Today’s Meatless Monday on the blog, and we’re cooking with greens. Below, Karen Ranz, a volunteer testing and tasting recipes from our Vermont Fresh: A Fruit and Vegetable Handbook, takes us into her kitchen and shares her stories and tips for cooking greens!
As a Yankee, I always felt conspicuous down South, but something must have gotten into my blood because a meal of seasoned greens, pinto beans and cornbread is just about one of my favorites. I love running into anyone with that soft, slow accent and a little time to chat about home and the foods they grew up eating.
While cooking greens is a relaxing do-while-I’m-doing-something-else-too kitchen project, I can see why Southerners grow or bring home greens by the bagful. They cook down tremendously, and then freeze well too. (I feel better knowing I have a can of Glory mixed greens on hand, generally speaking. For emergencies, I guess!)
One of the things I learned living in Georgia and the Carolinas, finding the best traditional southern cookbook authors – especially Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock’s Gift of Southern Cooking – is that along with some smoked meat, their best flavors come from sugar, vinegar, salt and pepper in differing proportions. Greens seem to be one the best illustrations of this.
Pepper vinegar is typically found on tables in homes and restaurants – bottles of cider vinegar with tiny hot peppers. I use several dried Japones from the produce department to a cup of vinegar. It’s ready after about a week and keeps forever.
This is what makes up the basis for the Carolina Low Country and One True barbeque sauce in my book! It’s dashed onto just about anything. My bottle stays on the counter, and I use it generously in coleslaw. (See: Pepper Slaw recipe.)”
Southern Mixed Greens – Collards, Beet, Mustard & Turnip Greens
2-3 lbs collards, beet, mustard and/or turnip greens – your choice, mixed if you like
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 smoked ham hock or smoked turkey wing -or- ¼ lb bacon or a 3” kielbasa or other smoked sausage, diced
2 tsp salt
Sugar to taste
Pepper vinegar (or cider vinegar and bottled hot sauce) to taste
Wash the greens, plunging them in several changes of cold water until they’re clean of any sand or grit. Cut or tear the leaves away from the stems, discarding the stems. Render bacon or kielbasa in a large stock pot. Otherwise, add the ham hock or turkey wing with a thin film of oil covering the bottom of the pan. Cook the onion in the rendered fat until translucent. Add the greens and salt along with a couple inches of water and cook, covered, on medium low until tender. Depending on the types of greens you’ve selected, this can be a couple hours.
Check the pot occasionally to see that the liquid doesn’t evaporate, but you want only a smallish amount of cooked down ‘pot liquor’ left for serving. Season with the ‘sugar, vinegar, salt and pepper’ flavors to suit your tastes and serve hot. Ladling into soup plates will allow you to dip in your cornbread or biscuits!
Collard greens are some of the most well-known cooking greens, though in reality there is quite a wide variety. From kale to arugula to mustard greens, not all cooking greens even belong in the same family. The one trait shared by all greens in this category is that they lend themselves to cooking, unlike many salad greens. Collards, a well known southern comfort food, are most closely related to kale but have smoother, thinner leaves. Being more heat-tolerant than kale, it makes sense that collards are more often associated with warmer climates than some of the other cooking greens.
Collards can be started indoors or sown outside as soon as the soil can be worked. You can begin picking individual leaves after the plant has been growing steadily for about 6 weeks—pick the lower leaves first and the plant will keep producing. Collards also make a delicious baby green. For a steady supply of baby collards, sow seeds every 4-5 weeks. Collards will grow best with regular watering, though they are more drought-tolerant than many other cooking greens. Like other members of the cabbage family, collards are susceptible to green cabbage worms, but bacillus thuringiensis can be used to control the pests. Note: for growing tips on other cooking greens, such as Swiss chard, look for them by name in this book.
Once picked, collards and other greens can be chilled in cold water, but they should not be stored sopping wet. Shake or spin leaves mostly dry, pack loosely into plastic bags, and refrigerate (in crisper drawer) immediately. Cooking greens will generally only last a few days in the fridge, so use soon. For longer storage, greens can be blanched and frozen. Once frozen, they will store for months and can be thawed in the microwave for easy use.
Choose sturdy, unwilted, dark-green leaves without any bruises. Before using, rinse greens under cold running water and spin or blot dry. Most cooking greens can be consumed raw if thinly sliced and added to salads or other dishes, however, as the name suggests, they are most often cooked. Cooked greens are a traditional vegetable side dish. Try steaming, blanching, or lightly sautéing for the best flavor.
With 226mg of calcium per cup, cooked collards are one of the vegetable world’s biggest contributors to healthy bones. In addition to being so rich in calcium, collards are high in vitamins A, C, B1, and B2. For their low calorie content, collards provide a significant dose of vitamins and minerals. The minerals in collards are more easily absorbed by the body if the greens are cooked, but overcooking will cause the greens to lose some of their vitamins. To retain vitamins, leave the greens slightly crunchy or incorporate cooking liquid.
To receive more recipes and tips on your favorite fruits and vegetables, download Vermont Fresh: A Fruit and Vegetable Handbook.