Sunday, February 3, 2013

Exploring the African Presence in Modern American Cuisine: Twice-Cooked Collard Greens

Man's yesterday may ne'er be like his morrow; Nought may endure but Mutability.
- Percy Bysshe Shelley

I can handle change.  It's my friends' constant reminders of change that give me pause.

"You've lost your southern charm.  You're kind of abrupt... slightly aggressive... and just a little rude.  You've become a true northerner!"
"Do you remember in college when you said you would never live above the Mason-Dixon Line?"   (For the record, Baltimore is actually below the Mason-Dixon Line)
"Do you still consider yourself a southerner?" 
"What!?!?  You don't eat meat?  You've lost your southern roots!" 

Hmph! I often think of myself as a cultural ambassador for the Deep South, showcasing the hospitality, style, quirkiness, wit and culture of the region through every fiber of my being.  I defy all those trite stereotypes about southerners, and I'm hospitable and kind.  While that may be true, I'm also a changed man.

In my stretch of the rural South, we have an open-door policy and it's completely acceptable for people to stop by my parents' house unannounced (Yeah, that's not gonna happen in Baltimore.  Let's schedule a time to get together so I can plan accordingly).  Some people come to chat.  Some people ask to borrow tools.  Some people come to pick a "mess o' greens" from the garden.   See, my dad would always plant rows and rows of mustards, turnips and collards, and the garden would be like a palette, overflowing with different shades of green. We would eat 'em, preserve 'em and let church members/relatives/friends of the family pick 'em, too.  It was like a psuedo community garden and my parents were doing their small part to nourish the community.

Collard greens are a true delicacy and staple of southern cooking.  In fact, they are the official state vegetable of South Carolina.  The dark green leafy vegetable originates in the eastern Mediterranean, but it was the African slaves who popularized their consumption in America.  White plantation owners at the time considered greens to be weeds, so it was one of the few vegetables that slaves were allowed to grow and harvest.  The slaves took the greens and ham hocks--relatively humble ingredients; scraps--and slowly cooked them down with a broth.  This cooking technique resulted in the rich flavorful broth known as pot likker, and the practice of drinking the nutrient-dense pot likker is truly African in origin.  For a more detailed history of collard greens, check out the following links:

In these recipes, I make some healthy changes (hopefully, that's okay with my critics) by skipping the pork, which is loaded with salt, fat, saturated fat and cholesterol, and packing on flavor with lemon, fresh herbs, garlic, onion, and sauteed mushrooms.  The collard greens are first braised (the traditional cooking technique) in a lemony, herbal broth and then sauteed (in a pan) with mushrooms, onions, hot sauce, sugar, crushed red pepper, vinegar, salt and pepper.  They are deliciously divine and completely vegan.  Dare I say, they're the best collard greens I've ever had.

Twice-Cooked Collard Greens

Braising Method

  • 2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
  • 1 tbsp flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp liquid smoke
  • 1/2 tsp white wine vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp white pepper
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 lbs collard greens (washed, stems removed and roughly chopped)
  • 3 cloves garlic, whole


Heat the vegetable broth and water in a large pot over medium-high heat.  Season with the next 11 ingredients.  Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat to a simmer.  Adjust seasoning, if desired.   Add the collard greens and garlic cloves, stir to combine and cover.  Cook until greens are tender, approximately 35 to 45 minutes.  Remove garlic cloves and bay leaves.  Enjoy.

Sauteing Method

  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1/4 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 lb baby bella mushrooms
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 lbs cooked collard greens (about 6 cups), drain the pot likker and eat like soup
  • 1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp white vinegar
  • Louisiana hot sauce, to taste
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste


Stir together lemon juice, soy sauce, honey and Worcestershire sauce.  Heat a 14- or 15-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat until very hot.  Add the olive oil and saute the mushrooms for about 2 minute.  Reduce heat to medium low.  Add the garlic, butter and soy sauce mixture.   Stir to combine.   Saute, stirring frequently, until the mushrooms are golden brown and a nice sauce has formed in pan, about 3-4 additional minute.  Set aside mushrooms and reserved sauce and allow to cool.  

In the same skillet, add the collard greens and onions.  Saute until the onions are translucent, about 8-10 minutes.  Add the mushrooms and reserved sauce, sugar, vinegar, hot sauce, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper to the collard greens mixture and stir to combine.  Saute for 2-3 additional minutes.  

Cook's Note: For a gourmet meal, these greens pair well with a pan-fried firm white fish, white wine and toasted French bread.  For a more casual preparation, pair them with your favorite protein, beer and cornbread.

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