Basic Southern Greens
Makes 8 servings. Recipe is from “Greens, a Savor the South cookbook” by Thomas Head, who notes most Southerners have eaten greens cooked only one way — “simmered in water with smoked pork. Some people add onions, garlic, red pepper flakes, and vinegar for extra flavor, so I’ve given instructions for both methods here. You can use this basic recipe in many of the recipes in this book that call for cooked greens.” (Testing note: I used a variation of the basic recipe in trying Head’s Beans and Greens recipe.)
2 pounds greens (collards, mustard greens, turnip greens, beet greens, kale, or a combination)
1 pound ham hocks or other smoked meat (neck bones, smoked turkey, etc.) or 6 strips thick-sliced bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
Water or chicken stock
1 cup chopped onion (optional)
2 garlic cloves, put through a press (optional)
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
2 tablespoons vinegar (optional)
Salt, to taste
1. Cut out the thick, tough center stems of the greens and discard; cut the leaves into roughly 2-inch-square pieces. Wash the greens thoroughly in at least two changes of cold water (I usually do three). Drain in a colander.
2. Unless you are using the optional ingredients, combine the greens and meat in a large pot and add enough water or chicken stock to cover them. Bring to a boil and simmer until the greens are tender (anywhere from ½ hour for younger greens to 1 hour for older collards).
3. If using the onion and garlic, in a pan large enough to hold the greens and water, sauté the bacon over medium heat until the fat is rendered but the bacon is not yet crisp. Add the onions and continue cooking until they are translucent but not brown. Mash the garlic into the pan and cook for about 30 seconds, being sure not to let the garlic brown.
4. Add the greens, the red pepper flakes, and enough water to cover the vegetables. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until the greens are tender (see above). Just before serving, stir in the vinegar and season with salt.