Sunday, November 9, 2008

Abundance of Riches

(Above) A sink of pure green: collards.

I was seduced by something green this week. Not a winning lottery ticket, sadly, but a 2 for $5 special on collard greens at the market. Big, fat bundles of the most perfect, clean greens I've ever seen. No slime, no grit, no half-eaten yellow leaves, just beautiful, cabbage-y collards ready to take home.

Here's a fact: you will never find recipes for collards in a Rachael Ray 30-minute meal cookbook. Cooking greens from scratch is a labor of love, which as another way of saying, a boatload of tedious work. But it is love for me, because, just like changing a newborn's nappies, cleaning and chopping collards, is a way to show your family you love them. That is, if your family likes greens, which mine don't. But someday they will, I just know it, which is why I bought the two humongoid bundles of drab green love and brought them home.

Not only are Rach's cookbooks devoid of greens recipes, so is my other fave ckbk, America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook. I forged ahead with making standard Southern-style greens in smoked pork stock, a la Gift of Southern Cooking. Only after I cooked the greens did I think to look in Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone and where I spied a half-dozen collard recipes, all of them worthy of trying. Maybe next time.

This is what I did:

1. I pulled out my two largest pots and filled them half-full with water. Into each, I chunked a smoked turkey leg. I buy these in the supermarket, in the shrink-wrapped packages, and keep them in the freezer. (A good Southern cook should never be without porky or smoky seasoning, so, so I also buy smoked turkey wings, and country ham scraps or seasoning cubes, and freeze those, also.). I let the turkey legs boil while I washed and trimmed the collards.

2. In my vegetable sink filled 3/4 with water, I rinsed the collard leaves then began pulling off the stems. This is the tedious part, but a child can be taught to help, all you do is fold the leaf in half and pull out the tough stem, which should then go in your compost bowl. As Elle says, Rinse and Repeat with the remaining collards.

3. I took the clean greens and bundled them, something like a cigar of basil to be chiffonaded (is that a word?), and then sliced them into inch-wide ribbons. I let the chopped greens boil for at least an hour, covered for most of the time. When I left the house for the afternoon carpool run, I covered the pots with foil and placed them in the convection oven on 200 for about two hours.

Notice that I have not seasoned these greens yet. In my mind, greens take much less salt than you would imagine, and I never know how much they're going to cook down and how salty the seasoning meat is, so I wait until the end to sprinkle with a bit of kosher salt.

Now, to serve the greens. Some folks use pepper vinegar, and I always keep a bottle on hand, but I personally like red wine vinegar, just a splash. A perfect autumn supper would be a big bowl of collard greens, swimming in pot liquor, a wedge of warm buttermilk cornbread and a side of fresh black-eyed peas. My kids would take one look at that meal and request cornflakes, the if-you-don't-like-the-meal default, so here's the rest of the menu:

Autumn Menu

Roasted Cajun-Spiced Turkey Breast

Southern-style Collard Greens

Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Macaroni and Cheese

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