Collard Greens and Butternut Squash ~ Week of December 16th

Braised Collard Greens and Beet Greens with Tomato, Red Onion, and Tempeh Bacon

This week in our Small Mixed box from Farm Fresh to You:

Satsuma mandarins (1.5 lb)
Pink Lady apples (1.5 lb)
Savoy cabbage (3 lb)
Collard greens (1 bunch)
Butternut squash (2 lb)
Salad mix (0.5 lb)
Leeks (1 lb)

I was a huge fan of collard greens in college. I used to boil them for a long, long time until they were super tender and then eat them with lemon juice and hot pepper flakes. I never ate collards growing up or had any other exposure to them, rather I knew about the idea of collard greens, as this slow-cooked Southern food that you cooked forever with a ham hock or something. So I just cooked my (vegetarian) version of this idea. After a trip to New Orleans I brought back a ton of Zatarain’s boxed mixes for Red Beans & Rice, Dirty Rice, and Jamabalaya. I would throw in cut-up veggie sausage and cook my collards and make these feasts that recreated a cuisine I had basically never eaten. (It’s impossible to actually eat this food in New Orleans if you’re vegetarian.)

I don’t boil greens for hours anymore. I try to give them a little more love and let their flavors stay bright and their nutrients stay in their leaves and not leach out into the cooking water. But collards can be tough, and they do need some attention to make them shine. I usually improvise a recipe based on a collard green technique from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison that has delicious Southern flavor (or what I imagine to be Southern flavor in my head) while still keeping the greens bright and lively. She recommends a brown butter sauce to replace the bacon flavor, but since we don’t eat butter I use tempeh bacon, and then I’ll throw in whatever other veggies seem like they’ll be happy in there, too.

Braised Collards, Veggie-Southern-style

2 bunches collards, long stems and tough ribs removed
1 onion (red or yellow), diced
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
5 strips tempeh bacon*, cut into small pieces
1 T. olive oil

Plunge the greens into a large pot of boiling salted water, cook them for 10 minutes and then remove to a bowl. Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water.

Heat the olive oil in a wide skillet (I use a wok) over medium heat. Add onion and pepper flakes, stirring occasionally until the onion is beginning to soften. Add the garlic and tempeh bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is lightly colored and the tempeh lightly browned. Add the greens, their reserved cooking water, and 1 tsp. salt. Cook for 30 minutes and taste again for salt. They can use a lot, but the tempeh bacon should bring a lot of flavor.

Variations: You could add tomatoes, peanuts, bell peppers, cubes of cooked yam… the sky is the limit! In the photo above, I used one of bunch collards, one of beet greens, and added tomatoes.

*The brand of tempeh bacon I use – Lightlife – is flavored with a soy sauce that contains wheat, so it is NOT gluten-free. You can make your own tempeh bacon from Veganomicon. I recommend making a big batch of thin slices and then freezing it to thaw as needed.