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?