New Years Braised Greens

collard greens
Mmmm, collards.

No, you don’t have to wait until the new year to make these (I certainly don’t – they’re a veggie staple at the Walbacz homestead), but since it’s New Year’s Eve, I figured I’d share this tasty recipe with you.

Unlike many of my NC compatriots, I didn’t grow up with greens in the house, which also means I didn’t grow up hating them. (They seem to have a love-hate thing going on down here, depending on who’s making them.) The first time I actually remember having collard greens was around ten years ago, when my dad decided to make collard greens with bacon for the new year from a recipe he found online. They were salty and sweet and savory, with chewy bits of bacon throughout, practically caramelized braised onions, toothsome collard leaves and stems (yes, my Northern friends – the stems!), and just the right amount of spiciness from a generous helping of hot sauce.

I’ve been hooked on them ever since, and my mouth is watering just thinking about them.

I can be weird about my vegetables, as probably anyone who has known me for a long time can attest. I’m super picky about onions, with almost no consistency as to why or what I’ll eat, and I’m more of a fan of fresh vegetables than those that have been boiled or braised for a long time for texture reasons. But I can break habits for these collards for a number of reasons. One, collards, although slightly sweet and beautifully green and supple, also have notoriously tough stems and leaves that are hard to chew and digest, so braising (that is, cooking them with liquid over low heat in a covered pot) is one foolproof way to make them easy to eat. Two, as I stated previously, the method used to cook the onions in this recipe gives them enough time to caramelize a bit and get a good, soft (not mushy) texture that melts into the collards beautifully. Three, bacon and hot sauce. Don’t get me wrong, though – I’ve done these collards vegan and vegetarian, as well, with excellent results, and I’ll be providing those variations with the recipe. We just happen to save our bacon grease around here, and we use it to flavor veggies and beans on a regular basis. If you eat bacon, you should do the same, but that’s for another post altogether.

You can also use a variety of tougher fall and winter greens here – mustard, kale, turnip, whatever you’ve got – and mix and match. I’ve done it with excellent results, and my favorite is probably a combination of collards and spicy mustard greens. And if you’re making these for New Year’s Day, did I mention that Braised Beans go together with these greens beautifully? No? Well, here’s that mention. I’ll be doing greens, beans, macaroni, and cornbread this week, and I’m super stoked about it. We’re gonna be so lucky in 2020!

Without further ado, here’s the recipe, and vegan variation below:

Braised Collard Greens with Bacon

You can substitute just about any tough winter green in here. You can also use ham (country or city style) in place of bacon – you just may need to add a little more grease to the pot. You can cut off an inch or so of particularly tough stems, but use both the stems and leaves of the collards in the dish for both contrast in textures and to avoid food waste. Trust me – they’ll cook and be delicious!

You will need:

  • 2 pounds fresh collard greens, chopped into 1-inch strips or pieces (about 8-10 packed cups), stems and leaves included
  • 1 small red or sweet onion, thinly sliced (about 1 c)
  • 4 oz bacon (end pieces or chunks are best, but you can use strips, as well), cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1/4 c apple cider vinegar
  • 2-3 tbsp raw sugar
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper, more to taste
  • 1 tsp kosher salt, more to taste
  • 2 c broth, beer, or water, plus more if necessary to maintain pot liquor (see below)
  • 1-3 tsp hot sauce of choice (optional, but adds both salt and spice)

Directions:

  1. Heat bacon in a large pot over medium-low heat, allowing the bacon to render its fat and grease the pan but not cook fully, about 5 minutes. Add onion, and cook over medium heat until soft and translucent, stirring frequently, about 3-4 minutes. If the onion begins to brown or burn, you can add more fat to the pot and turn the heat down to medium low.
  2. Add sugar, pepper, hot sauce if using, and salt to pot, and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Carefully pour in vinegar (it will steam and sting your eyes if you look over pots like I do) and stir to combine thoroughly. Allow the liquid to reduce by about half over medium heat.
  3. Add collard greens, turning to coat with the sugar-vinegar reduction. Pour in broth, cover pot, and cook greens over low to medium-low heat until soft and tender, about 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally to maintain even cooking. (If your liquid completely disappears in cooking, which is unlikely but possible, pour in more broth to maintain about 1/2-1 c liquid. This is called pot liquor, and it is delicious and salty and great for seasoning your greens and cornbread and whatever else you want on your table. Drink it straight for all I care.)
  4. Taste your greens, and add salt and more hot sauce to taste. Cook longer if you want more tender greens. Serve hot.

Vegan Braised Greens: Omit bacon. Heat 3 tbsp olive (not extra virgin) or canola oil in the pot, and proceed with cooking the onions in Step 1. In Step 2, add 1 tsp smoked paprika, and increase the salt to 1 1/2 tsp. Proceed with recipe.

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