And boy have I been wrong. First of all, the chicken was fantastic. My date had roasted chicken, I had the chicken stew, and we ordered a variety of sides between us to share. Everything was delicious, but far and away the best thing on the table were the collard greens. I raved over those greens, praised them to our waiter, and ordered a large side to-go so I could have them for lunch the next day. When our waiter came back with our check and my packaged up cup of greens, he brought me a bonus: A roughly scrawled out recipe from the chef. Jackpot! It wasn’t a complete recipe with measurements; it was more a “here’s what’s in it and here’s the technique” which is enough for me to run with.
Since the first visit to the restaurant, we’ve been back a half a dozen times and tried more items off the menu – including the chicken fingers. And I’ve made this greens recipe at least once a month.
Collards are about as Southern as you can get and a lot of people who didn’t grow up with them are often a little afraid to try them. There’s a perception that it’s just a slimy pile of wilted greenery, about as appetizing as the glop of canned green spinach your mom used to serve when you were a kid. I promise you, collards are not like that. When they’re raw, they’re tough and almost stringy. When you braise them slowly in a flavorful liquid over a long period of time, they become tender, but not mushy. They almost develop the texture of al dente pasta. Trust me, they’re worth trying when they’re made well.
Also, this recipe is my favorite, but don’t be afraid to experiment with it. Some people like a little sweetness in their collards, so they’ll add a tablespoon or so of sugar – white or brown. Some people like their collards spicy so they throw in some pepper flakes or cook a couple of whole dried chiles in the pot to up the heat. If you can’t find piquillo peppers, roasted red peppers make a nice substitute or you can try pimento peppers for a little vinegary twist.
Collards make a great side dish for just about anything. We had them with baked pork chops on Friday. But I’ll be honest, I think greens are even better the second day, after the flavors have had a chance to meld overnight. I frequently use a bowl of greens as a base for an egg or two for breakfast or brunch – fried, poached, or soft boiled eggs all work well.
And finally, don’t let the liquid left over from the cooking go to waste. If you do it right, once the greens are eaten, you’ll have a few cups of what is referred to as the “pot liquor” left over. The pot liquor is rich in vitamins C and K and full of flavor from the bacon, the peppers, and the greens themselves. If I’m not going to use it right away, I freeze it for later. Of course the most obvious use is as a soup base for your next vegetable soup or as the liquid when cooking rice or beans. I’ve also used this pot liquor as a marinade for roasts of both the beef and the pork variety. And then there’s the good old Southern tradition of simply crumbling up some day old cornbread in it to make a thick, soupy mixture to eat with a spoon. (Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it – it’s kind of addictive!)
If you’ve never had greens, I hope you’ll try this recipe and come to love them. If you already know and love collards, share your recipe variations with me in the comments. I’m always looking for different ideas!!
Kara's Collard Greens
Spicy, savoury collard greens.
- 1/4 lb thick cut bacon, diced
- 1 large bag collard greens
- 1 medium onion, peeled and diced
- 2-3 cloves garlic
- 1 15oz can diced tomatoes
- 1 8oz jar piquillo peppers, diced, juice reserved
- 2-6 cups of water
- Step 1 Put your diced bacon in a 4-5 qt stockpot or dutch oven over low heat and cook until the bacon bits are crispy and you’ve rendered out as much of the fat as possible.
- Step 2 Remove the bacon bits and set them aside.
- Step 3 Add the onion to the pot and turn up the heat slightly. Cook the onion until it becomes translucent and then starts to brown and caramelize a little.
- Step 4 Add in the garlic and give it a quick stir for 2-3 mins.
- Step 5 Add in the diced piquillo peppers, then the collard greens. The greens will fill the pot entirely, but keep tossing them and stirring them until they’re well coated with the onion/garlic/pepper and oil.
- Step 6 Add the diced tomatoes including the juice, and the reserved juice from the peppers, and then add enough water to come to about halfway up to the level of the greens. It could be anywhere from 2-6 cups. Keep in mind that the greens will shrink as they cook and you don’t want too much liquid.
- Step 7 Cook, stirring occasionally, for 3-4 hours – or longer. I’ve cooked greens for as long as 8 hours and they hold up beautifully.
- Step 8 Serve with bacon bits sprinkled over the top.