Braised Hearty Greens 2 Ways
November 19, 2010
Aunt Suzy says . . .
We loved cooked bitter greens here on the Savory side of Sweet & Savory Kitchens! Randy grew up with them in Texas – his grandmother always made turnip greens. I learned about “greens” and how to cook them in Chicago from my friends whose families were from the South. Some people like to make a pot of greens with one type; I typically make a mix, although if I cook only one, it will be collard greens. From left to right in the picture are mustard, collard and turnip greens. The Hmong farmers in Minnesota (immigrants from Laos after the Vietnamese War) grow the most astounding greens! Greens are a big part of Hmong cooking, even though they are of different types than those brought from Africa. In the South, greens are usually cooked with a smoked or cured meat. I carry on that tradition, but I also make a vegetarian version of greens which just might be overtaking the ones with meat as our favorite! And either way, they absolutely must be served with cornbread. There might be other things on the table, but Southern greens without cornbread . . . well, they just aren’t greens!
This is probably one of those things like chili – there are as many ways to cook greens as there are greens’ cooks! Here’s my take, but this is definitely something you can modify to your taste.
The Pot Liquor
The basis for really delicious greens is the savory liquid in which they are cooked. Start with 1 medium onion diced, and 2-3 cloves of garlic, minced. Place a large stock pot or dutch oven over medium heat. Add a thin coating of vegetable oil and heat until it shimmers. Add the onion and saute till soft, then add the garlic and saute for a couple of minutes until fragrant. If making with meat, add 1 andouille sausage, cut in half lengthwise and sliced into half-moons, at the same time as the onion. If making vegetarian, add 1 chipotle pepper in adobo, rinsed, seeded and sliced (shown) at the same time as the garlic. In both ways, add about 2 inches of water to the bottom of the pan. Simmer for 30 minutes to concentrate the flavors. You can do this a day or two ahead of cooking the greens.
Preparing and Cooking the Greens
You will want 3 or 4 (or more!) bunches (called “messes” in the South) of greens. I always start with collard greens as the base and add either mustard or turnip greens (or both!). Place them in a sink-full of water, then drain. Do this 1-2 more times to get all the dirt and grit off the greens. Once you’ve washed the greens, remove the leafy part from the tough stems and discard the stems. I do this by tearing the greens by hand into about 2-inch X 2-inch pieces. Many people cut the stems out and slice the leaves, as is described in Francis Lam’s recent article on Sauteed Greens. Place the greens into the pot with the pot liquor at a boil. You will have to do this a little at a time because your pot probably won’t hold the entire amount at once. They will cook down in a minute or two when you can add more greens.
Once you’ve added all your greens and they have cooked down, add a little more water. I always throw in a couple of dried chile peppers, unless I’ve used the chipotles. Reduce the heat and simmer for 45 – 90 minutes to desired doneness. We do not like our greens boiled down to a mush, so I start tasting at the 45 minute mark. Check every so often to see if you need to add more water – nothing worse than burnt greens! If the turnips greens have some nice little turnips on the ends, I’ll peel and dice those and add to the pot with turnip greens.
Cooked greens are something that freeze well. We always make many batches in the fall when greens are at their peak and then freeze to enjoy all winter. Pictured are two packs ready for the freezer – the one on the left is vegetarian with turnips and the one on the right is made with andouille sausage. It’s wonderful when New Year’s Day rolls around and we don’t actually have to cook greens from scratch!