Healthy Southern Greens

Fall is here…yay!! I love the crispness in the air, the gorgeous changing of the leaves, college football Saturdays, and seasonal produce.  Fall produce is amazing, the squash like the delicata and butternut, apples crisp and juicy, and most of all greens. All green leafy veggies seem to prefer growing in cooler air. In the fall, collards, turnips, and mustard greens abound. While I am a kale convert now, I actually never ate kale until a few years ago and knew of no one that grew it while I was growing up. My grandmother did grow a variety of very dark green cabbage that I have never seen anywhere again and I presume it was heirloom. Of the “Southern Trinity” of greens, my favorite is collards. I enjoy turnips, both the leafy green as well as the root and mustard has a sharp bite, but collards are amazing. I’m not sure why people assume they are always made drowning in some kind of meat fat and if they are not made that way they are inedible. Our collards may have had an occasional piece of “streak_o_lean” thrown in, but for the most part they were just cooked in water with salt, pepper, a pinch of sugar and a little vegetable oil. Collards and all greens also have a bad reputation of being a nightmare to clean. What? I have heard all sorts of ridiculous methods including putting them in your washing machine. Seriously? Nanna had a big metal washtub she used but your sink is fine. If you are lucky enough to buy fresh, big greens you may need more space. I used my bath tub last week for the first washing.

Collards are at the very top of the ANDI list of foods. Please see my post on ANDI  They literally score 1000 on the index and ANDI is an acronym for Aggregate Nutrient Density Index. By contrast, broccoli, which is a very nutritious vegetable is a paltry 376 score on the ANDI scale. So, fall is upon us and fresh collards are available in both many grocery chains as well as farmer’s markets. I have not shopped for collards anywhere besides the South and South Florida.  Sadly, if you live in South Florida, you will not have a very good selection. The Whole Foods in Boca Raton does have them, but they are very small, about the size of my hand and forearm and bunched about 8 leaves to a bunch. This is useless unless you plan to eat them raw or perhaps use them in a roll up fashion, which is good, but absolutely not practical for cooking. The yield would be about a tablespoon of cooked greens. Conversely, last week I went home to Macon, Ga. to visit my parents and while running errands with my dear friend, Ramona, passed by a gentleman on the roadside with a tent and table set up overflowing with collards. I pulled the car over so fast we nearly wrecked. I bought the most beautiful collards, picked several hours earlier for $3!! They were HUGE.  Note the bunch my beautiful friend Ramona is holding! The key with any leafy green like a collard, kale, turnip etc is wash them several times while still a whole leaf. Just use cold water, submerge, swish them around, drain, THEN, pick them up from the sink, rinse out the grit in the sink, and do the wash again. Repeat until no grit is left in the sink when you drain. After they are clean, you must remove the big stem. The stem is bitter and if you have tried those “precut” and cleaned bags they are full of stem, therefore the result is bitter. Yuk. Removing the stem is very easy, just fold the leaf in half lengthwise and run a knife down. You will be left with 2 leaf halves then. After you have done this, just tear them into pieces or use the knife. Using a VERY BIG pot, I use a 9 qt. Le Creuset, put just enough water in to cover the greens. I put about 1 Tbsp canola oil in and 1 1/2 tsp. salt. Bring to a boil and then drain off a little excess water. You will notice the greens have shrunk quite a bit. Leave enough broth in to just cover. This is where I differ in preparation form traditional Southern methods. I now turn on my oven to 325 and add 1/2 cup vegetable broth and 1 cup white zinfandel wine and a four garlic cloves. The wine is both acidic and sweet which is fantastic with the greens. Cook for about 45 min to 1 hour.  Remove from oven and let sit. Serve with cornbread and hot pepper vinegar.  Don’t throw away the yummy broth…it is “potlikker” and contains all the nutrients.

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