Growing up in the South, we ate a lot of vegetables, and collards were among my favorites. My grandmothers would chop up a mess of ‘em and put them in a giant pot with lots of salt, pepper, and a hunk of fatback. For you Yankees, that’s a cut of pork fat from under the skin of the back, considered a vital ingredient in many European culinary styles. It’s the Southern version of pancetta. This concoction was cooked for up to two hours, creating a salty and unctuous stock, rendering the collards a dark olive green, and infusing every plant cell with the flavor of bacon. Say what you will about pork fat and overcooked greens; it was an amazing dish.
The problem with collards cooked this way is that no one north of the Carolinas will eat them. We know too much about enzymes in vegetables, saturated fat, and the dangers of excessive salt intake. Happily for us, collards are one of the more versatile greens. They’re sturdy enough to stand up to longer cooking times in stews and bean dishes, but you can just as easily shred them and sauté them with garlic and olive oil. And the broad, sturdy leaves are ideal for rolling up any variety of fillings.
Try some of these fresh, faster-cooking ways with collards. And should you ever find yourself craving them Southern style, send me a message and I’ll pass along the recipe — and I’ll never tell a soul.
Collard Rolls with Red Lentils and Pine Nuts
Makes 8 to 10 rolls
The broad, sturdy nature of collard leaves makes them ideal for rolling. To make rolling easier, before cooking leaves, place each one rib side up and, holding a sharp knife horizontal to the cutting board, shave the center rib down slightly. Look for large, wide leaves; buy an extra bunch of collards, since you’ll likely tear a few during rolling.
1 cup quinoa
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
2 teaspoons curry powder
3 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 cup homemade or high-quality stock
1 can coconut milk
1 cup red lentils
2 to 4 tablespoons pine nuts (substitute chopped macadamia nuts)
8 to 10 large, intact and unblemished collard leaves (about 1 bunch)
1. Rinse quinoa thoroughly, then strain through a fine mesh strainer or sieve. Heat a large, heavy saucepan over medium-low heat. Add quinoa and toast for 1 minute, stirring constantly, or until fragrant. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
2. In the same pot, heat oil over medium heat and sauté onions for 3 to 4 minutes, until just tender. Add curry and garlic and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute.
3. Add 1 cup of the stock, coconut milk, red lentils and toasted quinoa. Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally; add remaining 1/2 cup stock if needed during cooking. Cook until lentils and quinoa are tender but not mushy, and liquid is absorbed, 10 to 12 minutes. Stir in pine nuts. Remove from heat and let cool enough to handle during rolling.
4. While lentils and quinoa are cooking, cut and discard stems form collards. Drop leaves into a large pot of boiling water and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, until pliable but still bright green. While collards are cooking, fill a large bowl with ice and water. Remove cooked collards from boiling water with tongs and drop into ice water for 30 seconds to stop cooking and set color. Remove from ice bath and pat dry thoroughly with paper towels.
5. To assemble rolls: place one leaf on a flat surface, with the inside surface of the leaf showings. Cut off lower inch of leaf. Mound about 1/3 cup of quinoa mixture onto lower third of the leaf. Fold bottom edge of leaf over mixture, and fold sides of leaves in to cover mixture. Starting at the bottom edge, roll leaf tightly to encase filling completely.
6. Arrange, seam side down, on a serving plate. Repeat with remaining leaves. Reserve any leftover filling for later use. Serve immediately.