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Archive for August 12th, 2009

a fine mess

“But I have never tasted meat,

Nor cabbage, corn nor beans, / Nor fluid food one half as sweet

As that first mess of greens”

- James T. Cotton Noe*

collard slaw from above

My CSA is yet again challenging my taste buds and culinary prowess.

I received collards last week. I associate these hardy greens with the South, and though I grew up in a border state and affect an accent and a “y’all” when it suits me, I’m pretty Northern and city to the core. In looking around for some collard recipes I could relate to, I learned a bit about the history of collards but came up with very little that I could actually envision cooking eating because most recipes call for hamhock or fatback, neither of which fit into my kosher cooking repertoire.

While these greens were imported from Europe, they became part of Southern “soul food” in the 1800s as they were quite prolific and cooked with other kitchen extras using a long simmering method from Africa. These greens cook down quite a bit, not unlike bok choy, kale, or spinach, and the phrase “a mess of greens” usually refers to a whole lot of southern collards that reduce down to a hearty dark green, somewhat stinky (even though I do go for stinky sometimes) slightly slimy in my book, beloved-by-Southerners delectable dish. The better part of the poem that supposedly popularized, or at least codified, this phrase is copied at the end of the this post.

As true Northern folk (and with apologies to my dear dear “Atlanta family”) I just couldn’t bear to cook down a mess of collards. So I sought out alternatives. I found a collard green slaw recipe – bingo! No cooking means no stink. And no pork. I’m no raw food vegan, but I guess this fits the bill if you’re into that. The one thing I can say is that when you eat this slaw, it tastes like you’re eating something healthy. But in a good way.

Collard Slaw

016 sharp crop square

The inspiration for this no-cook salad came from Red Menace over at A Chow Life. Check out her beautiful blog for great ideas and lovely photography. While I didn’t use her sweet slaw recipe, I did filch the idea of marinating the collards in a vinegar to break down some of the fibrous bitterness in the raw greens. I followed my more savory, Asian-inspired slaw recipe that I use for other cruciferous greens- cabbage, broccoli – rummaging through what was handy in my cupboard. This was great after about 30 minutes of flavor mingling and even better the next day when a bit less crisp, but more intensely flavored.  After 18-24 hours, your greens will reduce by about about half, so you still need to start with “a good mess.”

This recipe doesn’t really have exact quantities, but I’ll do my best. I prepared enough for 3-4 small side salads.

- A mess of collards – I received about 20-25 medium-sized leaves from my CSA share

- 2 carrots

- rice vinegar (~2T)

- toasted sesame oil (~1 T)

- hot pepper sesame oil (~ 1-2 t)

- salt or soy sauce (a pinch or 1/2 t to taste, I used pink salt)

- sugar (a pinch or two to cut the bitterness)

- sesame seeds

Soak and gently agitate collards in a big bowl of cold water several times until the water runs clear.

Pat collards dry and chiffonade: roll up 5-6 leaves at a time lengthwise. Because the leaves are pretty wide, I made a cut on each side of the stem. I kept the stem intact because the collards I had were pretty young, but if yours are really fibrous feel free to discard. Then slice widthwise into thin (~1/4 in) strips.

Peel the carrots and julienne them. I used my julienne peeler which made this pretty easy. You could use a food processor, but what a pain to clean (plus, I don’t have one).

Mix the greens and carrots and add the the vinegar, oils, and a little bit of salt and sugar to taste. Start with just a little bit of salt and sugar (and spicy) because you can always add more later. The sugar is important to cut the bitterness of the greens. The salt draws out some of the flavor. Add a few pinches of sesame seeds for taste, texture, and looks.

Let marinate for at least 30 minutes for a crunchier salad, or overnight for a softer slaw. The spiciness does intensify with time.

Variations: if you don’t have hot pepper sesame oil, leave it out, or add some red pepper flakes. Try peanut oil instead sesame oil.

bowl o greens

* THE FIRST MESS OF GREENS

… to me the woods a-ringin’

With the notes of happy birds / When the April buds is springin’

Is a song too sweet for words: / And the beautifullest, since you ask it,

In art or nature’s scenes, / Is Kate with knife and basket,

A-getherin’ of greens.

It pears to lift the veil of years / And opens up to view,

A scene that brings me soothin’ tears

As sweet as tender dew / To grass that suns have withered dry :

I can see her jist as plain, / Though Father Time has dimmed my eye,

And ricollect the pain, / I suffered while she paused a-thinkin’

What such an answer means; / And the “Stay and help us, John,” a-winkin’

“Eat our first mess of greens.”

But I have never tasted meat, ‘

Nor cabbage, corn nor beans, / Nor fluid food one half as sweet

As that first mess of greens.

It’s not the pictur near as much

As the thoughts that gethers round, / That always gives the paintin’ such

Distinction and renown. / There’s nothin’ in a grassy knoll

So beautiful to see, / And yit I think within my soul

It beats a flowery lea. / And oh, I git Munkasket,

If I only had the means, / To paint me Kate with basket

A-getherin’ of greens.

- James T. Cotton Noe (1864-1953), American writer and poet,

from the Loom of Life

close-up

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