People don’t eat collard greens often enough, probably because they just haven’t tried them—they look deceptively old-fashioned and limp, like something on offer at a depressing cafeteria or prepared by your grandmother who isn’t such a good cook. When I was a child, they definitely fell into my category why would anyone eat that, and even when I finally grew up and embraced green vegetables, I liked ‘em firm and bright—not soft, murky, and bacon-studded. I came around (was forced to, really, by boredom with the standard repertoire of Italianate sautéed greens), even to the point of wishing we could serve collards alongside the fried chicken and corn pudding at our wedding. We left them off the menu since I was worried people wouldn’t try them, but my evangelical zeal has not diminished: please make yourself a pot of collard greens.
Tender, smoky, mellow, and toothsome, long-simmered greens make a great side dish for barbecue and fried chicken, among other things, and are also good with nothing but rice. I like them at room temperature as much as I like them hot. Even after I was converted to the greens, I was skeptical about the supposed deliciousness of pot likker, their simmering liquid, which Southerners will sip straight up. Well, what a fool I was—pot likker is delicious, especially with corn bread. Even dry, disappointing corn bread shines when combined with collard greens.
- 1 bunch collard greens (usually 1 1/2 to 2 pounds), well washed
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- Big pinch red pepper flakes, to taste
- 1⁄4 pound bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 5 or 6 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 cups broth or water
- Salt and pepper
- 1⁄2 teaspoon chipotle pepper, optional but recommended
Cut the tough central stems from the collard leaves. Stack the leaves, roll them up lengthwise, and slice crosswise into ribbons.
Heat the olive oil in a large, deep pot over medium heat and add the red pepper flakes and bacon. Cook until the fat renders out and the bacon is getting crispy. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon.
Add the garlic and onion and turn the heat to low. Cook, stirring frequently, until soft and golden. This should take at least 10 minutes. Do not allow the onion and garlic to darken; lower the heat if necessary.
Add the collard greens to the pot in big handfuls, stirring each one until wilted. Add the bacon back to the pot. Pour in the broth or water and season with a little salt and pepper. (Be careful about adding too much salt to greens, as they will cook down and the salt will concentrate.) Bring to a low simmer, cover, lower the heat, and cook for as long as it takes to reach the tenderness you prefer. Twenty to 30 minutes is about right for me.
Taste for salt and pepper. If you like, stir in 1/2 teaspoon or more minced chipotle in adobo.