Green Day

My mother always said that greens were better after the first frost. That is when my dad would pick them in his huge garden behind our yard. He grew mustard, collard and turnip greens. It took a good frost to add sweetness to the greens, they said.

I never ate them as a child, but now they’re one of my favorites. I must admit that I’m trying hard to like kale, the “in” vegetable that has only recently become popular on Southern tables.

My favorite way to eat greens is smothered in a big, heavy pot with some kind of smoked pork seasoning, served with spicy buttermilk corn bread.

Any way you eat them, greens are among the healthiest foods around. They are full of beta carotene and vitamins, and as my cousin used to say, “They’re good for the soul.”

I am now experimenting with kale and have learned that you can sauté it, serve it in salads, fry it like chips or use it in slaw. I prefer it cooked and always use baby kale, which is more tender than mature kale.

About a decade ago, greens, especially collard, became a favorite side in restaurants. They are frequently spiced up with andouille sausage, onions and garlic, not a far cry from the Deep South version with bacon or ham hock, and always served with cornbread.

I guess you can call it “country cooking,” because I remember when local restaurants served only French bread and greens were rarely on a menu. Food was more sophisticated in New Orleans then, with its French and Italian influences.

Now, chefs have no qualms about serving greens with pork seasoning, although the food police – as nutritionists were often called a few years back – has declared fatty pork taboo. But I haven’t seen any outcry over over pork belly; it’s currently one of the hottest items on menus.

I don’t grow any greens, but I’m waiting for the first cold spell to put greens on my table on a regular basis. However, I’m not above enjoying the new bags of greens, washed just like salad greens, in the grocery stores. I will also be looking for greens right off the farm at our farmers’ markets around town. Even kale.

Sautéed Kale
1 pound baby kale
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup chopped red onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1 Tablespoon sugar
Salt and pepper to taste

Rinse kale well and remove tough stems. Chop roughly.

Heat oil in a large, heavy pot. Sauté red onion and garlic for about 1 minute. Add kale and sauté for 5 minutes, stirring frequently until almost tender. Add red pepper flakes, vinegar, sugar and seasonings, cover and simmer over low heat until tender, about 40 minutes.

Serves 4

Southern Greens
2 bunches greens, about 2 pounds (mustard, turnip and/or collard)
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 pieces thick bacon, 2 ham hocks or 1 cup ham chunks
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Rinse greens thoroughly. Trim off any thick stalks. If using turnip greens, trim off turnips, rinse well, cut into half-inch slices and set aside.

Heat oil in a large, heavy pot. Sauté meat and add onion and cook for a few minutes. Add greens, sugar, vinegar, salt and pepper, and reduce heat to low. Cover and let greens cook down for 15 minutes. They will begin to make their own juice. Stir a time or two.

When greens are cooked down, add about 1 cup of water. Cover and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until greens are tender. This should take about 30 minutes. If using turnips, place turnip slices on top of the greens in the last 15 minutes of cooking to steam, sprinkling them with salt and pepper.

Serve with cornbread, preferably homemade buttermilk cornbread, slices of sweet onions or whole green onions and pepper sauce.

Serves 4 to 6

Cajun Collard Greens
2 bunches collard greens or about 2 pounds with stems
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 pound andouille sausage, cut in half-inch rounds
1 medium onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 dashes hot sauce
3 Tablespoons cider vinegar
1 Tablespoon sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup water

Rinse greens well, discarding tough stems. Chop roughly.

Heat oil in a large, heavy pot. Add sausage and brown on both sides. Add onion and sauté. Stir in greens and other ingredients except water, reduce heat, cover and cook until greens wilt – about 15 minutes – stirring a couple of times. Add water, cover and simmer over low heat until greens are tender, about 30 minutes.

Serve with cornbread, preferably homemade buttermilk cornbread, sweet onions or green onions and pepper sauce.

Serves 6

Buttermilk Cornbread
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1 cup cornmeal
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Pour oil into an 8-inch baking pan and swirl around on sides of pan. Place in oven to heat while you are mixing cornbread.

In a medium bowl, beat egg. Add cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar and mix well with a whisk. Pour in buttermilk and mix well. Pour into hot pan. It should sizzle. Place in oven for about 20 minutes. Cornbread should be medium brown on top; if not, put under broiler for 1 minute.
Note: If you like to spice up cornbread, add 1 Tablespoon or more of chopped jalapeño pepper and 1/2-cup sharp cheddar cheese. You might also opt for 1/3-cup cooked corn.



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