Leafy green vegetables don't normally spring to mind when most people think of comfort food, but ohhh, they can be. Silken and buttery, deeply braised greens have a wonderful earthy flavour with a slight sweetness that's amplified by the garlic with which they're cooked.
Folks in the Southern States have elevated the simple art of braising leafy greens to an art form, and I had the pleasure of sampling this gorgeous dish while on a road trip through that region. My memory is a bit fuzzy, but I remember one little restaurant somewhere in North Carolina in which I tried slow-cooked greens for the first time. I can't even remember what they were served alongside (maybe it was some kind of baked macaroni dish?), but the vegetables were absolute poetry. That dish was a lot oinkier than the one I make, being full of pork hock and bacon and such, but I've found that I prefer a vegetarian version—if I'd like to evoke a bit of that Southern flavour, I just add a few drops of hickory smoke to the cooking liquid.
You can use any leafy green for braising, but it's really best for the more robust vegetables that need a fair bit of time to break down. Some people like to use just one type of green at a time, like collards, but I like to use at least three different types to create interesting flavour profiles. The beautiful mess o'greens simmering in my mini crock pot in the photo above contained a mixture of kale, collards, radish and turnip greens, and green bok choy.
The key really is to slow-braise them until they break down to a beautiful creamy texture. As far as I'm concerned, this dish is done when the vegetables fall apart if you so much as look sternly in their direction.
- A few large handfuls of assorted greens (approximately 1 1/2 pounds' worth, if you're weighing them)
- Olive oil
- Butter or Earth Balance
- Garlic (I mince 3 or 4 cloves, but as many or as few can be used as you like)
- Good salt
- Vegetable stock
Although some people swear by blanching their greens in a pot of water before slow-braising them, I take an easier route: I just toss the greens into a large colander and pour a kettle's worth of boiling water over them, then spray them down with cold water. Easy peasy.
Those then get chopped very finely (chiffonade! great word, and lovely ribbon effect) and set aside. Pour a few generous glugs of olive oil into a large pan or wok, as well as a spoonful or so of butter or Earth Balance margarine. Warm this on medium-high heat, and then add minced or crushed garlic and your chopped greens as well as a few pinches of salt and toss all of that around together for a couple of minutes.
If you're using a crock pot, this is the point at which you'd transfer everything from the pan into the pot, add a couple of splashes of vegetable stock, and cook it on low heat for about two hours.
If you're using the pan method, just add a bit of stock, cover with a lid, turn the heat down low, and let it braise for an hour, stirring occasionally.
Once it has cooked down to a soft, slurpy mass, splash a little bit of lemon juice into it and adjust salt to taste. If the greens end up being a little wetter than you'd like, let them strain in a colander for 10 minutes or so. The leftover liquid can be frozen and added to the next batch of soup stock you make.
I like to just eat this on its own, but it's also lovely served over gnocchi or even scooped up with toast. I'm adding this dish to my list of funeral recipes not only because they're a great respite to the mountain of heavy carbs that inevitably make it into care dinners, but also because they are absolutely delicious... and great food does wonders for lifting one's spirits. Besides, since cooking these vegetables makes them easier to digest, their nutrient value goes up significantly: the vitamin A, calcium, and magnesium in cooked collards, mustard greens, etc. are great for strengthening a weakened immune system and building up new strength.
If you're preparing this dish as part of a meal train for someone who has suffered a loss, you can always present it in a mason jar decorated with a cloth top of some sort, or even a pretty microwave-safe dish that has a lid on it. Presentation is important even if it's just being dropped off, neh?