Friday, November 21, 2008

Kids Make Collard Greens and Hot Pepper Vinegar

Here's a shocker: Kids love collard greens.

Anytime we put green vegetables on the menu for our "food appreciation" classes we are prepared for the kids to hit the reject button. Not so with Southern collard greens. They wolfed it down and begged for seconds.

No doubt this has to do with the meaty broth the collards are cooked in. Traditionally, this would involve some sort of smoked pork product, such as smoked shoulder, or shank or hock. But not everyone in a school environment appreciates pork, so in this instance we substituted smoked turkey.

(A couple of hours of cooking will usually infuse the broth with plenty of flavor. As it turned out, our initial broth was made at home in the evening, where a certain spouse promised to turn off the stove before she went to bed. Well, the pot was left to simmer all night. We woke up to the smell of a house infused with early Thanksgiving. When we made a sample batch in class, the kids loved the aroma so much they demanded a chance to gnaw on the turkey necks.)

Collards are a traditional Southern dish, probably second only to turnip greens. I consulted a number of experts--Edna Lewis, Dori Sanders, Bill Neal, John Martin Taylor, John Egerton--and found near agreement that the cooking liquid, or "pot likker," should be as simple as possible. A gallon of water and a pound of smoked meat will do fine, although some cooks like to add onion to the broth and perhaps a little hot pepper. A little salt, even a little sugar, added to the water is permissible, but not necessary.

Cooked greens are almost required with the beans and rice--or Hoppin' John--that we made last week. And a piece of cornbread (our favorite) is practically mandatory to help soak up the juice. In the end, this becomes a dream meal for us, and it's what I plan to serve for our upcoming "parents night" dinner.

1 gallon water
1 pound smoked ham hock or smoked turkey necks
3 pounds collard greens

In a heavy pot, bring the water and smoked meat to a boil, reduce heat and cook, cover slightly ajar, for two hours or until broth has the intensity of flavor you like.

Meanwhile, rinse collard greens. Discard any that are browned or faded. Shake off water and remove green parts from the thick stem. You can cut the leafy parts from the stem with a knife, or simply tear it off. Tear the leaves into salad-size pieces and plunge these into the finished broth. Return to a boil, reduce heat and cook at a gentle boil for about 45 minutes, or until the collards are cooked through and tender.

Drain the greens and serve hot. They can also be refrigerated and reheated a day or two later. Traditionally, the greens are served with a hot pepper vinegar as follows:

Fill a quart jar with whole jalapeno peppers. Cover with cider vinegar to within 1/4 inch of the top. Cover and store for at least two week before using.

Note: Some stores now sell collards and other greens already prepped and bagged, just like salad greens.


el said...

I love collard greens! There is something so wholesome about them, about smelling them cooking. That they're wonderfully nutritious seems beside the point. This is another instance, Ed, of your "food appreciation" class intersecting with food culture...great work.

B. said...

Collards? Second only to turnip greens? Sorry, turnips are a far far distant third to collards and their distant-second, mustard greens. Anybody from the country will tell you that. You only eat turnip greens because you have to grow them to get the roots, because they stink and aren't very good. Usually folks mix together kales, mustards, and turnip greens in what we called 'salad' when I was coming up. The kales sweeten up the funky turnips.