I don’t often follow recipes because I’m a ‘give it a whirl’ kind of a girl, but sometimes when you are cooking something you have never cooked before you need a bit of guidance. And collard greens don’t tend to feature in the average kiwi cookbook. I didn’t even bother to look. Instead I turned to The CSA Cookbook where Linda Ly of Garden Betty fame reveals how to cook American style, with no waste. I had precious memories to recreate and I didn’t want to mess it up.
The first, last and only time I’d ever eaten collard greens was during my trip to Atlanta in February and it was one of the items on my plate during lunch. I was a little sceptical at first, however, when in Rome… So I tucked in and was pleasantly surprised. The greenery on my plate, which if I’m honest resembled boiled to death cabbage, was delicious. It had a lovely flavour that is a little hard to define – but nothing like boiled to death cabbage.
I liked it well enough to find out if I could get the seeds here and had some in the ground before I’d completely unpacked from my trip. Then I waited impatiently all autumn and all winter for the plants to be big enough to raid for their luscious green leaves.
Now following instructions isn’t my strong point, and so at a glance I saw you had to remove the stems from the leaves, and I was about to feed them to the goats because I thought it might make a great photo to help tell this tale. But another quick glance at the page revealed something I hadn’t noticed in my haste to get started – the stems were to be chopped on the diagonal… opps. The rest of the leaves were rolled up and chopped into thick ribbons. I guess the stems are removed to make the chopping into ribbons easier.
Onions and garlic are added to a pot. My garlic crop last year was so dreadful that it went straight onto the compost heap. Buying any is like adding insult to injury so I have mostly avoided it. We had elephant garlic and that will do in most situations. But for this dish I bought out the precious slithers of garlic I’d been saving for special occasions – the skinny cloves from the centre of the seed bulbs for this season. I only planted the plump cloves from the outside of the bulbs because skinny cloves give mingy bulbs and no one wants that.
This is where I deviated from the recipe because I didn’t have ham hocks but I did have bacon pieces so it was close enough. Then a lot of water went in and cider vinegar, black pepper and chilli flakes. I also snuck in some of my homemade smoked, dried chilli powder because it has such a lovely flavour and it goes into everything. I think it will be the flavour that will take my boys right back to their childhoods, should they come across anything remotely similar when they are grown men out and about in the world.
The next step had me a little concerned – leaving it to cook for an hour! This brought back images of that boiled to death cabbage, and seems to counterproductive to the healthy eating messages we receive these days about not overcooking veggies to retain nutrients. But I’m not American so I had to trust the recipe. It wouldn’t be a classic dish if it resembled the cabbagey grey mush.
With an hour to kill I decided to complement my American collard greens with American cornbread and a quick look on the great big internet found me a recipe with things that I actually had in the cupboard. All except the key ingredient – cornmeal. This isn’t something found as a staple in my kitchen. I did have some polenta lurking in the back of the cupboard from some other experimental cuisine journey. So I figured close enough and it formed the basis of my jalapeno cornbread. It seemed to work well enough. Well I think so – I’ve never made it before.
To complete the meal I had a humble beef casserole that I had prepared earlier and been slow cooking for several hours, and some carrots and leeks pulled fresh from the garden. We are on a mission to eat as many veggies as we can, because not only do I need the garden beds for new crops, but I also need the freezer space. Forget 5+ a day, I’m upping it to 10+, maybe 15 at a push if necessary. In earlier winter I am more cautious – it has to last all winter. By the end of winter I realise “all winter” isn’t that long and we need to eat up!
And then it all comes together in a well-rounded nutritious meal, with the final flourish of a splash of Southern Hot Pepper Vinegar that I prepared months in advance as the recipe assured me it complimented the collard greens, and of course it did nicely.
I proudly served it up to my family with a Di-dah, and they did what I did the first time and were a little sceptical. I can say there were no collard greens left in the pot at the end of the meal and they were mostly gobbled up. However the Joeyosaurus just looked at me and shook his head – well you can’t please everyone. I was transported back to that cold day in Atlanta where I was hanging with my friends sharing a meal. Happy days.
Come again soon – maybe it will stop raining soon.
Sarah the Gardener : o )