I’m a Southern transplant, and even though you can’t take Brooklyn out of the girl, I may have absorbed some of the food culture here. One of our favorite side dishes is southern style greens. These greens pass the test of my Tennessee farm-born father in law. 🙂 Of course, he won’t eat his without a dash of red wine vinegar! It’s my most requested bringalong for family get togethers.
The secret to yummy, sweet and tender greens, I have learned, is threefold: pork fat, onions, and time.
I dice up some pastured, nitrite free local bacon, render and brown and then cook some diced onion. Lard is one of the most healthful fats available, if it’s non hydrogenated and from pastured pigs. And did you know that the wonderful long list of vitamins and minerals in these vegetables require some fat taken along with them in order to be useful to your body?
I like to add some diced chard stems, beet stems or even small diced beets in there for a little extra sweet and some textural interest.
I fill up the sink (or a basin or large bowl) with water and a splash of vinegar, to soak the greens. This method is great because greens float and dirt sinks. I usually triple wash the greens by mixing them up well so all the dirt falls down to the bottom, then substituting the plug for a sink strainer and sliding all the dirt down the drain as best I can, then refilling with water. After washing, I LIFT the greens out of the water in batches into a colander so that the dirt doesn’t come with it. So if I use a bowl or basin, I don’t pour into a colander as the dirt might get mixed back in.
I have to put the greens in my cooking receptacle in batches, as it takes up a lot more volume before it steams down.
The next part is just cooking and waiting. When I finally have it all in the pot and mixed together, I leave it on a low setting (it should continue to lightly simmer or at least have steam coming from the whole surface) for a long time. At LEAST an hour, and that’s only if you just couldn’t get to it until an hour before dinner. For collards, they need even more time on low to be totally sweetened. Two to three hours. I am not sure if there is such a thing as “too long” to cook greens. I’ve never gotten to that point. I’ve even done them in the crock pot on low and left them overnight to bring to a gathering the next day.
As they cook, they turn from a beautiful bright green to a darker, more yellow green. The long cooking really ups the nutrition, too. Spinach and vegetables in the brassica family have thyroid-suppressing chemicals in them, which are neutralized by cooking. Some greens also contain protease inhibitors (which causes poor digestion and interferes with mineral absorption), and spinach has oxalic acid (which bonds with iron and calcium and is one of the possible contributors to kidney stones).
Don’t forget the “pot-likker” – the delicious thick liquid remaining in the pot. I used to think it meant “licker” like you were licking the dregs, but I found out it’s referring to “liquor” – it was prized for its taste and nutrition and in some places it’s even served beside the greens in a little shot glass.
I like to mix a variety of greens together – some bitter, some sweet. The mix I’m making today is collard greens, spinach and red chard. I also love to mix in arugula, beet greens, mustards, turnip greens, etc. But, whatever greens I have on hand, this is a no fail method for delicious, nutritious and comforting southern food.
How do you like to “fix yer greens”?