Practically everyone I know did at least some work in their garden last weekend. We had two days of glorious sunshine reminding us that even though the rain isn’t gone for good, it’s not too early to start putting some seeds and starts in the ground. Unless you have a huge garden, you’ll probably need to make space for the new plants by harvesting your overwintered veggies. Many of us have kale, collards, lettuce and all kinds of greens that need to be eaten. In fact, my sister-in-law gave me such a huge bag of kale that I was inspired to cook it all in one pot, Southern-style.
A mess o’ greens is one of the most common Southern side dishes I can think of. Kale may be popular now but when I was growing up in North Carolina, it was almost always collards, mustard or turnip greens in the pot. Real Southern greens are COOKED, not steamed lightly and definitely not raw. If boiling vegetables seems too unhealthy, call it braising instead and let them simmer gently but they have to be on the heat for at least 30 minutes to develop their full flavor. Some recipes say to cook them for an hour or even more. I know it goes against everything we’ve been taught and all the childhood memories of vegetables cooked until they were an unrecognizable mush, but once you taste them, you’ll want to eat the whole pot full at one sitting.
I recently started reading Tamar Adler’s book, An Everlasting Meal, and was surprised to find a whole chapter devoted to boiling – vegetables, meat, you name it. Her whole point is to demystify cooking and to say, if you can boil water, you can cook and if you cook your own food, you’ll be healthier. There are no fancy techniques, ingredient or equipment needed to cook greens, just a big pot with a lid, water and salt. Of course, I love to put a big pat of butter on top of the pile on the plate. You can also add bacon and/or hot pepper sauce and still be very authentic and Southern or better yet, serve with a carafe of vinegar for dousing the cooked greens. I decided to make mine as plain as possible just to savor the pure unadulterated taste.
Cooking greens in water has the added benefit of a rich broth packed with minerals, also known as potlikker. Use it as the base for a soup, dip cornbread in it or just drink a shot or two. It’s an excellent spring tonic.
Ingredients: A big bag (grocery bag size) of sturdy greens — kale, collards, mustard greens, washed and thick stems removed/ salt & pepper/ butter
Directions: Put about 2 cups of water in a large pot/ Bring to a boil and add salt to taste/ Put washed greens into pot, cover with lid and lower temperature to a simmer/ Cook at a gentle simmer for 30 minutes/ Season with salt & pepper and several pats of butter/ Spoon broth (potlikker) over greens on plate or remove to use as broth or drink straight up.
If Southern-style greens aren’t your thing and you still have a big quantity of greens that need to be eaten, crispy kale chips are simple to make and provide an excellent, nutritious snack even picky-eaters have been known to devour.
Ingredients: A big bunch of kale leaves, washed and thick stems removed/ Olive oil/ Salt & pepper
Directions: Preheat oven to 250 degrees/Put washed kale leaves in a large bowl/ Drizzle with olive oil/ Using your hands, gently massage the kale to coat the leaves with oil on all sides/ Salt and pepper to taste/ Lay kale in one layer on sheet pan (it’ll cook down but don’t try to cram too much on one pan, better to give leaves a little space and use two pans instead/ Roast for 30 minutes/ Chips should be crispy, some thicker kale may take longer.
When kale and other greens start to go to seed, beautiful florets resembling broccoli form at the tops of the stems. And yes, they’re edible and quite delicious. I picked a bowl full and roasted them along with the kale chips. They taste like roasted broccoli (one of my favorites) but are even sweeter and more delicate.
The next time the sun comes out, feel free to pull out your overwintered veggies to make room for all the new delicious spring plantings. Toss the thick stems into the compost and cook up the rest. Spring in the Northwest doesn’t begin to compare to spring in the South but a mess of greens can surely help.