Fine Cooking (June/July 2010)
We're still loving Fine Cooking's "Greens Guide," a lengthy feature on new ways to prepare early-summer greens. Seriously, it's one of those features worth ripping out and tacking up on your fridge all summer long. We were extremely pleased with the Rainbow Chard with Pine Nuts, Parmesan, and Basil we made earlier, and we were eager to try these Quick-Sautéed Collard Ribbons.
Collard greens are actually a very familiar sight in our kitchen. Our CSA hands them out by the armload this time of year, and we both grew up eating them at home.
Now, we've extolled the kitchen skills of Zach's Granny many times already, she of the Fried Okra, Chocolate Gravy and Apple Stack Cake. And if you went to her house for dinner, you could almost always count on Granny serving collard greens (or, as she'd call them, "a mess a' collards").
Granny was a very, very fine cook, and we're sure the collards she made were excellent. But she always prepared them in a very old-school Southern way -- sautéed in pork fat, salt and vinegar and then cooked down to within an inch of their lives. By the time they ended up on your plate, Granny's collards were a brownish mushy mound of limp, stewed greens.
With all due respect to Granny, we think we've found a recipe we like better. With just a few little innovations, these Quick-Sautéed Collard Ribbons from Fine Cooking rescue Granny's greens from an overcooked, over-salted fate.
Granny actually had good reason for cooking her collard greens so long: Collards are tough and woody (especially the stems), and you need a long cooking time to break them down. The extended cook-time also helps temper their naturally bitter flavor.
But this recipe cleverly avoids that problem. By discarding the stems and cutting the leaves into very fine little ribbons, you don't need need to cook the greens long at all. In fact, you only sauté them for about a minute! The greens taste fresh and vibrant.
And any bitterness is tempered by the garlic, red pepper, malt vinegar and maple syrup. We didn't think a tablespoon of vinegar and a couple teaspoons of syrup would be enough to make much of a difference. But we were blown away! The malty vinegar gives the greens a great base of flavor, and the syrup adds just the right sweetness.
We won't totally give up on Granny's greens (we do loves us some pork fat and salt!), but for a lighter, more summery -- and much, much faster -- take on collards, we've got a new favorite recipe.
1 Tbs. malt vinegar
2 tsp. maple syrup
1-1/2 lb. collard greens (about 30 leaves)
2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
4 small cloves garlic, lightly smashed and peeled
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
In a small bowl, whisk the malt vinegar and maple syrup.
Trim the stem from each collard leaf with a sharp knife, dividing the leaf completely in half lengthwise as you cut away the stem. Discard the stems; wash and dry the leaves.
Stack half of the leaves and roll them up tightly crosswise into a cigar shape. Using a very sharp knife, cut the collard “cigar” crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Use your fingers to unfurl the slices, which will be tightly curled together. Repeat with the second half of the leaves.
In a 12-inch nonstick skillet, heat the olive oil and the garlic over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring and flipping the garlic, until it’s fragrant and just lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Remove and discard the garlic. Add the pepper flakes, stirring to distribute in the hot oil, and immediately add the collards and 1/2 tsp. salt. Using tongs, stir and toss the collards until they’re coated with the oil, and continue tossing until they are slightly wilted, about 1 minute. Most of the greens will have turned a bright green, with some beginning to turn a darker green. Do not overcook, as they will become tough. Take the pan off the heat, drizzle on the maple-vinegar mixture, stir well, and transfer to a shallow serving platter. Serve immediately.