Meandering through the Portland Farmers Market, I spotted this stack of beautiful collard greens. The bug holes on the right only endeared it to me more. I mean, if the bugs won’t eat it, should I?
Growing up in West Texas, my mother’s garden overflowed with mustard greens, a bitter, curly-leafed green that I wasn’t particularly fond of. Years later, I tasted my first collard greens and I liked the flavor (less bitter) and texture (smoother) much better.
You don’t have to cook them Southern-style (to death, with ham or bacon fat and onions), but cooked this way they do go hand-in-hand with hot cornbread (or is it corn bread?)
I cut a “V” just like I did here on Swiss chard, and roll the leaves into a cigar and then cut them into strips, just like I blabbed about here with basil, only with greens, I cut thick, 1-inch ribbons.
Collard greens are a staple in many southern — especially soul food — restaurants, yet they generally don’t cut the tough stems out before cooking. For me, it’s paramount. I hate tough stems swimming in a pile of earthy greens, and even worse, I hate stringy stems — which is what happens when the greens are cooked long enough to soften them.
Now we need a little onion for flavor. I used a leek for no other reason than I had one. Feel free to use whatever onion suits your fancy: white, yellow, red, scallions, whatever.
Of course you need some fat to saute the leeks and greens in. I keep a jar of bacon grease in the fridge for just such purposes. Who doesn’t love bacon grease? (Don’t answer that if you are a vegetarian, please.)
You could fry up some bacon strips, using the rendered fat for sauteing, and then crumble the bacon as a garnish for the greens. Heck, most folks just leave the bacon in the pot, simmering it right along with the greens. Me? I prefer adding it as a “crunch” topping.
Unlike Swiss chard and spinach, collard greens need a bit more cooking reach tenderness. And in the South, “a bit more” means hours. You don’t have to cook them that long, although most southern cooks I know cook them f-0-r-e-v-e-r. Food scientist and “culinary sleuth” Shirley Corriher (CookWise, BakeWise) says that extended cooking isn’t kind to the flavor of collard greens and other members of the Brassica family (broccoli, cabbage, turnips, etc.) And she’s from the South!
Simmering collards in liquid is crucial for a silky texture.You can use water, or for more flavor, chicken stock or broth.
I’d show you a final picture of the cooked greens but I didn’t take one. Why? Because they’re ugly. Dull, army-green doesn’t make for a pretty picture, although I have to say that this picture honors the humble green as best as can be expected.
Even if cooked collard greens don’t win any beauty contests, they certainly do win as a delicious side dish, perfectly suited for any southern meal from pork chops to fried catfish. Don’t forget the slice of hot, buttered cornbread. Or is it corn bread?
Southern-Style Collard Greens
Serves 2, maybe 3 *
1 bunch collard greens
1 leek (or 1 cup chopped onion)
1 tablespoon bacon fat
4 cups water or low-sodium chicken broth
Pinch of sugar
2 to 3 tablespoons cider vinegar
1/2 (or more) teaspoon of hot pepper sauce
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Cut the stems out of each green leaf in a “V.” Roll the leaves into a cigar and cut into thick ribbons, about 1-inch thick. Dunk the greens in a water bath, drain, and spin dry in a salad spinner.
Cut the top off the leek. Cut the remaining part of the leek in half, lengthwise and rinse under cold running water, fanning the leek layers to remove any trapped dirt. Pat dry. Cut each half crosswise into 1/4-inch half-moons.
Melt the bacon fat in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the leeks and saute until just tender, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the greens, tossing occasionally to wilt, about 3 to 4 minutes.
Pour in water or chicken broth and stir in pinch of sugar (the greens won’t be completely submerged). Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cover. Simmer until tender, about 40 minutes.
Stir in the vinegar and hot sauce. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add more vinegar or hot sauce to your personal tastes. To serve, you can either portion out the greens in individual ramekins to include some of the pot likker (cooking liquid) or you can drain them and put them directly on the serving plate.
*If you plan to double this recipe, you don’t need to double all the ingredients, just the collard greens. For the remaining ingredients, use 1-1/2 times the amount instead of 2 times the amount.