Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Cooking Collards

I am from the south and we eat all kinds of greens.  We consume mustard greens, spinach, turnip greens, kale, and collards.  To be honest there are probably more turnip greens eaten around here than any other kind, but collards run a not too distant second. If you are eating at almost any of the gozillion barbecue joints in the south you most likely will find collards on the menu.  I personally have even had takeout from a barbecue restaurant in Portland Oregon that served collards, so by my way of thinking bbq and collards are a universal pairing.

Last night we did not have barbecue, but we had some leftover ham I thought was on its last day of safe eating.  I had bought a bunch of collards at The Pig along with a bag of potatoes so I knew I had the beginnings of supper. (Why do I feel compelled to buy 8 pound bags of potatoes when they are on sale?  We are not big potato eaters.  And why did the large potato bag change from a 10 pound bag to and 8 pound one?  8 pounds is still more potatoes than I need, but I hate shrinking sizes that cost the same as more product used to be. Do they think we are stupid and won't notice?)

Segue from the potato rant back to collards.  The only issue I have with traditional southern vegetable cooking is the need to cook whatever veg is on hand until it is beyond overcooked and is close to mush.  My mother declares she hates collards, but every time  she has eaten mine she has said she likes them. (Twice!  She has a long standing hate affair with mushy collards. You would be hard pressed to find a more tentative tryer eater than she was both times, though.)

This is not a recipe but is a way of cooking almost perfect collards, and I will even tell you how to cook those, but tonight I had no bacon thawed so I settled for almost perfect. I buy collards in a bunch, which means a stack of collard leaves (15-20) held together by a tight rubber band around the stalks.  

Wash each leaf, wash again and then wash one more time.  Collards grow best in sandy soil, so they are gritty hence the 3 washings. (You can cut out this step entirely if you buy bagged pre-washed greens. I don't buy them usually because I like the center stem removed. It makes the finished product so tender and not stringy.) 

Take about 5 leaves and stack them one on top of another on a cutting board.  Roll them like a big fat collard cigar. (No need to dry the leaves, any water droplets will just help with the cooking process)

Slice them into 1/4 to 1/2 inch strips and put the strips into a colander.  When all the leaves have been rolled and cut, give them a final rinse and set them aside.

Slice a medium onion into very thin slices and separate into rings and set them aside.

Also take a cored and seeded medium bell pepper and cut it into small 1/4 inch wide slices.  I cut the pepper in half lengthwise to core and seed  and then cut those halves widthwise before I make my slices.  I cut off all the humpy parts and save them for salad the next day. Keep the peppers separate from the onions.  (I use red peppers because I like the color variation, but green, yellow or orange peppers work equally well.  And for the record, humpy parts is a real cooking term, or at least it should be.) Mince 2 medium cloves of garlic and keep it separate also. (Who am I kidding with that mince thing?  I used a garlic press.)

 Put a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in an enamel pot or large skillet on medium high.  Toss in the onions and stir until they are almost wilted.  Add the peppers and continue stirring and cooking until they are softened. 

Add the garlic, stirring for about 30 seconds, then top it with the collard greens and 1/2 cup of water. You can see why I use such a big pot.  If you use something shallow like a saute' pan, you will have to fill it to the top, let it cook down and keep adding until all the collards are cooked.  It is much easier to use a big pot to begin with.

Slap the lid on the pan and turn the heat down to medium low.  Walk away for 5 minutes, then stir. Check the liquid level.  You want a bit of liquid in the bottom adding more if needed, but the greens should steam more than they braise. 

When these are finished cooking they will have reduced in volume about 2/3 of the original size. This is just the way they are supposed to do and nothing can change it! 

See what I mean!

Salt and pepper to taste and serve.  To make it a truly southern serving pass the pepper sauce* and splash some of that hot vinegary goodness on the greens.  

If you want to make these truly perfect cook 5 slices of bacon until it is very crispy, crumble it and set it aside. Save all the bacon drippings. Cook the veggies in the bacon fat and proceed as listed until you get to the water.  Substitute chicken broth for the water and continue cooking as directed above. After serving the greens and splashing with the pepper sauce, sprinkle the crumbled bacon on top of it.

Dang I wish we had some leftover!  I am getting hungry again!

*This pepper sauce is not that red stuff you see in the bottles.  This is essentially pickled hot peppers and it delicious on peas, greens and I have even been known to sprinkle a little on hot cornbread.  Do I sound a little southern?


  1. When you started, I thought that you were going to cook the collards with the ham. They turn out good that way and it gives them the flavor that is needed when you live with someone who doesn't like either onions or peppers. :(

    1. I have cooked them with all kinds of meat before but bacon and bacon fat is my preferred meat. I can eat them just about any way they can be cooked!

  2. My mom always cooked them with side meat or fatback.....some part of the hog people don't like to eat by itself. lol

    The best part of cooked to death collards is the pot licker...Mmmmm

    1. I have cooked them just about every way possible. I do like the flavor fatback gives them. Have you ever cooked black eyed peas with a hunk of fatback? Oh my goodness, talk about delicious!

      I have to agree about the pot licker, especially with cornbread to sop it up!

    2. I would agree that fatback makes even BEPs edible(not a fan of those....shhh, don't tell!). Give me a dish of pinto beans instead anyday.....
      Gosh now I am hungry! lol

  3. I laughed at the "slap the lid on."
    I'm born and raised a Northerner. But I LOVE LOVE LOVE southern food. I'd eat greens every day if I could. I have Southern blood in me and I have been told this is where my love of southern food comes from. Sweet tea, greens and corn-pone and I'm in Heaven.

    1. We'll have to have a Southern momma cooking session when I come over! Have you ever had tomato pudding?

    2. Or tomato gravy? Or Biscuits and chocolate gravy?

  4. I own the pan to make corn pone, but I rarely get it out. I guess during meal prep I just forget about it. Now most often I cook cornbread on the stovetop using a griddle pan. As I have gotten older I seem to be opting for easier most of the time.

    Anytime you're ready for southern eatin' come on down. I know how to do it!

  5. You cook the cornbread on the stove top and not in the oven? How does that work?

  6. I just make regular cornbread and heat the griddle to about the same temp I would for pancakes. (I don't have an electric griddle just a stovetop one so I heat it until water drops dance on the surface. Then I essentially make cornbread pancakes. Cook until you see the bubbles throughout the "round" flip and cook it until it is done. I do not use but a couple of tablespoons of flour in mine and no sugar, so it is not sweet and fluffy. They are just nice dense "pancakes" and I smother with butter. So delicious and so quick, plus the oven doesn't heat the kitchen. Of course my cooking method will change back to oven baked cornbread in a little while when the days are cool.

    1. The proper term for these are Hoe Cakes. So good you'll want to slap your momma. ;-)