Sunday, October 19, 2003

Serve it this week: Collards

By Amy Bennett Williams
The (Fort Myers, Fla.) News-Press

What is it about Southern food that inspires musicians? The Black Eyed Peas is a California hip-hop trio, Grits is a group of Christian rappers, and country music has the Okra All-Stars.

And collard greens have inspired both a South Carolina hip-hopper who bills himself as Collardgreens and an Australian blues band called Collard Greens and Gravy.

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that this leafy veggie nourishes creativity; it's extremely nutritious for the body as well.

Quite low in calories (1 cup of cooked collards has fewer than 25), they contain large amounts of vitamins A and C, as well as smaller amounts of calcium, iron, potassium, folic acid and fiber.

Although long associated with traditional Southern and African-American cooking, collards are originally from northern Europe.

American or not, caterer Zara Jackson lists a few reasons they're so popular in Southern dishes: "You can grow 'em in sand, they stand up to ham, and they just taste like they're good for you."

"These days, no one wants to spend all morning in the kitchen fixing supper," she says, referring to collards' notorious preparation time.

Jackson likes to cook hers the traditional way - simmered with ham - but she also sometimes stir-fries them.

And cookbook author Marian Morash suggests stirring collards into soups, steaming them and adding them to omelets in The Victory Garden Cookbook (Knopf; $29.95).

Morash also says another benefit of collards cooked in the classic Southern style: pot liquor - the liquid in which they've been cooked, which can be used as a dip for corn bread.

Southern Collards

4 pounds collard greens (or mixed collards, mustard and turnip greens)
8 strips bacon
6 cups water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Wash greens well, picking them over to remove any brown spots or blemishes. Drain well. Discard the discolored outer leaves and cut out the thick ribs. Tear the greens into pieces. Place the bacon strips in a large heavy saucepan and cook over medium heat until they are translucent and the bottom of the pot is coated with the rendered bacon fat.

Add the greens and the water and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low and continue to cook until the greens are tender, about two hours. Makes 6 servings.

Note: You can add hot sauce, vinegar or chopped onions to taste, or toss in a pinch of sugar to take away a bit of the bite.

The Welcome Table: African-American Heritage Cooking (Fireside; $16)

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