican 1 jalapeño, stemmed (remove some or all of the seeds and membranes for less heat) 11⁄2 teaspoons salt To make the drizzle: Combine the mint, jalapeño, and oil in a blender and puree until smooth. Season with salt. To make the chicken: Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Place a rack in a roasting pan or a large baking pan. Line another baking sheet with paper towels. Combine the flour, cornmeal, salt, and pepper in a shallow dish. Place the eggs and milk in a second shallow dish and whisk to combine. Heat inch of oil in a large cast-iron skillet over medium heat to 350 degrees. Dip 2 chicken breasts first in the egg wash, then in the blue cornmeal mix, coating on all sides. Carefully Source, all recipes: “Turnip Greens & Tortillas,” Eddie Hernandez and Susan Puckett flavors.”
Nashville gets its fair shake with Nashville hot chicken tacos.
Old-fashioned fried chicken gets the Eddie treatment with a cornmeal crust and a mint-jalapeno sauce, and he gives chicken-fried steak a spin, too.
Turnip greens are cooked with chile de arbol. Collards and blackeyed peas and get tossed in a lemonhabanero dressing for a salad. Okra gets kicked up with serrano chiles and cumin. Fried green tomatoes? So 2017. Try fried tomatillos instead.
The chicken pot pie recipe includes place in the oil, top side down, and cook for 3 minutes, or until crispy and lightly browned, being careful not to burn. Flip and cook on the other side, until crispy and lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Transfer to the paper towel-lined baking sheet to drain, then set on the rack in the other pan. Repeat with the remaining chicken. Allow the oil to return to 350 degrees between each batch. Cut into the thickest part of a piece of chicken to see if the juices run clear. If not, place in the oven for 5 to 10 minutes, until cooked through. Serve with some of the drizzle spooned over and around the chicken. Makes 6 servings. serious amounts of cream and cheese and is served in a puffed tortilla shell, a seemingly daunting endeavor.
“No, it’s easy to make at home,” Hernandez said.
“You just have to get your oil hot enough. You can do it in a skillet. Susan Puckett tested all the recipes in her home kitchen so we know they work for everyone.”
There’s Mexican sushi, guacamole and cheese dip, numerous soups, entrees, sides and drinks. Ask Hernandez his favorite recipe and the answer is simple:
“I have 120 of them.”
over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the sesame oil and when it shimmers, add the shrimp. Cook, stirring, until pink and opaque, about 1 minute. Remove the shrimp to a plate and set aside. Add the remaining cup sesame oil to the skillet. Add the celery, onion, bell pepper, and Cajun Spice Mix and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft. Add the garlic and parsley and cook for 1 minute longer. Add the beaten eggs and scramble just until they begin to set, about 30 seconds. Stir in the cooked shrimp and rice and cook until heated through. Remove from the heat and keep warm. To make the scallops: Toss the scallops in the Cajun Spice Mix. Place the butter and oil in a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. When it shimmers, add the scallops in a single layer (cook in batches if necessary) and cook, turning once, until caramelized on each side, about 2 minutes per side. Remove from the heat and keep warm. Place some of the fried rice in the center of each plate. Top with 2 or 3 scallops. Mix together the oil and Tabasco and drizzle some of the Tabasco oil over the rice and scallops. Garnish with chopped parsley. Serve hot.
cup fresh mint leaves cup vegetable oil Pinch of salt 1 cup all-purpose flour 1 cup blue cornmeal, or white or yellow 1 tablespoon ground black pepper 6 (6-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breasts cup vegetable oil 2 tablespoons Tabasco sauce
Shrimp Fried Rice Topped with Bronzed Scallops & Tabasco Oil from “Turnip Greens and Tortillas.”