When I moved to the South, I took to okra immediately - it grows like crazy in my backyard and I cook it in various wonderful iterations, then pickle, freeze, and dry it and enjoy it. I am not in the least bit self-conscious of my okra affinity.
But collards? Truth be told, they're more complicated. Oftentimes when I would have them, they were too fatty for me and too doctored up. I wanted collards without the fancy dressing up, darn it.
But shortly after I moved here, I tried cooking my own collards to my own specifications. And honey child, they were atrocious. Bitter and tough (perhaps from the supermarket and not really fresh) and BLECH! And I gave up for the time being.
Now though, I feel more sure about my southern cooking repertoire, and so I tried again when I picked up some beautiful greens from the Farmers Market. And they're so good I think I might eat the whole darn pot today! Fortunately they're darn good for me - and here is an interesting article on their history & nutrition.
Put one smoked ham hock in a large pot of liquid. (The liquid can be broth or water or whey from yogurt making, which is what I used.) Boil it to get the flavor of the ham hock in the liquid. (I boiled it about two hours, and truthfully this was too long because that flavor is too dominant. Next time I'll boil it maybe 1/2 hour, then pull out the ham hock and set it aside to use for something else later.)
While that is simmering, clean your greens. Generally for cleaning greens such as collards, you need to do a fair amount of dunking in a big tub of water and rinsing. They do trap dirt. Then chop the greens. I keep almost all the stem (just trimming off the bottom bit). I take a big bunch of collards and roll them together and chop through all the stems then on up to the leaves.
When the ham hock is falling apart, add the collards to the broth and stir well. (If they won't all fit, add what you can then let it wilt down a bit and then add the rest.)
Simmer for about 45 minutes. The collards are a tough bunch, and they need the time to break down the bitterness and fiber. The long cooking (usually I lightly cook vegetables so this goes against my intuition) is actually important to release nutrients as well.
Flavor to taste. Definitely taste before salting! The smoked ham hock was super salty to me. I had just finished a jar of pickled okra and tossed in the garlic & peppers from that jar, as well as a bit of the vinegar.
Enjoy! I ate on "Jazzmen" rice (also super good with cornbread) with a good dash of Crystal hot sauce on top. And oh soul, so good!
The liquid left from cooking greens is called "pot likker" and is super tasty and nutritious. You can sop it up with cornbread or rice, or you can save it and use as a soup base.
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