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Greens — celebrated throughout the South

Greens recipes

Basic Southern Greens

Although this book aims to demonstrate the versatility of greens, most of us who grew up in the South ate them cooked only one way—simmered in water with smoked pork. Some people add onions, garlic, red pepper flakes, and vinegar for extra flavor, so I’ve given instructions for both methods here. You can use this basic recipe in many of the recipes in this book that call for cooked greens.

Makes 8 servings

  • 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 the thick, tough center stems of the greens and discard; cut the leaves into roughly 2-inch-square pieces. Wash the greens thoroughly in at least two changes of cold water (I usually do three). Drain in a colander.

Unless you are using the optional ingredients, combine the greens and meat in a large pot and add enough water or chicken stock to cover them. Bring to a boil and simmer until the 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 the greens and water, sauté the bacon over medium heat until the fat is rendered but the bacon is not yet crisp. Add the onions and continue cooking until they are translucent but not brown. Mash the garlic into the pan and cook for about 30 seconds, being sure not to let the garlic brown. Add the greens, the red pepper flakes, and enough water to cover the vegetables. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until the greens are tender (see above). Just before serving, stir in the vinegar and season with salt.

Spicy Collard and Black-Eyed Pea Soup

This spicy soup, with its promise of both good luck and money, is perfect for a New Year’s Day lunch. The heat can be adjusted downward for those with timid palates (most of it comes from the chili and adobo), and it’s possible to make a vegetarian version by substituting a couple of tablespoons of olive oil for the bacon and vegetable stock or water for the chicken or ham stock. I find, however, that the bacon gives the soup an appealing smokiness.

Makes 6 servings

  • 2 slices thick-cut bacon, cut crosswise into half-inch-wide strips
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 cups dried black-eyed peas
  • 8 cups chicken stock or ham stock (or canned low-sodium chicken broth)
  • 1 pound collard greens, washed, stems removed, and chopped into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 (16-ounce) can fire-roasted tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon hot sauce, or more to taste
  • 1 chipotle chili from a can of chipotles in adobo, seeded and chopped
  • 2 teaspoons adobo sauce
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In a large pot over medium heat, sauté the bacon until it begins to release its fat. Add the onions and celery and cook until the vegetables are beginning to brown. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Add the black-eyed peas and 6 cups of the stock. Bring to a boil and simmer until the peas are tender, about 45 minutes.

Add the collards, the remaining stock, the tomatoes with their liquid, and the seasonings. Bring back to the boil and simmer for an additional 30 minutes. Taste for salt, adding more to taste.

Serve with cornbread, pepper vinegar, and additional hot sauce for the chili heads.

Penne with Sausage and Collard Greens

This simple pasta recipe is one of our regulars for an easy weeknight supper. It’s easy to prepare and can be used as a template for concocting a quick and easy supper out of whatever greens, sausage, and pasta you may have on hand. I’m especially fond of collards with pasta—they have more character than the usual kale.

Makes 4 servings

  • 1 pound sweet Italian sausage
  • 1 pound penne pasta
  • 1 pound collard greens, washed, stemmed, and cut into 1-inch slices
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, or more as needed
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving

Remove the sausage from the casings and cook it in a large frying pan over medium heat, breaking it up with a spatula, until no pink remains and the sausage begins to brown. Remove the sausage and set aside, leaving behind the fat.

Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil and salt generously; add the pasta and cook until it is al dente, about 8–10 minutes. Drain the pasta, reserving one cup of the cooking water.

Cook the garlic briefly in the sausage fat, about 30 seconds, then add the collards, olive oil, and red pepper flakes, season with salt and pepper, and stir to coat the collards with the fat. (You may need an additional tablespoon or two of olive oil, depending on how much fat the sausage has rendered.) Cover the pan and cook the collards until tender, about 10 minutes, adding half a cup of water, plus more if needed, to steam the collards.

Add the sausage and pasta to the collards, mixing thoroughly. Add the reserved pasta water, if needed, to moisten the dish. Cook for about 3 minutes to warm the dish through. Stir in the Parmesan.

Serve with additional Parmesan.

All recipes from Greens: a SAVOR THE SOUTH® cookbook by Thomas Head. Copyright © 2016 by University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the University of North Carolina Press. www.uncpress.unc.edu

By Deirdre Parker Smith


Well here it is, the little cookbook that collectors of the Savor the South series have been waiting for, “Greens.”

Greens are not just a side dish in the South — they are a calling. People feel passionately about what the word greens means. Are your greens collards? Turnips? Mustard? Or have you gone trendy into kale and chard?

Well, author Thomas Head is sticking with the basics, filling the book with mostly collard green recipes, though several let you pick from collard, turnip, beet, mustard or kale. Some venture out into greens you might not think about, like dandelion. And he includes recipes from Africa, India and other exotic places where greens are important.

He’s from Louisiana and grew up with turnip greens, which he writes, bridged the gap between late fall and early spring, when there wasn’t much green to be found.

He cites scholarly works such as “Collards: A Southern Tradition from Seed to Table,” in which two professors share vast stores of knowledge about well, you know. They claim there’s a collard core that includes the eastern two-thirds of North and South Carolina, as well as Tidewater Virginia and northern Georgia.

At the same time, they say, there’s a collard domain, where collards share the plate with turnips and mustard greens and that includes the Carolinas.

Head lives in Washington, D.C., and is a food writer who once did restaurant reviews. He is co-editor of “The Happy Table of Eugene Walter: Southern Spirits in Food and Drink.”

Speaking from my limited experience as a Yankee, (all we ever had was spinach), I’ve seen lots of kale at the Farmers Market in recent years, as well as truckloads of collards, along with turnip and mustard greens to a slightly lesser extent. Not many people I’ve run into eat beet greens. In the fall, it’s not uncommon to see people lining up to go through the baskets and boxes of greens, armed with  gigantic plastic bags that they stuff full.

Head says poor Southerners also learned to harvest wild greens, such as the dandelion, along with poke sallet, creasie greens, watercress and others. It was a easiest way to get some green nutrition in the diet.

Greens have come to be associated with money, hence their popularity as part of a New Year’s meal. Head says some people believe hanging a collard leaf over your door will keep evil away. And putting a collard leaf on your head is said to cure a headache.

The Greeks and Romans grew collards and took them along as they conquered Europe, Head writes. The Celts might have already had greens. So collards were around long before the African American slave trade, though greens were also popular in those countries. Once in America, the seeds of African greens grew well, and greens became a staple in the diet.

Turnips are an ancient crop, as well, throughout Europe, while mustards might have come from the Himalayas. Mustard is a big part in many cuisines, from India to Japan to South America.

Head points to how many cultures use greens in their cooking, from the French and Italian, to the Japanese, Chinese and Thai.

But his favorite food, without doubt, is the southern food he grew up with, the cornbread, the fried chicken and the turnip greens swimming in that intoxicating pot likker.

The recipes he shares go from basic to downright unusual, like West African Greens and Peanut Stew. It’s full of things that are good from you and gets heat from ginger and red pepper flakes. There’s also Miang Kham, a Thai dish full of sour, bitter, sweet and salty tastes wrapped up in a collard leaf.

And if you’re looking for ways to celebrate collards further, Head includes a list of festivals devoted to that Southern, leafy green.

If you’ve built a collection of these slim cookbooks, you now have  a more-than-complete meal, with the recent “Barbecue” and the previous “Beans and Field Peas” and “Catfish” and “Sweet Potatoes.,” to name a few.



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