Collard greens are a staple of Southern cooking. They can be prepared as their own dish or combined with other greens such as mustard, dandelion, and spinach for a dish called mixed greens. In both cases, the collard greens will have their stiff and fibrous center stalks removed before cooking. The leaves are then gently cooked until tender with spices, vinegar, onion and typically one kind of smoked meat. Ham hocks and smoked turkey legs make for traditional meat ingredients but using what you have on hand, such as regular slab bacon, can work just as well. The residual “pot liquor,” or cooking liquid, is saved for some accompanying cornbread to soak up.
In addition to their inherent deliciousness, collard greens are also packed with nutrition. The greens, which come from the same botanical family as broccoli and cabbage, are rich in vitamins and minerals. The ample amount of Vitamin K (over 3 times your daily need in a single cup of collard greens) helps prevent osteoporosis, and a high fiber and water content will do wonders for your digestive system.
I decided to do my own “quicker” take on collard greens. Most traditional recipes call for cooking the greens for upwards of 40 minutes. I find this takes too much texture out of the leaves, sometimes making them mushy. A shorter cooking time keeps texture of the greens intact while still allowing for their full flavor to release.
These collard greens will fit in alongside any barbecue or holiday meal. Their tangy flavor works as a counterpoint against rich barbecued meats such as brisket and ribs and also works as a side for typical 4th of July fare (see: hamburgers and hot dogs). Use the greens as a welcome break from potato/macaroni/pasta salad hegemony that descends upon us at nearly every 4th of July get-together. Pair the collard greens with sides of black-eyed peas to keep things traditional or go off on your own culinary voyage.
Of course, you don’t have to relegate collard greens to the back-up singer position at every barbecue. Personally, I like eating these collard greens with toast and a fried egg. Given some tweaking in spice and preparation, collard greens can fit into just about any cuisine. It’s one reason why collard greens are eaten in a variety of preparations all around the world.
Time: 35 minutes.
Yield: 4 1-cup servings plus pot liquor.
- 1 tsp. of olive oil
- 1/4 cup of smoked bacon, cut into lardons
- 1/2 a large sweet or yellow onion, sliced
- 1/4 tsp. of red chili flake
- 1/4 tsp. of nutmeg
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1/4 cup and 1 tbsp. of apple cider vinegar
- 2 tbsp. of dark brown sugar
- 1/2 cup of water
- 8 cups of torn or sliced collard greens (about 10-12 large leaves), center stalks removed
Slice your bacon into lardons. Place the bacon and olive oil in a cold, large heavy-bottomed pot. Turn on the heat to medium and allow the bacon to render slowly into the pan. Add your sliced onion when the sides of the bacon begin to crisp and turn brown. Saute the onion until translucent. Add your red chili flake, ground nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste. Saute until fragrant, about one minute.
Add your apple cider vinegar and sugar. Turn the flame up to reduce the vinegar by half. The vinegar reduction should a have a thin, syrupy consistency. Add your water and collard greens. Give everything a stir before placing a lid on the pot.
Simmer the greens for about 20 minutes, until the leaves are tender and dark green. Check for seasoning. Lift the greens from the pot along with the onion and bacon and serve immediately. Reserve the pot liquor.
By Aldo Moreno
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