Being the resident Southerner, I feel compelled to talk about collards. I don’t remember having them at home but in the school cafeteria I can still picture those huge pots filled with “a mess o’ greens” served with a cruet of vinegar on the side. Turnip greens, collards, mustard greens all in a soggy heap surrounded by muddy juices called “pot likker”. Definitely not my favorite, I don’t think I even tried them once.
It took me moving away from the South to give collards another try. Now I love them and have recently learned some new ways to use them. My traditional method has been to remove the thick stem from the center of the leaf, cut leaves into slices, parboil for about 15 minutes, then saute with small bits of a smoked meat like bacon or ham.
The November issue of Gourmet has a great way to use the sturdy leafs to create little bundles stuffed with wild mushrooms and shallots. Reminiscent of stuffed grape leaves, I can imagine all types of fillings, vegetarian or with meat for future meals.
The Brazilian method for cooking collards is so simple and delicious, I can’t imagine why I haven’t tried it before. Sometimes the texture of shredded vegetables is the best way to convert hesitant vegetable eaters. You basically remove the center stem from the collard leaves and stack up the halves. Roll them all together like a cigar and cut into very thin slices. I often use the same method for cutting large-leaved herbs like sage and it would work for all kinds of greens.
Fry some bacon in a large skillet, remove when crispy. Saute the collard strips for a few minutes until they are soft. I use tongs to make sure all surfaces get coated with bacon grease. A couple of squirts of tabasco or red pepper flakes are a good addition for those who like a little heat with their greens. If you’d rather go vegetarian, use garlic and olive oil instead of bacon. I can’t help but appreciate the healthful quality from cooking so quickly but I wouldn’t use this method if the greens were too old or tough — fresh from the garden or the farmers market is best.
The wild mushroom bundles take a little more time but can be prepared ahead and served as an appetizer or a side dish. Each large collard leaf will make 2 bundles.
4 large collard leaves, cut in half by removing thick center stem
1/4 cup dry white wine or dry vermouth
3 T minced shallot
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 T butter
3 cups mixed wild mushrooms, I used porcinis and chantrelles
Cook collards in a large pot of boiling salted water until just tender, about 6 minutes. Transfer to a bowl of cold water to stop the cooking process. Lay down on paper towels, undersides up and pat to dry.
Bring wine to a boil with shallots, garlic, 2 T butter. Add the cleaned, sliced mushrooms and cook for about 6 – 8 minutes over medium heat until tender.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Put a small mound of mushroom mixture in the center of each collard leaf. Fold into a bundle and place seam side down in a buttered baking dish.
Dot each bundle with butter and cover the dish with foil.
Bake in oven for 20 minutes.
This dish can be completely local using collards and garlic from Willie Greens, shallots from Let Us Farm (Tolt’s), mushrooms from Found and Foraged and any Washington dry white wine.