Healthy Eating, Mostly, or Not

Cooking Up a Major Mess of Collard Greens

Over the weekend I took advantage of a sunny and unscheduled Saturday afternoon and did what I should do every week, which is go to a nearby farmers market to stock up on fresh vegetables. I went without a list, hoping I would find something there to inspire meals for the next few days. This is the ideal, cheffy way to do it, but recent weeks have been so busy that I’ve been making grocery lists based on a few favorite quick-and-easy meals, grabbing the ingredients from the grocery store and bypassing the farmers market altogether.

Strolling through the familiar, busy aisles in the farmers market section of the Daytona Flea & Farmers Market, I was reminded why it’s worth going a bit out of my way to shop there for produce. While vendors at this market do ship in some foreign items, in case you just have to have asparagus in November, there is also a nice variety of ever-changing local, seasonal produce. Though I’ll often check the Florida Department of Agriculture’s “What’s in Season Now” shopping list before I go, there are usually some surprises. This week, it was a handwritten sign touting locally grown collard greens.

The collard greens were piled high, still on their stalks, tied together in bundles the size of shrubs. I pointed out to the vendor that I live with a Northerner and a 6-year-old, so it was likely that only one out of three family members would eat collards, but she was apparently not going to take pity on me and break up a bunch. They cook way down, she pointed out. I knew that, but cooking down three truckloads of greens into one truckload is still a truckload of greens. I have storage issues.

But I really wanted those collard greens. I’d just read in a story by Elizabeth Brown, M.S., R.D., in the November issue of Oxygen magazine that they are the top leafy green when it comes to lowering cholesterol, a particular concern in our family. They’re also known cancer fighters and are rich in the B vitamin folate, which supports heart health. It has also been a while since I’d challenged my husband to try a new vegetable. It would be a challenge for me, too, since I’d never tried to cook collards before. The vendor put them in a large plastic bag (they were too big to fit in my reusable bag) and I was on my way to cookin’ up a mess of greens.

cooked collard greens with bacon on a red plate with apples in the background

Collard greens are a nutritional powerhouse. Find them at farmers markets to enjoy now, and freeze some for later.

Oxygen had offered a recipe for Collard Greens with Root Veggies and Salmon, a “clean eating” way to include some of the greens in a healthy diet by steaming them in parchment with the fish and vegetables. But their recipe called for only 6 leaves and I had at least 10 times that. Besides, having grown up eating greens in Arkansas, my natural instincts were telling me there should be pork involved, and my preference was bacon.

A quick search online led me to a recipe for Collard Greens with Bacon at SimplyRecipes.com. Scanning the ingredient list, I knew I had a winner: bacon, onion, garlic, apple cider vinegar and, for my husband, a little hot sauce. Another plus was that the recipe called for simmering the greens in a skillet with the other ingredients just until wilted rather than stewing them for hours. We’re used to eating a lot of steamed and sauteed vegetables and appreciate a little more crunch. In the case of collards, this turned out to be more of a nice chewiness.

If you’d like a vegetarian option, this recipe for Collards Braised in Red Wine, adapted from chef Michael Lomonako, appeared in the Mark Bittman‘s Diner’s Journal in the New York Times. Using a similar technique, it contains olive oil rather than bacon fat, and red wine instead of apple cider vinegar. I plan to try this one next.

I wasn’t sure exactly what I’d be dealing with, so I decided to tackle the collards as soon as I got home rather than wait until dinnertime. This turned out to be a good plan. After removing the leaves from the stems and washing them, I had enough leaves piled on my kitchen counter to fill a large trash bag. This was an interesting situation. I decided to go ahead and cook the recipe, which would probably cook down a third of the greens. I didn’t, however, have enough ingredients on hand to cook three batches.

I noticed when I sliced the greens into strips for the recipe they took up much less space, so I decided to slice them all into strips. Could I freeze them? Yes, it turns out, you can freeze fresh collards after blanching them first. Here’s how:

The recipe for Collard Greens with Bacon turned out to be delicious. One bite and I was suddenly transported back to my mother’s kitchen, watching her stir a big pot of greens on the stove. To go with them, I decided to make whole-wheat-panko-crusted catfish and sweet potato fries. Now, I am a Southern girl, so I know the catfish should have been coated in seasoned cornmeal and fried, and there should have been cornbread or at least  hush puppies with those greens, but I’m a health-conscious Southern girl and am married to a guy who really loves sweet potato fries. Life is full of compromises. However, though we may have compromised on tradition, we didn’t miss a thing when it came to taste.

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A Berry Good Apple Pie

Rustic apple pie with blueberries in a glass pie plate

Fresh blueberries add a seasonal twist to this apple pie.

Though we’re still berry-pie season, yesterday I decided to make an apple pie. I don’t usually start thinking about apple pie until fall, but there were a few contributing factors. I’d been to church that morning and then worked in the garden. Baking a pie would complete my total transformation into Aunt Bea.

There were apples sitting in a bowl on the kitchen table, looking at me plaintively and whining about being ignored. I’d bought them last week as an alternative to all the berries and bananas we’d been eating. I thought I’d eat them as snacks, convert my son to homemade “apple dippers” and my husband could take them to work. As it turns out, apparently I will only eat raw apples in an office setting, my son prefers his apples corporately cut and packaged, and my husband won’t eat them at all as he is a devout bananavore.

My son also has recently had a mild fixation with cinnamon and loves to help me cook, so I thought this would be a fun Sunday-afternoon project for us. He cheerfully abandoned me, however, when the neighbors offered to take him fishing, so I was left to bake on my own, Aunt Bea minus Opie.

I’ve been making pretty much the same apple pie forever, though I’ve tweaked the recipe here and there. It’s based on an old Martha Stewart recipe for “Old-Fashioned Bottom-Crust Apple Pie.” How old? It appeared in “The Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous Cookbook” by Robin Leach, released in 1992. This was one of my first cookbooks and I’m amazed I still have it. Most of the couples featured have since divorced.

Anyway, it’s a good pie, and quick and simple to make. I’ve tweaked the recipe a bit, using whole wheat pastry flour instead of all-purpose. Martha’s version called for serving with a dusting of powdered sugar and topping with whipped cream. I skipped that. The original recipe calls for a pinch of mace, which I never seem to have in my cabinet so it never gets in the pie. I also switched up the procedural order a bit to accommodate my slightly obsessive-compulsive desire to have the sugar and spices mixed together thoroughly and evenly before putting them into the pie.

I added a half cup of blueberries because we’ve been eating blueberries in everything lately. It made the pie filling a little juicier, and it was perfect served warm with vanilla ice cream.

Apple-Blueberry Pie

Crust:
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 cup whole grain white flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 to 4 teaspoons ice water
Filling:
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch ground nutmeg
3-4 tart apples (such as Granny Smith), peeled, cored and thinly sliced
1/2 cup fresh blueberries
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, sliced into 5-6 pieces
Vanilla ice cream
Combine the butter, flour, sugar and salt in a food processor. Gradually add the ice water until the dough forms a solid mass.
Transfer the dough to a floured surface. Roll into a ball, flatten into a disk, wrap in plastic and chill for 20 minutes.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine the sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg in a bowl and stir to blend. Roll dough to a circle approximately 12 inches in diameter and place in an 8-inch pie plate. Fill the crust with half the apples, half the blueberries and sprinkle with half the sugar mixture. Repeat with remaining fruit and sugar mixture. Dot with butter. Fold pastry edges over fruit.
Bake for 45 minutes, until the filling is bubbly and the crust is golden. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

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