Collard greens, an iconic southern food, no doubt. They have their share of lovers and haters, but they’re undoubtedly full of fiber, calcium, and iron. Their big beautiful leaves are a staple in the fall or early spring garden, as they love a touch of cooler weather. And they’re not measured in cups or bunches, but in “messes.” I got a mess of collards in my CSA box last week and needed to come up with a quick way of cooking them.
Normally, here in the south, collards are an all afternoon cooking project. First, they must be triple-washed. No one wants sand or dirt in their collards. This washing takes place in the sink, if it’s big enough, or in bath tubs, or once my friend (Hey, Beth!) washed hers in the washing machine. No kidding. After the washing is complete, into a large pot they go with meat seasoning. This could be a ham hock or turkey neck, whatever salty seasoning meat you have on hand will do. Top it with water and let it cook for hours. Everyone in the neighborhood will know you’re cooking collards (phew), but they sure are tasty with fresh cornbread.
Unfortunately, all of that overcooking can reduce some of the bite and health benefits of collard greens. And my small mess of collards wasn’t nearly enough to make a whole pot full. And since this is baseball and dance recital season, time is in short supply too. Collard greens don’t really need to cook for hours upon hours. Much like kale, collards come to vibrant green life with a toss in a hot skillet and a bit of steam. And as an ode to the traditional collard cooking method, I like to use bacon for these quick collards. The smoky and crisp bacon is a nice contrast to the lightly cooked greens.
Top it all off with a few splashes of tangy balsamic vinegar, and you have a quick weeknight side dish that any southern grandma would eat (hopefully). So save yourself the time and effort of cooking collards all day, and whip these up in just 10 minutes. Boom. Done. Here’s what you’ll need:
Collard Greens (10-12 large leaves)
4 slices good quality bacon
2 Tbsp Balsamic Vinegar (add more if you want a tarter flavor)
Salt and Pepper to taste
- Wash your collards. Instead of a sink full of water, I opt for rinsing each leaf individually when I have large leaves. Set wet leaves on clean dishtowel to dry. Using a sharp paring knife, cut rib from the center of the collard leaf.
- Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add bacon slices once skillet is hot and fry for 3-4 minutes per side or until cooked through. While the bacon is cooking, proceed with the next step, but keep your eye on the bacon, so it doesn’t burn.
- Once leaves are cleaned and ribs cut out, lay half of the leaves flat in a pile. Starting at one long end of the leaves, begin rolling. Create a tight roll of the collard leaves. Once they’re all rolled up, begin cutting at one end. Cut through the roll every 1/2 inch or so, creating long ribbons of collards. Repeat with the second pile of collard leaves.
- Once bacon is cooked, remove to a paper towel lined plate. Turn heat down to medium and begin adding cut collard strips. (Be very careful in case your collards still have water on them. Water and bacon grease will pop, so keep a lid handy just in case.) Once all of the collards are in the pan, put a lid on top and allow to cook for for 5-8 minutes. Use tongs to turn over greens every 2 to 3 minutes. Greens will turn bright green as they cook and steam, and you’ll get some crispy pieces as well. (So delicious!)
- Remove from heat and add balsamic vinegar, tossing to coat the greens. Add salt and pepper to taste, and top with crumbled bacon pieces. Serve warm. Enjoy!
These bright greens are perfect will really any main dish, so pair away! These were such a hit at our house; all of the little gardeners loved them and the hubs too(who doesn’t like collards… go figure). It may be attributed to the fact that bacon makes everything better! I’d love to know if you have a favorite way to cook collards. Have a great week and happy gardening!