Collard Greens can stir up some animated conversations about an otherwise unassuming bunch of braised field greens. Lordy me! Seems you either love them or hate them, depending on which side of the Mason-Dixon line you happen to come from. That said, collard greens are real comfort food here in the American south. Their legacy reaches way back to native American diets before Europeans ever set foot here in the new world. Wild greens such as purslane, sorrel, poke, lamb’s quarters, dandelion, and chicory were all staples in the native American diet long before the loose leaf cultivars we call collard greens were planted in fields throughout the American south well before the civil war.
Traditionally collards are slow cooked with bacon fat and ham hocks, which are optional, along with some dried red chile flakes. The resulting braised deep green collards are swathed in a savory broth affectionately called “potlikker” here in the south.
Collard greens are in fact one of the most nutritious greens you could ever eat, They are rich in protein, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, as well as being low in calories. So whatever your preconceptions may be about collard greens, you owe it to yourself to give them another try. Simple to prepare and ideal fare throughout the growing season. The aroma of braising collards as well as their rich earthy green flavor is sure to win you over.
I prefer omitting the animal fats and meats when I braise collards , but if you are traditionalist by all means include them.
Collard Greens aka …a mess of greens with potlikker (Basics)
Unlocking the deep flavors of collard greens is very straight forward. The secret couldn’t be simpler. By following the wisdom of generations of southern cooks, you want to braise these cut greens at at a very low simmer while being mindful of the texture of the greens as they braise.
- 2 ½ pounds collard greens, center ribs removed
- 3 tablespoons bacon fat (optional), or olive + more for finishing
- 1 small onion, chopped
- ½ to 1 teaspoon dried red chile flakes
- 2 oz ham hock or bacon, chopped (optional) ,or substitute 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 ¾ quarts stock or water
- freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste
- lemon wedges for serving
Needed: A large deep braising pan with lid.
Prepare the collard leaves before you begin cooking.
Using a sharp knife, cut out the center rib from the leaves lengthwise and discard them. Stack the leaves lengthwise and then roll them up lengthwise. Slice the rolled up leaves crosswise into ¾ inch slices. Then unfurl the slices and toss them together in a large bowl and set aside.
Place the braising pan on the stove top set at medium heat. When the pan is hot add the bacon fat or olive oil. When the fat is hot add the onions and saute for several minutes until the onions are softened and translucent. Then add the ham hocks or bacon if using, or the smoked paprika. Season with salt, and chile flakes, and stir to combine, and saute for a minute or so.
Add the stock or water to the pan, raise the heat, and cook until the broth is simmering.
Then add the sliced collards . Once the broth returns to a boil, reduce the heat so the broth is barely simmering. Partially cover the pan with the lid. Adjust the heat to maintain a very low simmer and braise until the collards are well cooked but still retaining a slight firmness. Cooking time will vary depending on the age and size of the collard leaves used, but somewhere between 45 minutes to 1 ½ hours.
Serve the collards hot out of the pot along with some potlikker.
Taste and season with salt and pepper, and a spritz of olive oil and lemon juice.
I was so surprised to find fresh Epazote so readily available here in the US if you know where to look for it.
It really doesn’t take much to get me excited when it comes to finding unusual ingredients that are readily available and have no substitutes. Epazote is certainly one of those ingredients and sorely missed in favored rustic Mexican dishes while living in Thailand.
Epazote ( dysphania ambrosioides) is a lush green wild herb, or weed if you will, that originates from southern Mexico, but can be found growing throughout Central America, parts of South America, and in temperate zones in North America. Epazote is a nahuat word that roughly translates as “stinky sweet” in the nahuate language of the Aztec and Maya cultures. That may not be the most enticing description to peak one’s curiosity, but perhaps epazote’s culinary heritage may be convincing enough for the adventurist cook in you to give it a try.
Epazote has been used since ancient times as a culinary ingredient as well as for medicinal remedies. It’s piquant flavor is unique and defies categorization. I would loosely describe epazote’s flavor as resinous or medicinal, with assertive notes of fennel or anise, followed with a minty peppery finish. It is an acquired taste for some, but an essential flavor for those with a seasoned Latin palate.
Epazote’s contributions to Mexican cuisine can be traced back through the centuries. It is Mexico’s indigenous ingredients and unique flavor sensibilities that have contributed to the evolution of tradition Mexican food into one of the most fascinating cuisines in the world.
Epazote has had many names over the centuries including payqu, herba santae, Jesuit’s tea, Mexican tea, wormseed, and the list goes on and on. Added to soups, stews, frijoles de la olla (beans cooked in a clay pot), Oaxaca moles, pork or iguana barbacoas from Chiapas and the Yucatan, as well as a flavoring chocolate, and an ideal footnote when added to enchiladas, quesadillas, papas, tamales, and for wrapping local cheeses.
Epazote’s introduction into Mexican cooking is credited to some ancient cooks who realized epazote’s capacity for reducing flatulence and bloating following a robust meal that included hearty portions of cooked beans!
If you are in doubt try this recipe for home cooked beans. (click here).
Another favorite recipe using is epazote is Papazules from the Yucatan (click here)
Fresh epazote can be found at Mexican markets, some specialty super markets, and online, as well as growing wild along the road or in vacant lots. If you are a gardener, epazote grows like a weed and ideal to have on demand just outside your kitchen door!
If fresh epazote is not available dried epazote is acceptable, but without the full flavor of the fresh.
The magic of epazote awaits. Buen proveco!
Alas, I have finally found some beautiful plump fresh tomatillos at a local Mexican market here in the States. I doggedly attempted to grow tomatillos year after year in my garden in Thailand , but with very little success. The maturing tomatillos always fell prey to marauding aphids or scummed to a feathery mold just about the time they were looking ripe and ready to pluck from the vine.
So I’ve been dreaming about making my favorite roasted tomtillo salsa for years on end. Nothing could be simpler really. A couple of ingredients thrown under the broiler or onto the grill, tossed into a blender and voila. You have a gorgeous tart fresh green salsa that enlivens so many loved regional Mexican dishes.
Tomatillos originate from Mexico and have been cultivated since pre-Columbian times by the Maya and Aztec cultures. Tomatillos are from the nightshade family with the fruit encased in a parchment like covering that is removed before use. Tomatillos, though larger, reassemble cape gooseberries, also a nightshade that has been cultivated by the Incas in Peru.
Fresh tomatillos are available in the US in Mexican markets, at Whole Foods, in some super markets, and online. They are also available canned, but I urge you to seek out the fresh tomatillos which have a decidedly more tantalizing zesty flavor of their very own.
Roasted Tomatillo Salsa Verde is delicious served with tortilla chips, with grilled meats, fish, and vegetables, tacos, enchiladas, tamales, empanadas, and quesadillas filled with Mexico’s renowned regional cheeses.
This is a quick and easy recipe that you will find yourself making again and again.
Roasted Tomatillo Salsa Verde
makes about 2 cups
- 6 to 8 plump fresh tomatillos, husk removed, and rinsed
- 1 large clove garlic, skin on
- 3 to 4 fresh serrano chiles
- 3 tablespoons finely diced onions
- 2-3 tablespoons finely sliced cilantro leaves
- ½ teaspoon flaked sea salt or more to taste
Position an oven rack about four inches below the broiler and preheat.
Place the tomatillos, garlic clove, and the serrano chiles centered on a baking tray and place under the preheated broiler. Broil for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the tomatillos, garlic, and chiles are beginning to char and deeply colored. Turn the tomatillos, garlic, and chiles over and broil another 4 or 5 minutes until deeply colored.
Promptly remove the tray from the oven and set aside. Transfer the chiles to a small bowl, cover with cling film, and set aside to sweat.
Remove the stems from the tomatillos and remove any loose chard skin and discard. Cut the tomatillos into pieces and place them in a blender or food processor.
Remove the charred skin from the garlic and discard. Mince the garlic and add it to the tomatillos in the blender or processor and pulse until the contents are relatively pureed, but still with some texture.
Once the chiles are cool enough to handle remove the chard skin and discard. Slice the chiles open lengthwise and scrape out most of the seeds and discard. Quarter the chiles and slice and dice them.
Add the diced chiles to the pureed toamatillo mixture and pulse until the chiles are combined.
Transfer the tomatillo mixture to a small bowl and add the diced onions and the sliced cilantro leaves. Stir to combine and then add salt to taste and stir until well combined.
You can add a small amount of cold water to thin the salsa if needed.
The salsa is then ready to serve or you can transfer the salsa to a non-reactive bowl or container, cover, and refrigerate for 3 or 4 days.
Serve the salsa chilled or at room temperature depending on the application.
The Japanese ingredients say a lot about this zesty salad dressing, but it is surprisingly compatible when served with non-Japanese dishes as well.
As always, shop for the very freshest organic ingredients you can find. What I do love about this dressing is how the wasabi note heightens the crisp garden fresh flavor of the assorted salad components. Perfect for late summer and fall salads!
Miso Wasabi Salad Dressing Makes 3/4 cup
- 3 tablespoons light miso
- 1 teaspoon finely grated garlic
- ¼ cup Japanese rice vinegar
- 2 teaspoons Tamari soy sauce, or regular soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
- ¼ cup light vegetable oil, or light olive oil
- 1 or 2 teaspoons wasabi paste
- 3 tablespoons cold water
Combine all the ingredients except the water in a jar with a tight fitting lid. Shake vigorously until the dressing is completely emulsified. Add the cold water and shake once again until combined. Refrigerate the dressing until well chilled for serving.
Suggestions For the Salad
- romaine lettuce, leaves cut into thirds
- baby cos leaves, halved
- radicchio leaves, torn lengthwise
- iceberg, torn
- arugula (rocket) leaves
- celery leaves
- mizuna sprigs
- julienned carrots
- julienned radishs
- snap peas, blanched and chilled
- radish sprouts
- small vine ripe tomatoes, halved
- toasted sesame seeds (see recipe here)
Place the romaine, baby cos, radicchio, iceberg, arugula, and celery leaves in a large bowl and toss. Add a couple of teaspoons of dressing and toss to coat the leaves evenly.
Plating and Serving the Salad
Fan the mizuna leaves on chilled individual salad plates and mound a handful of tossed lightly dressed salad leaves onto each plate. Scatter the top of each salad with the julienned carrots and then the julienned radishes. Tuck the snap peas and halved tomatoes into the salads and lightly drizzle a little more dressing over each salad. Garnish with a flourish of toasted sesame seeds and serve.