I know.  I’m really dragging out this one dinner I made almost a month ago.  It’s just that I got busy with field work, didn’t have the recipes with me at the field station to post, and then did all this other cooking that got me distracted.  Good thing I started readying The Help.  If you haven’t read this book, go get it at the bookstore or library!  Yes, like right NOW!  I’m only half-way done, but I can already tell it’s going to be one of my favorite books of all time!

So what does this book have to do with southern cooking?, you’re probably wondering.  Well, not much, other than the fact that it is set in Jackson Mississippi during the civil rights era and portrays the relationship between white families and their hired “help” (African American women) who do pretty much everything–including cooking–for them.  Aside from all the talk of cornbread, fried chicken, and caramel cakes, just reading the dialogue’s true-to-form southern accents makes me crave southern food.  So anyway, I have been inspired to tell you about the other side dish I made to accompany the blackened catfish and black-eyed peas in my southern feast: collard greens!

Ironically, I never knew I liked cooked greens until I moved to California.  In the south, people tend to boil them for a long time, so you end up with limp greens that have lost most of their “greenness.”  When I came to California I discovered swiss chard and how delicious it can be when sautéed simply with olive oil and garlic.  This opened my eyes to the wonderful world of greens and a new cookbook I recently bought, Greens Glorious Greens!,  has introduced me to a ton of new ideas for how to prepare them.  I came across several collard green recipes in this cookbook and decided to try the quick southern-style  collards with bacon.  You do boil these greens, but only for 6-10 minutes, so they retain their shape and a bright green color.  Then you sauté leeks and the quick-boiled greens in rendered bacon fat.  ooooooh yeah.

Another fun thing to try is the cookbook’s recommended technique for quickly chopping the greens into strips.  After you remove the midrib from the leaf, you roll a stack of leaves into the shape of a cigar and then slice it crosswise into 1/2 inch thick strips.  I don’t know if this saved me any time since I took so many pictures of the process, but it at least made the chopping more interesting!  So there you have it: a complete southern meal.  Wait, did I just say complete?  Surely, SURELY you know there’s a dessert post coming soon…

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Quick Southern-Style Collards and Bacon
from Greens Glorious Greens!

Serves 2-3.

Ingredients
3 strips bacon
3/4 pound collard greens (6 or 7 cups, chopped)
2 cups water
1 cup thinly sliced leeks or onions
pinch of salt or to taste

Directions
1. Heat a 10-inch cast-iron skillet. Fry the bacon until golden and fat is rendered. Remove bacon from fat to paper towels to drain. Pout off rendered fat to a metal container to reserve. Wipe out pan.

2. Wash collards, remove stalks, and stack 4 to 5 leaves. Roll like cigar and slice into thin strips, approximately 1/4 inch wide (note: I did 1/2 inch strips). In a large skillet with a lid, bring water to a boil. Add the greens and cook on high heat, covered, for 8 to 10 minutes for tough, older greens, 4 to 6 minutes for tender baby greens. Cooked greens should be tender but still bright green. Remove greens from cooking liquid to a bowl, using a slotted spoon. Save “pot likker” to drink.

3. In a large skillet, heat 1 teaspoon of the bacon drippings over medium heat. Add leeks or onions and sauté for 5 to 8 minutes, until softened. Stir in collards to coat with leeks and drippings.

4. Season with salt, if desired. Crumble cooled bacon over the hot greens.

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