We Southerners think we own greens. We even romanticize collards, saying that first frost imparts a sweetness that removes their natural bitterness.
Now I love a pot of long-simmered, pork-scented mustard, turnips, collards or kale as much as anybody.
Yet there’s complexity of flavors and techniques to be found throughout the world of greens.
Brazilians slice kale into chiffonade, sauté it with olive oil and garlic and serve it as an accompaniment to pork-laden feijoada. Italians add greens to hearty full-meal soups and stews.
The French bathe spinach in cream and butter, an elegant treatment that suits collards and kale just as well. Just lately, baked kale leaves have been hailed as a healthy answer to potato chips.
Bet you can’t eat just one.
Everywhere you look, American cooks celebrate leafy greens in ways both fresh and old-fashioned.
Atlanta’s Miller Union serves kale and squash toasts. North Carolina food writer Sheri Castle’s “The New Southern Garden Cookbook” devotes an entire chapter to greens, from Melted Tuscan Kale to Creamed Collard and Country Ham Pot Pie with Cornmeal Pastry.
In “The Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook,” Birmingham, Ala., chef Frank Stitt offers collard green and white bean gratin, a delicious peasant dish that’s kinda like a Southern cassoulet.
After cooking through a bunch of recipes for this article, I ended up with a big mess of turnips and kale. Using olive oil, bacon, onion, celery, garlic, hot pepper, vinegar and a splash of molasses, I simmered up a basic pot of greens.
I dumped in leftover white beans and chopped new potatoes and topped it off with grilled sausage.
With a little fooling around, you, too, can create a dish that gives mama’s pot likker a shot of flair.
These chips are a cinch to make and a healthy, low-calorie alternative to fried potato chips. Feel free to doctor up with your favorite spices or seasoning salt.
Easy Kale Chips
1 bunch kale
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons vinegar (optional)
1 teaspoon sea salt
Rinse kale in a colander. Remove the tough inner stems. If using curly leaved kale, discard the stems and tear kale into potato-chip size pieces. If using lacinato kale (also known as dinosaur kale, black kale, Tuscan kale, etc.) remove stems with a sharp knife, leaving two long strips. Thoroughly dry the kale pieces, preferably with a salad spinner. If you don’t have a salad spinner, gently dry with a soft dish towel.
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
Dump the kale into a large bowl. Drizzle with olive oil, and toss until the chips are evenly coated. Add vinegar (if using) and toss again. Place kale on baking sheet in a single layer. Bake for 10 minutes or until the chips are just crisp. (You may need to bake in more than one batch. Be careful not to overbake; kale chips burn easily.) Remove from oven. Season with sea salt. Serve immediately. Store any leftovers in an airtight container. Serves 4.
Per serving: 39 calories (77 percent from fat), 1g protein, 2g carbohydrates, trace fiber, 3g fat (trace saturated fat), no cholesterol, 177mg sodium.
By adding a bit more meat and cheese, you can turn Alabama chef Frank Stitt’s collard gratin into a main dish. I found that a 1-pound bag of prewashed collards worked perfectly; canned beans would also taste fine and save time.
1 pound collard greens, stems and tough ribs removed
5 garlic cloves, 1 crushed and 4 chopped
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 medium onion, chopped
1 small red bell pepper, cut into ½-inch pieces
3 cups cooked white beans, ½ cup cooking liquid reserved
½ cup (plus more, if desired) diced or chopped cooked ham-hock meat, sausage, chorizo or bacon
1/3 cup (plus more, if desired) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
Salt and pepper
½ cup (plus more, as needed) medium- coarse fresh bread crumbs
In a large pot, cover the collards with salted water and boil over medium heat until tender, about 30 minutes. Drain well and chop into small pieces. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Vigorously rub the inside of a 10- or 12- inch gratin dish with the crushed garlic. Discard the crushed garlic and set the dish aside.
Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and bell pepper and cook, stirring often, until tender, about 8 minutes. Add the chopped garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the collard greens, stir to coat, and cook for 1 minute. Transfer to a large bowl.
Stir in the beans, meat, roughly half the Parmigiano-Reggiano, 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and rosemary. Season with salt and pepper. If the mixture seems too dry, add enough of the reserved bean cooking liquid to moisten. (If you don’t have liquid, use water.) Spread the mixture in the prepared dish. Top with the bread crumbs and remaining Parmigiano-Reggiano. Drizzle with remaining olive oil.
Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake until the filling is hot and bubbly, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove the foil and bake until the top of the gratin is golden and crusty, another 10 minutes. Serve hot. Serves 6 (side-dish portions).
– Adapted from “The Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook” (UGA Press, $24.95)
Per serving, based on 6: 294 calories (37 percent from fat), 15g protein, 33g carbohydrates, 9g fiber, 12g fat (3g saturated), 10mg cholesterol, 273mg sodium.