Get Your Greens & Veggies! Intro to Southern Cooking Side Dishes

Southern Vegetable

Southern food is the epitome of ultimate comfort food, would you agree with the sentiment? Without a doubt fried chicken and hot chicken are the stars of show in Southern cooking. The love of both fried chicken and Nashville style hot chicken are an international one that spans across the ages. Life is all about balance and we would love too but can’t live on Nashville style hot chicken or fried chicken alone.

No doubt you have tried popular Southern sides such as potato salad, macaroni and cheese, fried pickles and coleslaw. But what about all the other delicious Southern vegetable side dishes out there? There’s so much to love about Southern cooking and we have to tip our hat to Southern vegetables and greens beyond fried pickles and crunchy crisp coleslaw.

We begin with a nutritional powerhouse known as collard greens which are an absolute staple dish in Southern cuisine. So what exactly are collards? Wikipedia explains that, “Collard refers to certain loose-leafed cultivars of Brassica oleracea, the same species as many common vegetables, including cabbage and broccoli. Collard is a member of the Viridis Group of Brassica oleracea.” Did you know that collards are related to broccoli?

Unlike spinach or baby spinach, collards require a longer cooking time to break down the greens. The longer cooking time allows the greens to soften up texture wise, to absorb the other flavors of the ingredients, and to make the greens less bitter. This required preparation is very different from a quick saute of spinach which ideally is served tender yet vibrantly green. You would not want to try collards raw, they are bitter and have a tough texture and require further preparation to fully enjoy.

Another benefit of collards is that they are inexpensive and nutrient dense. Traditional Southern recipes call for cooking the greens with pork, usually a ham hock. Some people prefer to use bacon instead or use both ham hocks and bacon. Other variations include using a smoked turkey leg or even vegan versions which totally omit any meat or lard. Collards usually need to simmer for about 35 minutes though some prefer to cook them down even more. Other add-ins might include hot sauce and vinegar. Some recipes let the collards simmer on the stove top, others prefer to use a pressure cooker, a slow cooker or even a rice cooker!

Musician Patti Labelle is known for her famous collards recipe which she calls Mean Greens.  Her recipe calls for basic low cost ingredients including chicken stock, chopped onion, Seasoning salt, smoked turkey leg and of course collards, salt & pepper and grapeseed oil for sauteing. Oprah’s recipe takes a different approach with just four vegetarian ingredients. Her recipe calls for 3 pounds of collard greens, extra-virgin olive oil, minced garlic and salt. Oprah’s greens are called Garlicky Collard Greens and the recipe serves 8-10 people. Which recipe do you lean more towards? The smoked Turkey leg infused collards by Patti Labelle or Oprah’s garlic vegetarian version? Oprah also has another recipe from chef Treygaye that also includes a smoked turkey leg like Patti Labelle’s  version. Let us know if you try or have tried any three of these recipes for collard greens.

Collard greens are sold whole and fresh in the produce department, sliced and bagged in the pre-packaged salad section of the market, frozen or even canned. We believe fresh is best followed by frozen depending on time of year and local availability. Now while collards usually are prepared and eaten Southern style as collard greens there are so many other ways to enjoy this dark leafy green.

Sauver magazine makes a solid point “that people often think the vegetable and the dish are the same thing. But to associate the bitter greens solely with the soul food staple is to ignore everything else the vegetable can do.” Their inspiring article shares some delicious recipe variations for collards that sound pretty tasty. A few standouts that take collard greens to a new level include their recipe for “Creamed” Collard Greens with Peanut Butter and Chile. This recipe caught our eye as it includes fermented seafood for a flavor blast. It is also a one pot dish that bodes for weeknight cooking, that is popular in West Africa.

Things really turn to a flavor of fusion with their Biscuits with Pancetta, Collard Greens, Marbleized Eggs, and Espresso Aïoli recipe. You might want to read that over again! The pancetta would lend flavor associated with ham hocks in the more traditional recipes. Their Espresso Aïoli is a world away from a Southern kitchen. Sounds unusual but actually looks like a fantastic breakfast sandwich with a unique twist.

Collards can also be integrated into a bowl of soup for those cooler evenings. Try out their recipe for Sopa de Fuba if you are curious about tasting collard greens in a whole new way. The English translation for the soup is Collard Greens, Cornmeal, and Sausage Soup. A pot of Sopa de Fuba would definitely fill your kitchen with a dreamy aroma. The recipe hails from the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais.

Collards can be boiled, slow cooked, pressure cooked, or even incorporated into a stir fry. They are enjoyed all around the world in so many different and creative ways. Next time you want to incorporate more dark leafy greens into your diet why not try some collards?