Southern Style (Mixed) Greens – Simply Soul
It wasn’t until I moved to Florida for graduate school a million years ago that I learned about the tradition of eating greens (for prosperity) and black eyed peas (for luck) on New Year’s day. Growing up primarily in Texas, and returning after earning a degree, I was surprised that the “superstitious” sustenance was also a Lone Star State “thang” that had somehow evaded me. My first year back, I hosted friends at my house for some southern fare and presented them with scratch black eyes (I had been cooking dried legumes forever) and cornbread and…canned greens. Oh the disgrace! I was openly shamed and told I was not a true Southern Lady. Admittedly, the canned mush was pretty disgusting and it helped me understand why greens often get a bad rap. So, I went to my favorite local Soul eatery, ordered a big o’ bowl of collards, and immediately fell in love. Days later, I was at the farmer’s market buying bundles and after trying to recreate my restaurant experience. This is what I came up with on the third try. Seems like everybody has a different method and there are some major do’s and don’ts. I had always heard how difficult greens were to perfect, how they had to be babied and cooked for hours, and how easy it was to mess them up. More than one person is probably going to get angry with me for stating…well…they are actually really simple. The most difficult step is cleaning and preparing the raw greens themselves before cooking. I will admit though, one of the most important ingredients is love. And if all turns out, even the most finicky eater in your circle will ask for seconds. And they are not just for the New Year of course. Here goes!
- 8 oz salt pork, diced into 1/4″ squares (thick cut bacon may be substituted)
- 1 extra large sweet yellow onion, diced
- 4 large garlic cloves, smashed and finely minced
- 3 large bundles greens: collard, turnip, mustard or all one kind – this year I was forced to use a blend because I waited too long to purchase and EVERY market was sold out – should have about 3 lbs greens after washing and trimming (about 3 times the amount shown in the picture above)
- 1 1/2 tsp coarse black pepper
- 1 tsp crushed red pepper (or more or less to taste)
- 1 tsp sugar
- 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 2 – 32 oz cartons reduced sodium chicken stock (better to have too much than not enough)
- Sea salt; reserve to use at end of cooking process if desired (salt pork, as the name implies, is very salty)
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar to serve on the side
Prepping the greens: Remove the hard bottom stems from bundles and discard. Fold leaves in half, cut, and then cut into 2″ thick ribbons (I prefer to use kitchen scissors in lieu of a knife). Some (most?) people choose to remove all of the leaves center “ribs;” however, I find if they are not too thick they cook down just fine. Place cut greens in a large tub of water (or the sink) and wash, wash, wash (not with soap, just fresh water). Keep repeating process until water runs clear. The hard part is done!
In a 7-quart stock pot, render chopped salt pork down until almost crisp, stirring occasionally with a large wooden spoon. Add chopped onion and garlic, combine with salt pork. Be sure to scrape and incorporate all the fond (the brown bits) in the bottom of the pan – that’s all flavor!
Add cleaned, chopped greens one batch at a time, totaling three. Stir constantly, being sure to pull the greens from top to bottom of the pot to evenly cook. The pot will be almost full; however, the greens will quickly wilt and reduce. When the greens are reduced (do not overcook) add the next two batches (or until all are included).
Add black pepper, red pepper flakes (if desired), sugar, vinegar, and one carton of chicken stock (or more if needed; in this batch I used one carton, plus 2 cups; varies every time). The greens should be completely covered by stock with about 1″ above. Place lid on pot and allow to simmer on low for 3 hours, stirring occasionally. After 3 hours, check the consistency and flavor. If needed, add salt to taste. The ribs should be tender and the leaves not overcooked. This is where the “love” comes in. You do not want them to turn out like canned, but you don’t want them to be tough either. Cook for up to an additional hour, checking frequently until cooked to perfection. Serve while hot, making sure each person gets salt pork bits and some of the “love” pot juice. Add apple cider vinegar to taste and enjoy! Great as a side to grilled pork chops, fried chicken, ham steak, or even as a meal on their own with some savory cornbread.