Confession: I didn’t know anything about greens before I met my now-husband 18 years ago. I mean, I knew about lettuce. And I kinda knew about spinach. But turnip greens? Never heard of ’em. And collards? Nope. Back then, at least as far as I knew, greens were a delicacy unknown to the Eastern Montana palate.
But you don’t hang out with real Southerners and not get real acquainted with greens. They like them, they eat them, and they know how to cook them. Greens are among the finest delights in a Southern home. I can picture now my mother-in-law’s hands — though they are over 1,700 miles away from my kitchen — meticulously laying each giant collard leaf out on a cutting board; carefully slicing out all the thick, vein-like stems; rolling each leaf tightly and slicing it into ribbons; and dropping heaps of the ribbons into a stockpot full of simmering broth. Greens are, like most Southern recipes, a labor of love.
Over the years my tastebuds have developed to appreciate many of the flavors I was unacquainted with back before our Montana-Alabama union introduced me to a whole new world, and now I look forward to diving into a big ol’ pot of greens as much as Beau does. They are a whole new category of vegetable.
Now. Where to find them.
I’ve never had success growing collards here in Montana, but I’m trying again this year. The seedlings are in my kitchen now:
I’ll keep you updated on that project. Until then…
For as long as we’ve been married, Beau and I have been able to find canned prepared collard greens on the shelf in the grocery store here in Montana. They’re not too bad, but not quite the real thing. A little better: for the last couple years we’ve been able to find packages of pre-cut collard pieces in the produce aisle — now that’s a step in the right direction! They’re still not quite the real thing, but they’ll do in a pinch.
The trouble I have with the pre-cut, packaged collards is that they haven’t been lovingly sliced, leaf by leaf, on the wood cutting board in a dim kitchen. Nope; these grocery store doo-dahs have evidently been hacked (near to death) by automated blades in a factory somewhere. Which means that the bag is full of bite-size pieces of both collard greens AND stems. They (whoever they are, right?) are hoping you won’t notice those stem pieces in your package of collards!
But I notice them. And I promise you will too. I’m not convinced collard green stems are meant to be eaten; if you DO eat them, you will have to simmer the soup much longer in order to tenderize the stem pieces.
So below is a really easy recipe for soup with collard greens in it. This soup is forgiving of the sort of collard greens we can obtain in Montana grocery stores. The only hard part of the recipe is that (unless you live in the South and have fresh greens available), you must open up the bag of pre-cut greens you’ve purchased at the grocery store and — WARNING! BEFORE DUMPING IT IN THE SOUP! — sort through it to fish out all the chunks of stem.
Or… don’t be a perfectionist like me. It’s up to you, I guess.
Sorting the stem pieces out is time consuming, yes. But worth it in the end. Like I said, greens are, like most Southern recipes, a labor of love.
Here’s the recipe. Delicious and good for you, too. Try it — even our kids like it!
Collard Greens Soup
1 lb. bulk breakfast sausage
12 c. chicken broth
28-oz. can diced tomatoes
fresh collard greens (the more the better!)
3/4 c. quick barley
to taste: Creole seasoning, salt, garlic powder, dried minced onion
Brown the sausage in a soup pot; no need to drain. Pour in the broth and diced tomatoes, then add the greens and stir them in as they wilt down. Add the barley and seasonings; simmer on the stovetop 30 minutes. Adjust the seasonings and serve with Southern-style cornbread.
No better way to win over a Southerner than with a pot full of greens.
Unless, of course, it’s with a cast-iron skillet full of dry ‘n’ savory cornbread.
© Tami Blake