The collard greens at Heirloom Market BBQ in northwest Atlanta have their fans, as well they should. Cooked to soppy submission, dripping with flavor, and thick with chunks of long-cooked meat, these are the gold standard of barbecue-joint greens.
I like them just fine but, well, I’m not from around these parts and have developed a heretical approach to Southern greens.
Do I dare say it? I like to make mine vegetarian.
I’ll admit this because — I promise! — I put in my smoked meat dues. After moving to the South, I immediately started playing around with recipes for collard greens. I bought smoked ham hocks, and neck bones, turkey wings and everything else I saw my friends and neighbors using and read about in recipe books. My greens were never as good as theirs, but I think they were on the right track.
Then came the day I bought a 2-foot-long bunch of collards on a whim. I had no ham bone, not one slice of bacon, not one bouillon cube to cook them in. I briefly considered the soup packages in a couple of blocks of ramen noodles before devising a new plan. I decided to take the collards out for a tour of the Mediterranean, and so I stewed them with tomatoes, garlic, onions, peppers and a healthy glug of olive oil. I added enough water for potlikker, and a bay leaf or two may have made its way into the pot. A few dashes of balsamic vinegar added at the end, after the greens were tender, really set the flavor off. My family loved them, and so a new recipe was born.
Recently I’ve turned my attention to turnip greens. I’ve always loved the version served at Taqueria del Sol that are stewed with tomatoes, onions and enough chile de arbol (a small, very spicy dried red pepper) to make you stand up and take notice.
I figured it was time to try them at home. So I picked up a nice-looking bunch of turnip greens at the market along with a little bag of the hot chilies. When I got home I pulled out chef Eddie Hernandez’s recipe, only to discover it called for both margarine and chicken broth. Butter was an easy substitute, but I didn’t have a drop of chicken anything. And so my second recipe for vegetarian greens was born.
Spicy Vegetarian Turnip Greens (Based on the Taqueria del Sol recipe)
Hands on: 25 minutes Total time: 1 1/2 hours Serves: 6
In a very large pot, cover greens with 1 inch water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until just tender, about 45 minutes. Drain well.
In a large pot, melt butter. Add onions, garlic and chile de arbol and saute until onions are softened. Add tomatoes and their juices. Add cooked turnip greens and water or other liquid and bring to a boil. Boil for 5 minutes, reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Add salt to taste.