"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Monday, November 21, 2011

Recipes–Spicy Collards and Beet Leaves

Collard greens are a sweet, flavorful vegetable – easy to cook in many different recipes.  They are now available in most supermarkets, and although they are hearty and will last a week or so, they are best when bought as fresh as possible.  Farmers’ markets sell a lot of them, particularly at this time of year, and Whole Foods’ selection is also very good.

Collard greens, common in the South, are usually made with a lot of fat, either cooked in lard or bacon.  They are delicious, for the pork/bacon taste nicely complements the taste of the greens.  Southern style got started, however, because of the availability of lard and bacon, provided to slaves as a ration, then introduced into common cooking by black servants who knew only one way to prepare them.  They are delicious without the pork fat, and I have posted recipes where they are steamed, then sauteed in browned garlic and olive oil.  Recently I have been making them Italian style al brodo, that is in a soup broth.  The collards are placed in a cup of water with one vegan bouillon cube (or any other low-sodium chicken or beef cube), then steamed and served in the broth.

Another vegetable I like is beet tops, and surprisingly these are usually thrown away even at farmers’ markets.  Although beets are sold leaves-on, many customers as the merchant to chop them off.  I have often been in line behind these off-with-their-heads shoppers and asked if I could have the leaves.  I steam them simply, with water, chop them well, and serve cold with olive oil, salt, and pepper.

I had both collards and beet tops (and two cups of green beans) left over last night, and I decided that I would cook them together.  I put all in a skillet, heated them up, and tasted; and found them rather bland.  I added some more olive oil and sprinkled garlic flakes and ground a lot of pepper.  Better, but still without character.  I added soy sauce, hot pepper flakes, and sesame oil.  Better still, but missing that zing which makes an interesting dish.  I then thought that fennel seed would add the right flavoring.  I am not sure why, because I have never added it to either collards or beet tops, but somehow I knew that it would be the right complement to the soy and sesame, and be the spark to the vegetables. I was right! The taste is a wonderful blend of East Asian/South Asian flavors.

Here is the recipe.  There are a number of steps (it is far easier when you have leftover greens in the refrigerator), but none are difficult, and the chopping and steaming can be done in about 15 minutes; and the cooking another 10:

Spicy Collard Greens and Beet Tops

* 1 bunch collard leaves, chopped in large pieces (the bunches are fairly standard size.  Don’t be put off by the amount of raw greens, for they cook down by at least half if not more

* 1 bunch beet tops, also chopped into large pieces.  Use the stems!  These greens cook down even more than the collards.

* 2 Tbsp. soy sauce

* 2 tsp. sesame oil

* 3 Tbsp. olive oil

* 1 Tbsp. dried garlic flakes

* 5 shakes hot pepper flakes

* 2 lg. cloves garlic, chopped

* 2 tsp. Bay Spice (Cajun spice can be substituted)

* 1 cube vegan bouillon (low-sodium beef can be substituted)

* 2 heaping Tbsp. whole fennel seeds, lightly pounded in a mortar

* 10 grindings fresh black pepper

- Dissolve the bouillon cube in 2 cups of water, then add collard greens.  Add the garlic flakes and Bay Spice.

- Cook over medium heat until the leaves are soft and tender

- Remove the greens from the liquid, squeezing as much liquid out as possible

- Chop the greens well and reserve.

- Place the beet tops in a steamer and steam in water (about two cups) until soft and tender

- Remove and chop, pressing knife blade down to squeeze out most liquid.

- Sautee the whole garlic in the olive oil until garlic is soft, but not browned

- Add the greens, and stir well over high heat, evaporating most of the remaining liquid

- Add the soy sauce, sesame oil, hot pepper flakes, ground pepper, and fennel seeds, and cook over low heat for about ten minutes

- Taste for all the ingredients of which more can be added at this point.

- Serve

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