Southern-style greens can include any variety

Wet, cold weather brewing is the time for stewing. Or braising. Or any cooking method that produces a rich, filling, flavorful eating experience to counter the dreariness.

Tonight, it’s lamb stew with root vegetables. Greens also are a common component of this dish, particularly when I serve it with polenta. Or grits, depending on your sensibilities.

But in a meal of such uniform texture, I like greens to add some textural contrast. I saute them just long enough to wilt them a bit and crisp up the edges. A quick splash of vinegar or wine brightens the deep, complex flavor of stewed meat.

But there’s no denying the appeal of braised greens in the Southern style. For all this blog’s past posts that tout hardy greens, including more than 15 dedicated to collards, I’ve never included the quintessential recipe for long-simmered greens, which can incorporate just about any variety. Think kale, spinach and turnip, mustard and beet greens.

And while ham hock is the traditional flavoring agent, I was inspired by this recipe’s suggestion for smoked turkey parts, which I happen to have stashed away in my freezer. Birds cooked on our pellet smoker are a bit too distinctive for all-purpose stock but would infuse these greens deliciously while imparting less fat.

Varieties of hardy greens include lacinato kale, curly kale, Red Russian kale, hybrid Red Russian/collard greens and Swiss chard. (Tribune News Service photo)

Basic Southern Greens

2 pounds greens (collards, mustard greens, turnip greens, beet greens, kale, or a combination)

1 pound ham hocks or other smoked meat (neck bones, smoked turkey, etc.) or 6 strips thick-sliced bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces

Water or chicken stock

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

1 cup chopped onion (optional)

2 garlic cloves, put through a press (optional)

2 tablespoons vinegar (optional)

Salt, to taste

Cut out thick, tough center stems of the greens and discard; cut leaves into roughly 2-inch-square pieces. Wash greens thoroughly in at least 2 changes of cold water. Drain in a colander.

Unless you are using the optional ingredients, combine greens and the meat in a large pot and add enough water or chicken stock to cover them. Bring to a boil and simmer until greens are tender (anywhere from 1/2 hour for young greens to 1 hour for older collards).

If using the onion and garlic, in a pan large enough to hold greens and water, sauté the bacon over medium heat until fat is rendered but bacon is not yet crisp. Add the onions and continue cooking until they are translucent but not brown. Mash the garlic into pan and cook for about 30 seconds, being sure not to let garlic brown. Add greens, the red pepper flakes and enough water to cover vegetables. Bring liquid to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until greens are tender. Just before serving, stir in the vinegar and season with the salt.

Makes 8 servings.

Recipe from “Greens,” a Savor the South cookbook by Thomas Head from University of North Carolina Press.

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