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Collard Greens, Yankee-Style!

Growing up in the South, we ate a lot of vegetables, and collards were among my favorites. My grandmothers would chop up a mess of 'em and put them in a giant pot with lots of salt, pepper, and a hunk of fatback.
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Growing up in the South, we ate a lot of vegetables, and collards were among my favorites. My grandmothers would chop up a mess of 'em and put them in a giant pot with lots of salt, pepper, and a hunk of fatback. (For you Yankees, that's a cut of pork fat from under the skin of the back; considered a vital ingredient in many European culinary styles, it's the Southern version of pancetta.) This concoction was cooked for up to two hours, creating a salty and unctuous stock, rendering the collards a dark olive green and infusing every plant cell with the flavor of bacon. Say what you will about pork fat and overcooked greens; it was an amazing dish.

The problem with collards cooked this way is that no one north of the Carolinas will eat them. We know too much about enzymes in vegetables, saturated fat, the dangers of excessive salt intake. Happily for us, collards are one of the more versatile greens. They're sturdy enough to stand up to longer cooking times, in stews and bean dishes, but you can just as easily shred them and saute them with garlic and olive oil. And the broad, sturdy leaves are ideal for rolling up any variety of fillings.

Try some of these fresh, faster-cooking ways with collards. And should you ever find yourself craving them Southern style, email me and I'll send you the recipe. (And I'll never tell a soul.)

Blackeyed Pea and Collard Greens with Creole Spices
Serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 cup white wine (or substitute additional 1/2 cup stock)
6 cups homemade or high-quality stock
1 cup dried black-eyed peas, rinsed
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
Dash allspice
1 head collard greens, stems and center ribs removed, leaves cut into bite-sized pieces
3 medium carrots, diced
1/4 cup minced parsley
1/4 cup minced yellow pepper (optional)

1. In a large soup pot, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium heat and cook onion for 5 to 7 minutes, until golden. Add garlic and cook, stirring, for about 1 minute. Add wine, stock, peas, bay leaf and spices. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook, covered, for 35 minutes.
2. Add collards and carrots to pot and continue cooking for 10 to 15 minutes longer, until greens are tender and peas are soft. Season with salt and pepper.
3. To serve, divide mixture between four individual serving bowls. Sprinkle with parsley and yellow pepper, if desired, and serve.

Parsnip, Collard and Carrot Stir-Fry with Harissa
Serves 4

1 large bunch collard greens
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 small parnsnips, thinly sliced on a strong diagonal
4 small carrots, cut into thin strips 2 inches long
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 to 2 teaspoons harissa* (substitute Asian red chili oil or paste)
1 tablespoon black sesame seeds

1. Remove and discard stems and center ribs of collard leaves. Wash leaves and pat dry; stack leaves, and cut lengthwise into 2-inch srips. Roll strips into a tight cylinder. Cut leaves crosswise to make 1/2-inch-wide strips. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil; add leaves and cook for 5 minutes, until just tender. Drain thoroughly.
2. While collards are cooking, heat olive oil over medium heat in a large saute pan or wok. Add parsnips and carrots, and toss to coat with oil. Cook on medium, stirring frequently, until parsnips and carrots are crisp-tender, 3 to 4 minutes.
3. Add garlic, cumin and harissa. Toss to coat vegetables with oil and spices. Stir in collards, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes longer, until vegetables are just tender. Sprinkle with black sesame seeds and serve hot with brown basmati rice.

Collard Rolls with Red Lentils and Pine Nuts
Makes 8 to 10 rolls

1 cup quinoa
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
2 teaspoons curry powder
3 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 cups homemade or high-quality stock
1 can coconut milk
1 cup red lentils
2 to 4 tablespoons pine nuts (substitute chopped macadamia nuts)
8 to 10 large, intact and unblemished collard leaves (about 1 head)

1. Rinse quinoa thoroughly, then strain through a fine mesh strainer or sieve. Heat a large, heavy saucepan over medium-low heat. Add quinoa and toast for 1 minute, stirring constantly, or until fragrant. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
2. In the same pot, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium heat and sauté onions for 3 to 4 minutes, until just tender. Add curry and garlic and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute.
3. Add 1 cup of the stock, coconut milk, red lentils and toasted quinoa. Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally; add remaining 1/2 cup stock if needed during cooking. Cook until lentils and quinoa are tender but not mushy, and liquid is absorbed, 10 to 12 minutes. Stir in pine nuts. Remove from heat and let cool enough to handle during rolling.
4. While lentils and quinoa are cooking, cut and discard stems form collards. Drop leaves into a large pot of boiling water and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, until pliable but still bright green. While collards are cooking, fill a large bowl with ice and water. Remove cooked collards from boiling water with tongs and drop into ice water for 30 seconds to stop cooking and set color. Remove from ice bath and pat dry thoroughly with paper towels.
5.To assemble rolls: place one leaf on a flat surface, cutting off lower inch of leaf. Mound about 1/3 cup of quinoa mixture onto bottom edge of leaf, in the center 1/3 of leaf. Fold bottom edge of leaf over mixture, and fold sides of leaves in to cover mixture. Starting at the bottom edge, roll leaf tightly to encase filling completely.
6. Arrange, seam side down, on a serving plate. Repeat with remaining leaves. Reserve any leftover filling for later use. Serve immediately, or refrigerate and serve chilled.