There isn’t anything more Southern than a mess of greens, and of all the types available to us, collard greens have got to be my favorite. In this day and age of fast food and instant gratification, making greens is becoming an art practiced by fewer and fewer folks because good greens require time and patience. The results are completely worth it, though, and I can certainly think of worse ways to spend an afternoon than making up (and eating) a pot-full.
Recipes for cooking greens are endless – talk to ten Southern cooks and you’ll get ten recipes for greens. This what you’ll need to make them the way we do:
- 1-2 big bunches of greens. These can be collards, turnip, or mustard greens. We get ours from Wright’s Firehouse Produce in Benton – they’re very fresh and around $1.00 a bunch. If you are using homegrown greens (and we love homegrown here at Arkansas Foodies), be sure you have rinsed them well – they will be sandy. It’s not a bad idea to change the water a couple of times when you first start boiling homegrown greens to remove the sand.
- 1-2 pig’s trotters, split in half. Alternately, use a ham hock or two. Or some salt pork. Or even some bacon grease. The main point is to get something porky and fatty into these greens to help create some rich pot-liquor. I’m using pig’s feet because they have an excellent balance of meat, fat, and bone; and you need all those things to make good pot liquor.
- 1 onion, chopped.
- 1-4 cloves garlic, chopped. Depends on how much garlic you like.
- 2 fresh jalapeno peppers, tops cut off, left whole.
- 1/2 cup distilled vinegar.
- Salt and Pepper to taste.
Add everything to a large kettle except the vinegar. Cover with water and bring to a boil; reduce heat to a slow simmer. Simmering is important because it allows the trotters to release their good flavor without overcooking the greens. Once you’ve got a good pot liquor going (meaning some of the fat has rendered into the water), add your vinegar – this helps counterbalance the bitterness of the the greens and will help release the flavor of the peppers. I view vinegar to be more of a spice than a condiment, because adding some acidic flavor to a dish can brighten and enhance the flavor without ever being sour.
Cooking time can vary with how you like your greens, but I wouldn’t go any less than 2 hours. Taste your greens as they cook – you’re looking for the perfect balance of rich, subtle bitterness, savory pork and onion goodness, and a bit of bright spice from the peppers, garlic and vinegar. You can remove the pig’s trotter (or ham hocks) and pick the meat from it, returning the pork bits back to the pot. Retain the liquid the greens cooked in – this rich broth is perfect for pouring over cornbread or peas and can make an interesting flavor addition to vegetable soup. The greens reheat well, and taste so good that you’re going to enjoy leftovers for the next few days. Serve some up this Thanksgiving as an interesting and classic side dish – and happy cooking!