Sunday, August 17, 2014

Southern Style Collards

I am not a true Southern Girl when it comes to eating.  Yes, I love fried catfish, but can't stand hush puppies, grits, or collard greens.  My Daddy was born and raised in North Carolina, and my Mommy spent the last part of her childhood there as well, so I was definitely exposed to Southern food, even though I grew up in the Pacific Northwest.  I was probably an embarrassment when we headed to the southeast for family vacations and I wouldn't eat everything.

Greens are very good for you, full of all sorts of vitamins, but there are definitely right and wrong ways to prepare them, IMO.  My favorite cooked greens have always been Swiss Chard.  Yes, even more than spinach.  As I've gotten older, and especially as I started cooking for myself, and then even more as I started growing my own greens, I've learned to enjoy beet greens, turnip greens, and even radish greens (they make a nice addition to hot & sour soup)!  Mustard greens are okay, but they have a very strong flavor, much like collards.  I think one of my issues with collards is they're so thick and tough, rather than tender.

One thing I learned a few years ago, when I first started learning about herbal extracts and tinctures, was that vinegar extracts the minerals from the plants, which then makes the minerals accessible and usable by the body.  I think the word nowadays is "bio-available".  I don't know if the old-timers understood that or not, but putting vinegar on the greens is a southern thing.  At least that's how I was raised.  As kids, the vinegar was used to make the greens palatable enough to gag down.  We usually had "hot" vinegar, but I have no idea what kind of peppers were used to make it hot.

I have pretty much avoided collards for many years, but my husband brought home a package of collards recently, already cut and cleaned.  I think he picked them up mistakenly, thinking he was grabbing lettuce.  I ignored them for as long as was decently possible, but decided I needed to tackle them before they were ready for the compost bin.  The package had a recipe and I had all the ingredients on hand, so it was a go.  While collards will likely never be my favorite green, this was definitely the best collard dish I've ever eaten!  I served the greens drained on a plate with cheesy garlic bread, and then put the "pot likker" in a mug to drink.  I did not take any photos.  Perhaps I'll get one when we eat the leftovers.

Southern Style Cut 'n Clean Greens Country Mix

  • 2 Tbl olive or vegetable oil
  • 2 onions, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped (pretty sure I used way more)
  • 2 smoked ham hocks, split if possible (I only had one ham bone)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 quarts chicken broth (I had just finished making some)
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar (I didn't have this, so I substituted another flavored vinegar)
  • 1 Tbl sugar (this was the only ingredient I didn't have)
  • 1/2-1 tsp red pepper flakes (I just put a dash of ground cayenne in, didn't want it too hot)
  • 1 bag (12 oz) collards

Heat oil in a large stockpot.  Add onions and saute over low-medium heat until brown and caramelized, 25 or so minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add garlic during the last minute or cooking so it won't burn.

Add ham hocks, bay leaves, chicken broth, both vinegars, sugar and pepper flakes to the stockpot.  Bring to a boil, add greens and stir to submerge.  When the mixture returns to a boil, reduce heat, cover pot and boil gently for about 1 hour.  Remove bay leaves.  If you like, remove ham hocks from pot, cool them enough to handle them and then strip meat from hocks and add meat chunks back into the greens.