Virginia Willis Blog

Messing with Winter Greens

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Check out this mess of collard greens!

I was teaching in Fort Valley, Georgia a few weeks ago at the Peach Palette and I asked Beth to go out and get some greens for the Tangle of Winter Greens. I think I said 4 bunches. This is HALF of what she came back with! And, being that it was Fort Valley – she just pulled up to the farmstand pickup truck and he put them in her trunk. Drive Through Collards. Only in the South. We had a good time with it and my cousin Kathy Waites took this great picture.

Love it. Love greens, too. Cabbage, collards, kale, mustard greens, turnip greens. All are brassicas and have a little bite.
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I am on the road again at the Women Chef and Restauranteurs Conference in DC. Great group. But, Mama and I are already talking about the Thanksgiving menu. The amusing thing about Thanksgiving it is the one meal that is almost immovable in terms of menu. Each family member has that one dish that is their favorite and for some, it’s like the entire holiday is absolutely positively ruined if the sweet potatoes are topped with something other than toasty brown marshmallows or the Squash Casserole is missing. A day which is supposed to be a joyful gathering of family and friends instead becomes a day without sunshine. This I know. The deal is, dishes can be added, but nothing can be removed from the menu. I learned this the hard way. As a chef and now in charge of most of the savory aspects of the Thanksgiving meal (Mama still does the desserts) I have tried to branch out a bit. I once put panko breadcrumbs on the squash casserole and I sincerely felt like an enemy of the state.

One dish I absolutely won’t mess with is the mess of greens. I have had without fail, some form of cooked winter greens at every Thanksgiving meal of my entire life. I dare say even longer than turkey because my grandmother, whom I called Meme, cooked them for hours until they were meltingly soft. They were indeed appropriate as pabluum for an infant. During the fall, I generally like them a bit more toothsomeness, but I know better. For Thanksgiving I cook them just like Meme did, in a salty smoky broth flavored with hog jowl. The fat melts and the pot likker is oily and slick, perfect for sipping later and enjoying with a wedge of cornmeal.

In late November, the fields have been kissed with a touch of frost, something that Meme said brings out the sweetness in the bitter collard, kale, or mustard greens. They are at the beginning of the peak of the season and absolutely the epitome of eating local and in season. Sweet potatoes and panko are one thing. Messing with the greens is quite another.

The saying if it’s not broke, don’t fix it comes to mind, but here are a few choices for your fall and Thanksgiving menus.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA

Tangle of Winter Greens
Serves 4 to 6
Kale, collards, turnip greens, and mustard greens are dark leafy winter greens that are nutritional powerhouses and familiar friends on the Southern table. Look for brightly colored greens free of brown spots, yellowing edges, or limp leaves. Try flavorful seasonings such as smoked turkey or ham hock for the meat eaters and smoked salt or chipotle chiles for the vegetarians.

I once demonstrated this recipe on a local morning TV show. Aunt Louise was watching and told Mama later, “She took those greens out of that pan just like they were done!” You won’t believe how fast they cook, either.

The best way to clean greens is to fill a clean sink with cold water, add the greens, and swish them around. The dirt will fall to the bottom of the sink. Lift the greens out, drain the sink, and repeat until the water is clear and the greens are free of dirt and grit.

2 tablespoons canola oil
3 medium cloves garlic, mashed into a paste (see below)
1 medium bunch kale, collards, turnip greens, or mustard greens (about 11/2 pounds), cleaned, tough stems removed and discarded,
and leaves very thinly sliced in chiffonade
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and slightly damp ribbons of greens; season with salt and pepper. Cook until the greens are bright green and slightly wilted, 3 to 4 minutes. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Garlic Paste
To prepare garlic paste, place the broad side of an unpeeled clove of garlic on a clean work surface and give it a whack with the flat side of a chef’s knife. Remove the papery skin and trim away the tough basal plane at the top of the clove. Halve the garlic lengthwise and remove any of the green shoot, if present, as it is bitter. Coarsely chop the garlic, then sprinkle it with coarse salt. (The salt acts as an abrasive and helps chop the garlic.) Then, using the flat side of a chef’s knife like an artist’s palette knife, press firmly on the garlic, crushing a little at a time. Repeat until the garlic is a fine paste.

COLLARDS WITH HOG JOWL
Serves 4 to 6

Kale, collards, turnip greens, and mustard greens are dark leafy winter greens that are nutritional powerhouses and familiar friends on the Southern table. Look for brightly colored greens free of brown spots, yellowing edges, or limp leaves. Try flavorful seasonings such as smoked turkey or ham hock for the meat eaters and smoked salt or chipotle chiles for the vegetarians.

The best way to clean greens is to first remove the tough stalks and stems. Fill a clean sink with cold water. Place the greens in water and swish around, allowing the grit to fall to the bottom the sink. Lift greens out of the sink and transfer to a large bowl and rinse the sink. Repeat the process at least three times or more as needed until no grit remains.

2 pounds assorted greens, such as collard, kale, mustard, or turnip
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 medium Vidalia onions, chopped
2 cups water
1/2 pound hog jowl or fat back, sliced
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Add the onions and cook until golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the water and hog jowl and bring to a boil, gradually stir in the greens, allowing each batch to wilt before adding more; season with salt and pepper.

Reduce the heat to medium-low and cover. Cook, until greens are tender, stirring occasionally, about 60 minutes. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Using a slotted spoon, transfer greens to a serving dish.

NOT MEME’S GREENS! SPICY COLLARDS WITH SMOKED TURKEY
Serves 8

5 pounds assorted greens, such as collard, kale, mustard or turnip
2 medium Vidalia onions, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced
1 smoked turkey leg, about 1 1/2 pounds
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Fill a clean sink with cold water. Tear greens into large pieces and place in water to soak. Lift greens out of the sink and transfer to a large bowl, allowing grit to fall to the bottom the sink, rinse sink. Repeat process at least three times or more as needed.
Using a large pot over high heat, combine onions, oil, jalapeno and 2 cups water. Bring to a boil, gradually stir in the greens, allowing each batch to wilt before adding more. Add the turkey leg and cover with greens, season with salt and pepper.
Reduce the heat to medium-low and cover. Cook, until greens are tender, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes, being careful not to over cook. Remove the
turkey leg, cool slightly and remove meat from leg. Dice meat and add to greens. Using a slotted spoon, transfer greens to a serving dish.

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3 Responses to “Messing with Winter Greens”

  1. Virginia, you must be a mind reader, I needed to know the correct steps for selecting and preparing greens successfully. It is my turn to have the family for Thanksgiving. Thanks for the detailed info on greens. My dad used to cook them often for the family and for sure at Thanksgiving time, and your collards with hog jowl recipe was needed to carry on the tradition … Thanks for making it easy to follow … I will have them for our Thanksgiving feast and serve them with pride for the family in my dad’s honor and memory.

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