Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Curious Case of Collard Greens


I'm not sure exactly why, but certain ingredients have a reputation for being difficult and complicated to cook. Lentils, tough cuts of meat and quiche are prime examples of dishes and ingredients that have had their "difficulty myths" dispelled here on the blog, and now I'm tackling collard greens. Long thought of as dirty and tough, collard greens have garnered a reputation over the years as an ingredient that takes a great deal of effort to clean and hours of stewing to tenderize. The fact that they can survive cold winters easily due to their dense leaf structure has worked against them in terms of popularity, but is in fact what makes them so delicious from a culinary standpoint. They have a sweeter flavor than most greens because like most other winter vegetables, they develop more sugars as the weather gets colder, so they don't suffer from the bitterness that plagues most other greens.

The truth is that cleaning collards is as easy as swishing them in a bowl of cold water and spinning them dry like any other green, and in my experience, they happen to actually be cleaner than spinach or swiss chard. While I've so far been able to successfully convince a few people that they're not a pile of grit, I'm still working on proving that they'll be ready to eat in under an hour. Fortunately, I have a fool-proof recipe that delivers on flavor, usefulness, and it's ready in 45 minutes. And best of all, the flavors are classic southern style collard greens through and through, from the use of smoked pork bones to the affordability of the ingredients. No shortcuts here, just straight up flavor in no time.

My favorite part of this recipe is that it's more than just a tasty side dish. Because it makes a ton, I saute the leftovers up with white beans, add a splash of extra virgin olive oil and lots of grated parmesan and toss the whole thing over linguine. It makes for a great last minute dinner. I promise if you actually decide to tackle collard greens, you'll learn that they'll be more than cooked after 30-45 minutes on the stove (the time varies depending on how large your greens are). Anything more than that and they'll just turn to mush and lose too much of their flavor. Here's how to go about making them:

Collard Greens

2  bunches collard greens, ribs removed, leaves chopped and thoroughly rinsed
1 smoked ham hock (or other smoked pork bone)
1 small onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp smoked paprika
6-8 cups chicken or vegetable stock
extra virgin olive oil

1. Heat onions, garlic and olive oil in a heavy bottomed skillet or dutch oven and cook until slightly softened, about 5 minutes. Add collard greens and ham hock and saute until greens wilt and reduce in size by half. Season with salt. 

2. Add cumin, paprika and bay leaf to mixture and saute a minute further. Add chicken stock to cover greens and simmer at a soft boil for 30-45 minutes. Stir every 10 minutes or so to ensure that all of the stock has not been absorbed. Add more stock as needed to keep greens moist.

3. When the greens are done, they're ready to serve. If desired, use a knife and fork to pull apart the ham hock meat and add it back into the collards. Serve as a side dish or over grits. Enjoy!


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