The original title of this post was going to be: “How To Turn Leftover Collard Greens Into Soup.” It was going to be a joke–you’ll see why in a moment–with only two words in the body of the post itself. But then I realized that many of you don’t have leftover collard greens sitting around in your refrigerator because many of you don’t know how to cook them. Which is a shame because collard greens aren’t only strangely delicious–deep, dark, almost musky–but they’re good for you too. They’re also prevalent, cheap, and versatile. Which is why you should be cooking collard greens more often!
Here’s a recipe from The Lee Bros. (recent James Beard award nominees!) that I think works really well. You start by making a really flavorful liquid in which to cook your collards. To do that, in a large pot (large enough to hold 8 cups of water), you brown either one smoked ham hock, one smoked hog jowl or 1/4 pound slab bacon in 1 Tbs oil (canola, peanut or olive) for a few minutes. Then you add the water (it’ll crackle and pop), 3 dried chili peppers and 1 Tbs of kosher salt. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 30 minutes:
Taste it–it should be really flavorful: spicy and meaty and smoky.
To that, then, you add your collards. The Lee Bros. call for 3 3/4 pounds (about 72 leaves) ribbed, washed and cut into 1-inch-wide strips. I wasn’t so exact about how many collards I used (I’m sure it was less than 72 leaves) but I definitely made sure to wash them well–collards can be very dirty (and leaving them wet doesn’t matter when you’re cooking them this way)–ribbing them by hand (just tear the leaves away from the fat stem) and slicing them on a big cutting board with a sharp knife.
Then, all you do is add them a few handfuls at a time to the boiling pot of liquid. Add your first handful, stir it in and wait 3 to 5 minutes until “they have turned a bright kelly green and become floppier and more compact.” Then you keep adding more and more handfuls, stirring and waiting until all the greens are in the pot. Turn the heat to low and simmer for one hour.
That’s it! Serve ’em up with a slotted spoon:
They go great with fried chicken, fried catfish, pretty much fried anything.
But here’s the best part, the punchline to the set-up from earlier. How do you turn leftover collard greens into soup? Two words: add tomatoes.
Seriously: store the leftover collards in their liquid (called the “liquor” or “likker,” aka “potlikker”) in the refrigerator and the next night add a can of tomatoes. Cook for 10 – 15 minutes and taste. You won’t believe it! The most flavorful, intense soup you’ve had in weeks (bacon, chilis, greens) and all you had to do was add a can of tomatoes? It’s true.
And according to the Lee Bros. the soup can be improved with beans, onions, and potatoes. But their personal favorite version is “Collard Greens Egg Drop Soup” which they make by “reheating leftover greens and liquor in a large saucepan over medium-high heat and gently cracking into them two eggs for every two cups of leftover greens and liquor….Simmer the soup until the eggs are just poached, about 8 minutes.”
Whatever you decide to do with them, collard greens offer great bang for your buck. No wonder Monique’s character in “Precious” (which I watched for the first time last night) got so mad when Precious served her pig’s feet, mac and cheese, but no collards. “How am I supposed to eat pig’s feet with no collard greens?”
Wise words Monique! No wonder she won the Oscar.