My garden kind of sucks right now.
Oh, we’ve got sungolds (still), okra (still) and peppers galore, but we’ve been late/delayed in terms of our fall vegetables. I’m terribly jealous of folks who already have gigantic collards growing in their farm/garden. So I tucked my tail between my legs, went up to the Lil’ Farm booth, resisted the urge to buy everything on their display stand, and came home with two bundles of collards (and several other vegetables that may make an appearance on this blog later this week).
Anyway back to collards- what’s the big deal with them, you ask? Other than being a traditional Southern dish on New Year’s (though you could eat them all year around- they are best when the nights get chilly), collards are silky, delicious, earthly, and just plain good for you. They’re especially excellent during Thanksgiving as a contrast vegetable to meats, or as something that cuts through fried food, or just all by themselves (my favorite Thanksgiving leftover is fried cornbread dipped in Sauer’s gravy, with a big pile of cooked collard greens on the side, topped off by a splash of apple cider vinegar. Note to family: now that you know, leave me some, will ya?).
Normally, collards are boiled in a broth with a ham hock, and I’ve had some that are just boiled with a little butter and salt. Both versions are good, but this is my favorite, and not just because it’s vegetarian. The flavor is just right, and it never fails. You have a tomato-onion-garlic-paprika mixture with some olive oil and sherry vinegar added to collards that have been boiled in a chile pepper-salt stock, and it goes so well with collards- making them so flavorful and hearty that you savor every drop. Add some skillet cornbread, and you’ve got a winner of a meal.
adapted from The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook by Matt Lee and Ted Lee
(Matt and Ted Lee are my heroes for coming up with this recipe. And many, many others. In fact, I owe them a big thanks for educating me about Southern cooking).
8 cups water
3 dried chiles, from Wild Scallion Farm or 1 Tbsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 Tbsp salt, plus more to taste
3 3/4 pounds collard greens, destemmed and cut to size by hand (about two bundles from Lil’ Farm)
1 large onion, trimmed, peeled, and quartered (shallots work too)
1 large tomato or 3-4 plum tomatoes, cored and quartered, from Maple Spring Farms and my garden
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar, sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar (I prefer either of the last two)
1 tsp Spanish smoked paprika (pimenton) or Hungarian paprika, from CatBriar Farm
3 cloves garlic, unpeeled, from Small Potatoes Farm
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
In a very large stockpot, bring water to a boil over high heat. Add the chiles and 1 Tbsp salt, and reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until the stock has a nice salty spiciness, about 10 minutes.
(At this point or at any point you could make the cornbread. Use your favorite recipe, but if you don’t have one, I use the one included in the bag of cornmeal from Old Mill of Guilford, which I’ll provide below. They have the best cornmeal and I was very sad when Kroger didn’t sell them anymore. Here, you can get them from Southern Season.)
Add a few handfuls of greens to the pot. They will float on the surface, so stir them frequently, submerging with the spoon, until they have turned a bright kelly green, 3 to 5 minutes. They will become floppy and more compact, so you can add more handfuls of greens. Continue adding handfuls of greens, stirring and submerging them until all the collards are in the pot (6 to 10 minutes). Turn the heat down to the gentlest simmer and note your time at this point.
While the greens simmer, place the onion and tomato in a baking pan. Drizzle olive oil and vinegar over them, add 1 tsp salt, the paprika, and the pepper, and toss to coat. Add the garlic. Place the skillet under a hot broiler, about 3 inches from the flame or heating element, until the vegetables are nicely charred, 6 to 8 minutes. Set them on the stovetop to cool.
When the garlic is cool enough to touch, peel the cloves and discard the charred skins. Transfer the broiled onion, tomato, and garlic to a blender or food processor and blend at high speed until the mixture is completely smooth, about 3 minutes. You should have close to 1 1/2 cups of purée.
With a ladle, remove most of the stock from the collards pot and discard or save for soup (I plan on using this for another recipe!) Add the purée and continue to simmer the greens, for a total of 1 hour from the point at which you noted the time. The greens will be a very dark matte green and completely tender, bathed in pale red gravy.
Cut a generous wedge of skillet corn bread and put it in the bottom of a soup bowl. Ladle the collards on top, and add some of the tomato gravy/broth.
Eunice’s Go-to Cornbread recipe, adapted from Old Mill of Guilford
Preheat oven to 425F.
Add 1/4 cup or 4 TB of butter on skillet and put in oven. Let the butter melt, while you:
mix 2 cups cornmeal, 1 TB baking powder, 1/2 tsp baking soda, and 3/4 tsp salt. In another bowl, mix 2 eggs and 1 1/4 cup buttermilk (the one from Maple View Dairy is good). Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients, and mix well. Carefully take the hot pan out of oven and lean the skillet slightly to get butter to coat most of the surface. Pour the cornmeal mixture over the greased pan and put in oven to cook for 20-25 minutes.
Next… what to do with that collards broth?