Easy Ways to Cook Greens
The Epitome of Southern Cooking
I am a born and bred southerner. And as most of us southerners know, there is one dish you absolutely have to know how to prepare and cook in order to successfully be considered a wonder in the kitchen.
Macaroni and Cheese is a dish that is associated with the south, but I mean now it is been duplicated and imitated the extent it is no longer truly special to us in the heart of dixie. Barbecue has become the same way, even though the most common form is actually southern (sorry Texas but I cannot consider you as part of the south).
So now all we have left is the pride and glory of southern cuisine: greens. When I think of greens, I think of the heart and soul of many Sunday Dinners. Cooked just right they are a culinary masterpiece all unto themselves, cooked incorrectly you become the butt of many jokes.
Greens have a certain flavor that is unique to them. My personal favorite are collards. Just the way they taste and their texture alone is enough to make me smile. I will be honest, I did not always like them as a kid, but they have definitely grown on me since.
And hopefully with the help of this hub, you will love greens as much if not more as I do.
How to Purchase Greens
I usually would not include proper purchasing technique for most foods, but greens are a special exception. The first thing to know is that greens eventually cook down after being over heat, so while they may look big to begin with they will shrink to about half the size once cooked. With this in mind, you want to get a few healthy stalks of greens depending on the number of people you are serving and/or you want leftovers.
1-3 People: About one and a half to two bunches of mustard greens/turnips are sufficient for a small group of people or a single serving. For collards, this is the equivalent of two medium stalks.There is a scale located in most grocery stores and fresh markets that allows you to weigh your greens. If you work better with scales, that is about one to two or so pounds.
4-6 People: For mustard greens and collards that is anywhere from two and a half to four bunches. And for collards that is about three medium or two large stalks. Again, if you prefer to weigh your greens it equals anywhere from three pounds to six pounds.
7 or More People: Well, this pretty much means doubling or tripling the previous amounts mentioned.
Bagged Greens: I personally have a disdain for bagged greens mainly because they sell half of the product for twice the price. But if this is all that is available, be careful in that what you buy is still going to cook down to half of what you believe you are buying. Either way, I still consider them a step up from canned greens but about the same as frozen greens.
Frozen Greens: These are pre-cut and precooked, so all you have to do is essentially nuke them in the microwave or warm them over the stove. But like with bagged greens, you have to consider serving portions if you are truly serious about making them for any number of people.
Canned Greens: This is an absolute last resort for me. If there's no other types of greens available, I will think about buying them but so far I have managed to dodge them. Like I said, there's nothing wrong with them but if you are used to fresh it is definitely a step down.
Cutting and Cleaning Greens
This is getting down to the nitty gritty-literally. Anyone who is serious about making delicious greens knows that having them properly cut and cleaned is more important than anything. If your greens are poorly prepared, no amount of seasoning will save your efforts.
In order to cut greens that are freshly picked, you can use a chopping board and knife to get the job done or read on to see how I let appliances do the job for me!
If you have a sizeable amount of greens, you can wash them one of two ways. The first is the tried and true sink washing method in which you fill the sink with warm water and transfer the greens back and forth between waters on both sides of your sink. Or you can do it how my grandma taught us years ago: slip them into the washing machine.
Now before you go thinking I fell off the wagon of cooking sanity, my grandma was not a culinary genius for nothing. She knew her way around any kitchen and even as she was aged, managed to stay on top of things. Putting greens in the washer on the rinse cycle helps eliminate the many annoyances of preparing greens.
- Stalks- Unlike most vegetables where the stalk is revered and used, in greens it is mostly considered a nuisance and interferes with the delightful pleasure of eating them.
- Grit and Dirt- This is probably the worst thing about eating improperly cleaned greens. Imagine tripping at the beach and not rinsing your mouth- that's what it tastes like when you leave grit- which is why you should absolutely avoid leaving anything behind.
- Withered Greens- Anything in your greens that is not green but apart of the leaf is essentially withered, which means you do not want to eat it.
- Other Extras- If you happen to get greens fresh from a field, there might be something else attached to them such as roots and other vegetables starting to sprout. Picking them off is a simple matter that doesn't take that long.
After cutting and cleaning, the bulk of the dirty work is done. All that is left now is to cook your greens.
Now it is all about getting your seasonings in order. This is about making sure you have something to season your greens with. While I have a recipe for some methods, if you want a good pot of home-cooked greens, there are a few items that will help you along the way.
- Bacon Drippings- Alot of us southern cooks have a grease canteen of leftover bacon grease for seasoning. It is very handy and usually helps. However, if you want the fresh taste of bacon you can always take a fresh batch of fried bacon and add the grease to the pan. Another method will be discussed later in the hub.
- Onion or Onion Powder- Fresh onion does a world of good to most dishes, especially foods that absorb flavor as well as greens do. But if you have an allergy, sensitivity, or just don't plain like it all that much, you can always complete your pantry with Onion Powder found in the seasoning section of the grocery story.
- Salt and Pepper- This should be a no-brainer, but I still err on the side of caution in case people are apprehensive to using it. A word to the wise about the pepper: go light. Not everyone likes it that much and it can be added later to individual servings to the taste of the diner.
- Chicken or Beef Broth/Stock/Cubes/FlavorBoost- In recent years, our family has been straying away from the old guard of flavoring that my grandparents used. So instead of fat from animals, we use stocks as a strong flavor base and it helps quite considerably
These are what I consider essential ingredients for good greens. You do not have to include all of them but most of them used in conjunction plump up any pot of greens. There are some things that I would encourage in very small doses if at all for seasoning greens. They have their use, but used too heavily it may not earn you favorable returns.
- Vinegar- If you watch Food Network and Top Chef like I do, they always talk about acidity and how it adds to a dish. That's what vinegar does but you have to remember the greens are like the base, so you have temper that as not to overwhelm the diner. No more than a tablespoon will do you well.
- Ham- I personally do not eat or use ham for my cooking but it can help improve the flavor of greens. If you want to use it, make sure the salt has been boiled out of it if it's cured.
- Fat Back- If you know about southern eating, you know what this is. If you do not, consider yourself lucky. I would say do not use it at all but if you know what you are doing, that's all well and good.
Cooking Your Greens
Now here's the real part of cooking greens, the actual cooking part. Now that you have made it this stage, it's all gravy from here.
- Get a pot ready- Preferably a large one with a lid that helps you keep the simmering steady.
- Put the pot on and preheat the stove- The stove should be on a low to medium setting. If you want your greens to cook faster, use the medium setting and if you want a slow-cooker effect, you should definitely put it on low.
- Pour in liquid ingredients as a base- If you are seasoning with broth, bacon grease, or any other liquid to keep the greens coated and from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
- Place greens in pot and add sprinkle seasoning in- If you have any seasonings such as onion powder and pepper, you can put them in and stir accordingly.
- Stir your greens at least every 15 minutes- You have to be vigilant about keeping them rotated with a lot of flavor and not loosing moisture.
- Final touches- Add your vinegar in the last few minutes to add the extra layer of flavor.
- Serve and Enjoy- That's pretty self explanatory!
Awesome Greens Recipes
Brazilian Collards: I will tell you up front, this is probably one of my favorite recipes of all time for any kind of dish. I first got to eat these in college at a gathering and while I forget the other dishes, this recipe remains a staple for me. I got this recipe from Allrecipes and I give many thanks to the user.
Smothered Turnips: This is another recipe that is great for Turnips. I have used a similar recipe once before and it turned out pretty well.
Unfortunately, I don't have any recipes for Mustard greens but I will definitely be on the look out.
A Video Cooking Lesson for Collards!
- Smothered Turnips Recipe from Phillip
A great accompaniment to wild game. Smothered Turnips Recipe from Phillip.
- Brazilian Collards Recipe - Allrecipes.com
Spicy, tangy collard greens accented with black pepper bacon, cayenne pepper and vinegar are a big deal in Brazil. Here is my recipe. Since bacon fat is an essential part of this recipe don't drain it during any of the steps! I say that if your veggi