Collard Greens, Lacinato Kale, Savoy Cabbage, Leeks… These are just some of the things I had lingering in my fridge from my last delivery from Basis “Good Food to You”. Since you can click the link and check them out, I won’t say too much on the subject except that it’s kind of a cross between a CSA and a grocery delivery service that only delivers sustainably raised fully traceable goods, including milk, dairy, and meats. They do not yet deliver to Eastern Queens, but lucky for me I work (and pretty much spend most of my waking hours) in Brooklyn. The produce bag is always a surprise mix of seasonal items, some familiar and some more unusual. I signed on as a way to challenge myself to use ingredients that I may have never encountered before. One week I received Japanese Purple Sweet Potatoes, which were such a revelation I had to order some for the restaurant and worked them into a special with Salmon and Blood Oranges.
But I digress.
Yesterday, I had to find a way to make use of the greens and cabbage I had before they wilted. Braised Southern Style Greens and Cole Slaw seemed like logical (and delicious) ways to make use of this wonderful produce. BBQ Chicken wings and Three-cheese mac n cheese rounded out the meal. For the greens I consulted James Beard’s American Cookery. His recipe calls for Collard, Dandelion, and Mustard greens, but I had Collard Greens and Lacinato Kale. His recipe called for ham, but I had a couple chunks of pork belly and a bit of bacon in the freezer instead. Isn’t seasonal regional cooking all about adapting cooking techniques to the ingredients available to you anyway?
So sorry folks, but I don’t have recipes to share in this post. Instead here are the techniques:
Basic Braised Greens
Hearty bitter Greens such as Collards, Dandelion and Mustard, with tough stems and veins lend themselves very nicely to braising (and pork). The method is simple. Trim, chop and thoroughly wash your greens. Do not dry, but set aside. In a large saucepan, brown diced bacon or whatever pork product you choose to use. If you are using lean meat, you will need to use some oil or fat. (If you do chose to use ham or some other already cooked meat, skip this step and just add it at the end instead). Add the wet greens to the hot pan of meat and fat, and wilt until they turn bright green (see photo above). Add a splash of vinegar (or lemon juice) and some water to the pan, not to cover but just enough to form a puddle at the bottom of the pan and keep the greens from scorching as they cook. Season the whole lot generously with salt and reduce the heat so the liquid is barely simmering. Cook gently until the stems of the greens are just tender (this may take a while if they are thick), tossing them from time to time and adding water as needed. Oh, and when I say season generously, I mean generously. It’s the salt and vinegar that takes the bitterness out of the greens. I also like to add a sprinkle of crushed red pepper flakes to the greens as they cook for a little bit of heat.
Basic Cole Slaw
When I make cole slaw, I like to wilt the cabbage first by salting it and letting it weep. This draws out extra moisture so the cole slaw doesn’t taste so crunchy and raw. To do this, cut, core, and thinly slice the leaves of a head of cabbage. Toss the cabbage in some salt and set in a non-reactive colander to drain for about an hour or so. After it has wilted slightly, rinse the cabbage and drain well. To make the cole slaw, add shredded or finely diced red onion and if desired, shredded carrot. Mix everything with enough mayonnaise to coat, and add vinegar or lemon juice, salt, and sugar (or honey) to taste. Flavorings you might choose to add could be dijon mustard, toasted celery seed, or even some chili paste or siracha (it complements mayo like you wouldn’t believe). Refrigerate and let the flavors meld for a couple hours before serving. You may need to freshen it up with a little lemon juice or vinegar before serving.
Basic Barbecue Sauce
Here is an easy formula for a basic barbecue sauce: 1 part molasses, 1 part ketchup, 1 part vinegar. Just heat the mixture up in a saucepan until the vinegar reduces and the sauce is the right consistency. To that, you can add whatever flavorings you wish: a splash of Tobasco or Frank’s Hot Sauce for heat, bourbon, Triple Sec, or some other kind of liquor, hoisin or soy, for an Asian spin, Chipotle peppers for a little Latin kick, horseradish, cocoa, or instant coffee just to name a few. On this particular evening, I didn’t even bother with reducing the sauce. I just marinated the chicken wings in the BBQ mixture and put the whole lot in a Pyrex dish in the oven at about 375 degrees, brushing the wings with the pan drippings as they cooked. By the time the wings were cooked most of the vinegar had evaporated and left a thick delicious mess in the bottom of the pan. I just tossed the wings around a bit before arranging them on the plate and pouring the sauce from the pan over them. By the way my BBQ flavoring of choice this evening? Chili Sambal.
Okay, so here’s the thing about using method over recipes: A lot of it is trial and error, but rule #1 is you must taste everything as you go along (except of course raw chicken and the like). You need to use some judgment and make adjustments along the way as needed. For instance, if you decide to take the lazy way out like I did with my chicken wings, and there’s too much space in the pan, you may end up with a black charred crust in the bottom of that pan before your chicken is cooked. Then by all means mix some warm water into the pan before you reach the charred black crust stage! Oh, and rule #2? Where there is room for experimentation, there is also room for much error. On this occasion all went as planned, but that is not always the case. Eh, so sometimes things that seem like a good idea don’t always work out on the first try. In those cases, if I can figure out what not to do the next time, at least I’ve learned something.