Vegetable Geeks: Greens in the "home cooked" and/or "soul" tradition

A little (maybe closer to a long) while ago, my friend Eric demanded I send him recipes “so that he might be jolly.” I immediately thought of pies, but then I thought the likelihood of Eric preparing a pie was small. The reasons for this are as follows: Eric lives in New York City, where I lived when I met him, and true to stereotypes, New Yorkers are short on time and fridge space, or at least so far as the line is mostly drawn at frivolities (like the peach custard in pate brisee that I was envisioning); I add to this first reason the fact that Eric is a good southern gentleman and that he played football in high school and looks it,  a strong-looking, large-chested, deep-voiced and polite gentleman whose presence emits a sort of old-school grace from behind the Williamsburg bar where he works late most nights. Eric once took back my bicycle from what looked to be a crack-addict whom we caught red-handed around 4am one August night not long after I moved to Brooklyn. And, in short, though he’s a good feminist, the idea of him making a lattice top seemed inappropriate.

Eric lived during his childhood in Louisiana and Alabama, though I can never remember in which order, so after pie, I thought of southern cuisine, which I ate a lot of when I lived near Eric.  The blocks I lived on were populated by mostly Jamaican and Belizean families, I was told when I first walked up to the house, and literally across the street another neighborhood began, Bedford-Stuyvesant, where one could get “awesome soul food.” This was when I first had greens, a good recipe for my southern gentleman friend, as they are easy but also nourishing in a way that promotes “jollity” in a more lasting way than, say, whiskey.

In one of the essays in her book Notes from No Man’s Land, Eula Biss describes a segregated restaurant which served “Home Cooking” on one end and ‘Soul Food” at the other but served the same menu. I have trouble choosing between the two descriptors since the food I started to associate with home when I lived in Brooklyn was “soul food,” but really it doesn’t matter much which you call them as greens are just plain good people food, bursting with vitamins and calcium, and you don’t have to cook them with a ham hock or bacon for them to be tasty.

This is how I do it:

First, trim your greens.  Collard greens and broccoli greens are my favorites, but I recently used chard to good affect. Other cooking greens will work, too: mustard greens, beet greens, kale, etc., but not spinach. You can cook spinach this way, but it’s just not the same. To trim collards, broccoli, and chard, cut the stem from inside each leaf and chop it into 1/2 inch pieces. Then, roll the leaves like a cigar and cut into quarter inch slices, like a chiffonade.

Next, melt 1 tbs butter in a skillet over medium heat. If you are feeling sad or skinny, add another tablespoon.

Add two cloves of garlic, diced. If you are feeling sick or like scaring off kisses, add another clove of garlic.

When the garlic is fragrant, add the greens. You can cook them as little as 5 minutes, or add enough water to keep them from burning and simmer them for as long as 30 minutes. As soon as the leaves turn bright and the stems can be poked with a fork, they’re “cooked,” but if you want melty soft homey greens, let them simmer longer. Cooking greens are sturdy enough not to fall apart. Whenever I’ve had them at a neighborhood corner diner, they’ve been in the melty soft homey category, so that’s my ideal, though to be honest, I usually get hungry and eat them sooner.

Sprinkle just before serving with a little apple cider vinegar.

Eat them with: mashed potatoes, cornbread, cheese grits, baked beans, or anything.

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