Collards Two Ways

Photo 12.1

It’s been a long winter here in New York, made longer by an incredibly snowy March. This month is always a question mark, and often a tease: a day or two of glorious sunshine puts everyone in a cheerful mood, only to be crushed by lingering, chilly, wet gloom for the next week. Sigh. At the beginning of winter, and even through January and February, I enjoy the thick, meaty stews and slow, warm braises that populate the seasonal menu. But after awhile, no matter how much iron I pack in with beans and lentils, I crave a big batch of greens. Their color acts as a visual cue that I’m doing right by my body, their taste reminds me of the bounty of warmer times, and, since they’re packed full of nutrients, I feel better—fresher, lighter—for hours after eating.

But in March—fickle, callous March—it’s still too early for young spring lettuces and even the most dedicated foragers will have trouble rustling up enough ramps or ferns to make more than a meal or two. So I turn to what’s available in my Washington Heights grocery: mustard greens, kale, or collards.

Collards are my go-to green. I was forced, as a child, to eat them on New Year’s Day for good luck. In the South, usually the collards are simmered with vinegar, salt, sugar, crushed red pepper, and something porky like a ham hock or ham bone. I didn’t care for the tart flavor and toothsome texture growing up, but now I can’t get enough. Besides this traditional preparation, I like collards in other forms, too.

Mature collards are massive things, with leaves six or more inches across and thick, tough stems. Before cooking them, always take the time to remove the stem. You can save it for other purposes, like chopping and adding to a stew or braise, but if you leave them on for these recipes, they’ll be inedible. Make two cuts down either side of the stem and pull away the leaves to remove (pictured).

Removing the collard stem

Removing the collard stem

Collards with Chipotle

Ingredients:
2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, plus 1 Tbs. adobo sauce
1/2 lb collard greens, stems removed, roughly chopped (about 7 cups)
1/4 cup of water
salt and pepper to taste

Directions: 
1. In a large heavy pot over medium heat, combine all ingredients.

2. Heat until water is just boiling, and then simmer on low heat for 30-35 minutes, stirring occasionally. As they soften, crush the peppers with the side of the spoon.

Sautéed collards with garlic

Sautéed collards with garlic

Sautéed Collard Greens with Garlic

Ingredients:
1/2 lb collards, stems removed, sliced into ribbons or roughly chopped (about 7 cups)
1/2 head of garlic, finely minced (about 2 Tbs or 30 grams)
2 Tbs olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1-2 Tbs fresh lemon juice (optional)

Directions:
1. In a large sauté or frying pan, heat olive oil and garlic over medium-low, just until garlic is fragrant.
2. Add collards and sauté over medium low, stirring vigorously so garlic doesn’t rest on the bottom of the pan and burn.
3. Sauté just until collards are bright green and slightly wilted, about 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste and a squeeze or two of lemon just before serving, if desired.

Caramelized Belgian Endives with Lemon and Wine

Raw endives

Don’t choose green-tipped endives like these;
go for those with pale yellow tips which have been shielded from light exposure.

Who doesn’t love the film Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain (English title, Amélie)? I think it typifies “feel good movie” for me—plus it’s full of gorgeous shots of French food. (The crème brulée cracking scene, oh!) One of my favorite bits (and I’m not the only one, apparently) is when Lucien, the grocer’s assistant, holds up an endive to his ear. “He handles each endive like a precious object, to be treated with care.” His boss might scorn such foolish behavior, but I’m with Lucien. Endives are beautiful, poetic vegetables whose shape and form make them an absolute dream to handle and prepare. I too cannot resist treating them with reverence and a bit of awe.

While I’ve found Belgian endives a bit bitter on their own (though a suitable vinaigrette usually solves that), I most enjoy cooking them with just two main ingredients: wine and lemon. The wine helps soften their crunchy texture and, together with the lemon, adds sugars which enable caramelization. As an accompaniment to a main dish like roast chicken or beef, this preparation adds a marriage of sweet and tart flavors with a toothy tenderness and the added bonus of being good for you (they are a green, after all). Feel free to adjust the amount of lemon juice to taste: I like very lemony endives so I use a whole lemon.

Note that this recipe is for Belgian endives, which are bullet-shaped and mostly white (look for ones whose tips are pale yellow rather than green, like those in the photo, which indicates light exposure and deterioration of flavor). Chicory or frisée is another type of endive for which this preparation is less suited.

Braised Endives

Braised and Caramelized Belgian Endives 

Ingredients: 
4-6 Belgian endives, ends trimmed, sliced lengthwise in half
1/4 c. white wine
juice of 1 lemon
olive oil, salt, pepper

Directions: 
1. In a braising pan or skillet with lid, heat 1 Tbs. olive oil on medium-high. Place endives cut-side down and cook for three minutes.

2. Add wine, salt and pepper to taste and reduce heat to low. (Optional: Add half the lemon juice here for extra-lemony endives.) Cover and cook 3 minutes.

3. Returning heat to medium, turn endives over. (The cut side should be caramelized.) Cook 3 minutes, then add half the lemon juice.

4. Continue to cook on medium 6-8 minutes until all moisture has evaporated and endives are well caramelized on both sides. (If the cut side did not caramelize by step 3, turn once more to ensure caramelization.) Adjust seasoning and serve immediately.