Thursday, December 29, 2011

Collard Greens

I feel that Collard Greens almost have a bad reputation. You see them in almost every grocery store, but, most people ignore them. I think many people consider them either too unfamiliar, or let their prejudices show through, and pass them up as "poor people's food" - at least in my part of the country. Collards, and other bitter greens such as turnip greens, mustard greens, kale, and even dandelion greens, are far from deserving of this reputation- they are very nutritious, and very flavorful leaf vegetables when prepared correctly. The southeastern US has the right attitude towards them- they are something that should be embraced on a more regular basis...

Preparing Collards takes a long time- the tough, fibrous leaves need a long cooking time to soften and become tender enough to eat. The leaves also have thick stems, so you'll need to trim out the largest pieces of stem, and chop the enormous leaves into bite sized pieces. I like the rustic quality they have, so I don't even bother to chop them into regular sized or shaped pieces, I just rough chop them into fairly large, but still bite-sized irregular chunks.

Traditional Collard Green recipes call for a little pork, usually smoked, to add a little flavor and a little fat to the dish. Typically this would mean taking one or two smoked pork hocks, and drop them in the pot. This time, I'm going to do something slightly different- at the store, I found a real gem- a small, $1.27 package of deli ends that was packed with probably $10 worth of high quality Italian deli meats- including a large chunk of Italian pepper ham- a deli ham encrusted with a large amount of black pepper. This pepper ham could easily act as my smoked pork, and help season the dish. I diced up my pepper ham, and a sweet onion, and tossed it all in a large pot with my collards.

Since there was so much pepper on the ham chunks, I only added a small amount of black pepper, and a handful of salt, then poured in enough water to barely cover it all. If you like your greens spicy, throw in some red chili flakes or a dose of tabasco too. Set the pot on low heat, and let it cook for at least two or three hours (more is better).

When done, your greens should be soft enough to eat. The fats from the pork form a subtle coating on the wilted leaves. The leaves themselves have a texture and flavor similar to grape leaves- if cooked whole they would probably make a great wrapper for something akin to dolmas (stuffed grape leaves). They make a side dish high in nutrients that tastes great, especially when paired with a rich meat with a lot of flavor like barbecued pork, or beef. I would even go so far as to puree them and use them as a substitute for spinach in a traditional ravioli filling.

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