Tender, flavorful slow-cooked greens are one of the great soul food dishes, and make an easy introduction to one of America's most storied culinary traditions. Soul food was born of the fertile cross-cultural history of the South, where African, Caribbean and European cookery gave rise to a uniquely American hybrid. The distinctive soul-food flavor of a traditional "mess of greens" comes from a combination of time-tested ingredients.
Meats aren't usually thought of as a seasoning, but in traditional soul food a variety of meats -- usually inexpensive, less-desirable ones -- lend distinctive flavors to your greens. Traditional choices include a number of fresh and cured meats, such as smoked ham hocks, turkey necks, salt pork, and bacon. Each brings its own distinctive flavor to the pot, just as the greens do, so experiment a little to see which combinations you prefer.
Herbs and Spices
How you season your greens is a matter of personal taste, and your choice of greens -- and the meat you cook with them -- will have much to do with it. However, some flavors are more traditional in soul food than others. Try varying combinations of fresh-ground black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder, parsley, paprika, thyme, celery salt and cayenne pepper until you arrive at a blend of flavors that works for you. Southern-style greens cook for a long time, and it's best to add the seasonings early so they'll mellow and permeate the greens.
In many areas of the South, hot sauce is traditionally added to mixed greens when they are served. This isn't a universal preference, so you might choose to leave it up to the individual diner. You can also add a small quantity of hot sauce to the pot, where it will flavor the greens without adding much heat. Louisiana-style hot sauces are a good choice, and complement the greens and whichever meat you've cooked with them. However, if your favorite hot sauce is a smoky Mexican or white-hot Caribbean sizzler, feel free to give it a try.
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