Besides the butter dumplings, I learned to make a few other southern staples from the Bragg book. Several of the recipes were for the birds (literally), but there were some solid finds, too: creamed onions, jalapeno cornbread, ham and beans, stewed cabbage, and collards.
The collards, in particular, I was excited about. I’d always been curious about them — how could a bitter, boring vegetable be at the heart of a cuisine that relied so heavily on meat, fat, and sugar?
Turns out, the greens are anything but boring, and they cut the richness quite nicely — probably that’s the key to their success. I like them because they’re a cheap and delicious way to get great mounds of greens into our tummies, and the slow simmer is perfect for cold winter nights.
Never mind that no one else is particularly enthusiastic about my new discovery. It’s good for them and I’m in charge so end of story.
Adapted from The Best Cook in the World by Rick Bragg.
The first time I made these, I accidentally cooked the pot dry and the greens got slightly charred on the bottom. I immediately transferred them to another pot, added a little water and continued cooking, but rather then being a disaster, the chewy bits of caramelization made the greens taste fantastic — sweet and salty, with a hit of heat. The second time I cooked these, without any scorching, they weren’t quite as interesting. Do as you wish!
I used my dad’s homecanned hot sauce, but you can use whatever you have: sriracha, tabasco, dried peppers, etc. Just be careful not to go overboard. You’re aiming for only a whisper of heat.
2-3 large bunches of collard greens
2 slices bacon, rough chopped
A dollop of hot sauce
1 small clove garlic
1 tablespoon each salt and sugar
Devein the collards and discard the stems. Rough-chop the leaves into large pieces. Wash well. You should have enough greens to fill a 12-quart soup pot.
Put two to three cups of water into the pot. Add the bacon, hot sauce, garlic, salt (I usually start with half the amount and then add the rest at the end), and sugar. Pile in the greens.
Bring the water to a boil. Reduce the heat, clap on a lid, and simmer for about two hours. Use a pair of tongs to gently stir the greens every fifteen minutes or so. By the end there should be very little liquid, and the greens should so soft that you can easily cut them with the side of a fork.
Remove the garlic clove and taste to correct seasonings. Serve with ham and beans, cornbread, eggs, pot roast, whatever.