How to Cook Fresh Collards and Other Greens Southern Style

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Start to Finish: 5 hours
Servings: 4 to 6
Difficulty: Easy


Few things in the South happen quickly. Drawn-out summers, sit-down Sundays with friends and family, and the cooking -- the catalyst of Southern life -- seem to take their own time. But it's worth it. Cooked in freshly made ham broth and simmered to suppleness, Southern-style greens are slow cooking distilled to its essence. Collards are winter hardy, so pay a visit to your local farmers market between January and April for the freshest pickings.

Ingredients

    • 1 1/2 pounds collard greens
    • 1/2 pound turnip greens
    • 1/2 pound kale
    • 1/2 pound mustard greens

    • 2 smoked ham hocks
    • 5 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

    • 1/2 pound slab bacon or 8 slices thick-cut bacon
    • Freshly cracked black pepper
    • 2 medium yellow onions, chopped
    • Pinch of kosher salt
    • Red chili flakes
    • 1 to 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
    • Pinch of sugar

Directions

  • Rinse the greens. Tear the leaves from the stems and discard the stems.

    Cover the ham hock with 3 1/2 quarts of cold water in a large pot. Bring the water to a boil and lower the heat until it simmers gently. Add the garlic.

    Simmer the ham hocks, slightly covered, until the meat is tender, about 2 hours. Skim any froth that collects around the edges of the pot when you see it. Add more water throughout simmering to keep the ham hocks covered.

    Remove the ham hocks with a slotted spoon and set them aside. Add the collards, turnip greens, kale and mustard greens to the water and cook them for 2 hours. Drain the greens and pick the meat from the ham hocks.

    Dice the bacon into 1/2-inch pieces and toss it in a deep heavy-bottomed skillet. Add a few cracks of freshly ground peppercorns and cook the bacon over medium-low heat until the fat renders and the bacon turns soft and chewy, about 30 minutes.

    Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon, setting it aside in a bowl, and add the onions to the skillet. Cook the onions until soft and translucent, about 12 minutes.

    Add the greens, reserved bacon and reserved ham to the skillet. Add a pinch of salt and a pinch of red pepper flakes.

    Add the cider vinegar and a pinch of sugar to the greens. Give everything a good toss and set the heat to medium-high.

    Saute the greens until heated through, about 3 to 4 minutes. Turn the heat off and add a spoonful or two of the ham broth. Finish with freshly ground black pepper.

Variations

  • Go the saute-only route with collard greens. After trimming and rinsing, chiffonade the collard greens and saute them over medium-high heat. Add a pinch of salt and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, and you'll have a table-ready side dish in 15 minutes.

    Throw an Asian spin on greens with a few aromatics. Saute ginger, red chili flakes and garlic in peanut oil over medium-high heat. Add sliced greens along with a handful of crushed peanuts. Season to taste with soy sauce and a pinch of sugar.

Cooking Notes

  • If you want a turnip-greens only dish, trim 2 pounds of turnip greens and cook them for 45 minutes.

    If you prefer chewy, al dente greens, cook them for 40 minutes or until they reach the desired toothsomeness.

    Reserve the ham broth. Southern cuisine is known for its resourcefulness, and to discard fresh broth is tantamount to sin. Save it to use as a soup base or braising liquid for a pork shoulder. Store ham broth in the freezer indefinitely or in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days.

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  • Photo Credit bhofack2/iStock/Getty Images
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