Looking Down the Barrel of Some Smoking Greens

Sorry for the title-pun. I’m feeling punny these days thanks to the quixotic weather and the tantalizing stuff I’ve been lugging home from the farmers’ market. This week I picked up a couple of kohlrabi, 2 bunches of meaty collard greens, some beets, and strawberries.

The strawberries didn’t make it home, I ate the on the way home from the market of course. As for the kohlrabi, well they went into a slaw recipe that’s in my Farm To Table Cookbook. I got the recipe from the dear chef of The Farm Café, Fern Smith. Kohlrabi Salad With Pea Shoots is so ding-dang good in fact, that I lent the recipe to the lovely Molly Wizenberg of Orangette and she featured it on her award winning blog, Orangette. Thanks, Molly.

The bulbs of the kohlrabi were great, but their big, deep green leaves were even better. You see, I live for braised greens, it’s a yearning in my soul. I eat them weekly, and I’m not picky about what vegetable the greens come from. Now, I know what you’re thinking. “What’s a yankee girl from Sheboygan, Wisconsin doing saying she lives for collards?” And you’re right, partially. I don’t think I ever had them until I visited New Orleans, where I had them served alongside boiled crawdads and an icy cold PBR. The combination of their iron-rich hearty flavor and meaty chewiness did me in. I didn’t know what I had been missing and I’ve been making up for lost time ever since.

I have since asked every Southerner I meet how they cook their greens, and how their momma cooked greens, and how their grandmothers cooked greens and so on. I’ve tested recipes six ways to Sunday and the ones I like best are cooked with sautéed onion, a bit of vinegar, and much to the chagrin of my husband Mr. Tofu, bacon, smoked pork hock or neck bones. The extra oompf of smoky meat makes a mess of greens all the better.

But Mr. Tofu is always left out. Which usually means I have to make him a separate vegetable dish, which is a pain. So this time, I made the greens with smoked salt instead of smoked meat. I used artisan smoked salt, a coarse sea salt that was traditionally smoked by Salish Native Americans over alder wood. It lends an earthy smoke flavor to everything it touches, meat or no.

They were a lovely batch of greens, I must say. Smoky, slightly salty, and melt in your mouth tender, just like I like them. Of course, I did cook a few slices of smoked bacon in the microwave and added it to the pot after I set aside some veggie greens for Mr. Tofu because as my buddy Justin Esch says, “Everything tastes better with bacon.”

Smoky Greens with Yankee Cornbread
Serves 6

Yankee Cornbread:
1 cup fine cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
⅓ cup sugar
1 tablespoons baking powder
⅓ teaspoon salt
¾ cup milk
½ cup sour cream or plain yogurt
2 eggs
6 tablespoons melted butter, cooled slightly

2 large bunches of greens—collards, kohlrabi, beet, mustard, chard
2 tablespoons of mild olive oil
1 1/2 cups finely chopped onion
1 large clove garlic, chopped
3 cups water
1 tablespoons apple cider or white wine vinegar
2 pinches sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons smoked salt, plus more to taste
Hot sauce, to taste
3 strips smoked bacon

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch-square baking pan with nonstick cooking spray or melted butter. Whisk the dry ingredients together in a large bowl until well combined.
2. In another bowl, whisk the milk, sour cream, eggs, and melted butter together until blended. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon until just blended. Spread the mixture into prepared pan. Bake for 40 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
3. While the cornbread bakes, prepare the greens. Wash the greens in a sink full of cool water. Tear the leaves away from their tough ribs in the center of each leaf. Compost the tough ribs. Stack the leaves into manageable piles, roll them up tightly, and thinly slice into a chiffonade with a chef’s knife. Put in a colander to drain further.
4. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent, 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 30 seconds. Add the greens, water, vinegar, sugar, and smoked salt. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook until tender, 30 minutes. Season with hot sauce and additional smoked salt to taste. Keep warm over low heat.
5. Place the bacon on a dinner plate, cover with a paper towel and microwave until the bacon is crispy, about 2 1/2 minutes. Chop the bacon and return it to the plate with any of its accumulated fat.
6. Vegetarian: Transfer about 1/6 th of the greens and “pot liquor” (cooking liquid) to a serving bowl, cover and keep warm. (If you are serving more than 1 vegetarian, set aside more greens.)
7. Add the bacon and bacon fat to the pot with the remaining greens and bring to a boil. Cook for 1 minute. Serve both batches of greens with the warm cornbread.

4 Responses to Looking Down the Barrel of Some Smoking Greens

  1. Lisa Bell May 27, 2009 at 3:41 PM #

    I have that same salish salt…excellent idea for my vegan friends! also have massive surplus of greens at our house. Kale, russian and italian, pokchoy, collards and arugula.

  2. Ivy May 27, 2009 at 5:42 PM #

    Throw em in a pot and let it rip!
    PS. mixing honey and butter together for the cornbread is a good good thing. I used Virginia Willis’ cornbread recipe and it was lovely.

  3. Jacqueline Church May 28, 2009 at 3:24 AM #

    Did you hear the guy on Splendid Table doing healthy soul food? Can’t recall his name but collard greens with no pork is a mystery to me. I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around broccoli rabe with no pork tomorrow. Will amp up the umami with mushrooms and add some grated parmigiano reggiano. Sauteeing with garlic, oil, cooked wheatberries, red pepper flakes. Sort of eating down the fridge meal! Fingers crossed.

  4. Ivy May 28, 2009 at 5:36 PM #

    Jacqueline- I did hear that! I have lived with Mr. Tofu long enough that I have figured out how to make things with pork for me, and veggie for him. I keep telling him he’s missing out, but he won’t listen 🙂 Give me some neck bones anyday… Good luck with the rabe, yum! Thanks for your comment!

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