Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Eat yer collards!

It's been a bit hot and humid here lately so my mind naturally turns to Southern cooking (Southern as in U.S. Southern). My quest to eat more greens combines with this brainwave to lead me straight to those lovely piles of collard greens that have been springing up at the grocery store lately.

For those of you not familiar with collards, they're those dinosaur-like greens that you pass in the store and wonder "what the heck do people do with THAT?". Well wonder no more, dear friends, here's what you do with that!

This recipe is loosely based on one from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. I say loosely because one of the first things I ask you to do is chop up a bunch of bacon. I like the book a lot -- even if there is no bacon in it -- and if you are interested in grains, greens, roots, and all that good stuff then it's a sure bet.

The first thing you need to do is clean your greens. Next, get a good sized pot of water on to boil. The greens benefit from some blanching before they go into the main cooking pot.

While the water is heating, chop a couple of slices of bacon into matchsticks. (Deborah's recipe calls for brown butter, so I suppose you could use that or some other fat instead if you insist.)

Chop a shallot or a small onion into little rings too.

While the bacon is cooking and once the water in the big pot is boiling, add your collards to the hot water. Collard stems are tough things, so I recommend removing them. This little trick is great if you have a really sharp knife -- just hold the stem and slice down either side of it over the cooking pot. It's an impressive feat if you have an audience -- not so much if you chop a finger off, so do be careful.

Once all the greens are in the pot, give them a stir and let them bubble away for a minute or so. Deborah Madison suggests 10 minutes of boiling but I think she uses way bigger leaves, or likes way mushier collards.

Once your bacon is crisping up, get your onion or shallot in there and stir it around for a minute or two. You'll see I'm using tongs to do the stirring -- this is an entirely practical (and lazy) approach to this dish since you'll need them to pull the collards out of the boiling water and to serve the dish later.

When the onion or shallot has softened a little, pull your collards out of the boiling water (you can turn the element off first if you don't enjoy getting spattered with million-degree water) and pop them in the bacon pan.

Scoop a cup or so of water out of the blanching pot.

Then add the liquid to the braising pan. Braising is like steaming and boiling mixed together, so you want enough water to halfway submerge your greens, but not so much that they are covered. Add a dose of salt and a sprinkle of hot pepper flakes (if you like) and cover the pot.

Reduce the heat to medium low and keep an eye on the greens ensuring that they are bubbling away slowly, but not so fast that the pan is drying out (add more water if it does get too dry). Deborah Madison suggests leaving these to braise away for 30 minutes -- I find they're nice after about 20, so check and see what you think at that time.

Now, you don't go cooking collards (or anything Southern, for that matter) without seeing what Edna Lewis has to say about it. One of her recipes calls for 30-40 minutes of boiling followed by 10 minutes of braising -- again I'm guessing they go for older greens in the South, but if you have some massive foliage on the go please consider these longer cooking times.

Serve with a grind of pepper, some tabasco if you like, and maybe a dash more of salt. These greens sputter away on the stove for a nice long stretch of time, giving you a chance to go grill something up or cook whatever else you're planning on eating. I happen to think they're wonderful, with a nice depth of flavour. So dig in and eat your greens; they're good for you!

Bon appetit, y'all!

1 comment:

  1. Awesome write-up - i feel like i just ate them!! YUM!!!! Gonna try this one out for sure, can't wait - thanks for the tips!!