Secret sauce for greens

Bowl of kale

I had to chuckle when I saw the latest promotional ads at Whole Foods.

They proclaim, “Collards are the new kale,” and go on to explain that “it doesn’t take bacon to make greens taste great!”

Now, my Grandpa H, who was a Southern chef before entire TV networks were devoted to such things, might argue about that bacon remark. He flavored his greens with good old fatback — “streak ‘o lean,” to be more precise.

We favored collard greens, but turnip greens, mustard greens and even kale would do in a pinch. We prepared them all basically the same way: Snap off the tough stems and rough-looking spots, and then carefully wash away any dirt or sandy residue. Meanwhile, sauté the fatback or whatever meat you’ve got for flavoring, then add it and all the drippings to the big speckled stew pot, filled halfway with salted water. While that’s heating up, cut or tear the greens into pieces and pop them into the pot. Once it’s boiling, lower the heat to a simmer and cover the pot.

After cooking a few hours “low and slow,” your greens are ready. (And don’t forget the “potlikker” — that flavorful liquid the greens are swimming in. It’s so good for sopping up with cornbread!)

I was raised to believe that potlikker could cure just about everything, from low iron in the blood to hair cowlicks. A bowl of soupy greens, some black-eyed peas, some cornbread, and you’re set!

It wasn’t until I grew up and fell in with a bunch of Northerners that I learned not everybody eats greens. At least, not Southern greens. Say “greens” to my friend from Long Island, and she thinks you’re talking about broccoli or salad. The New York Times once ran a correction, of sorts, after using the term “pot liquor” instead of “potlikker” in a story that described the great Southern delicacy.

It’s been rather amusing to watch the lowly kale and collard reach rock-star status among foodies. I just Googled “kale” and came up with 18.4 million hits. Compared to 21.6 million for broccoli, that’s quite a showing. The Food Network website lists 319 recipes for kale, and 185 for collards. (Expect more once they learn that collards are the new kale!)

Leafy greens are loaded with fiber, folate, potassium, iron, magnesium, calcium, lutein, phytochemicals and vitamins A, C and K, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest. And the U.S. Department of Agriculture says everyone should eat three cups of dark green vegetables per week.

Today’s nutritional gurus say cooking kale, collards and other leafy vegetables until they’re Army olive drab can actually cook away some of the nutrients. So now I quick-steam my greens, or boil them just until they turn bright emerald. While they’re cooking, I whip up this concoction that my husband says “brightens” the taste.

I think Grandpa H would approve.

Secret Lemon Mustard Vinegar

1/3 cup olive oil
2/3 cup vinegar
1 heaping tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 heaping teaspoon minced garlic
Juice of one lemon (or equivalent in concentrate)
Pinch of salt

Whisk together all ingredients. Taste-test and adjust seasonings to your liking, if necessary. Drizzle over cooked greens. Any leftover dressing tastes great on salad or pasta.    

–Mickey Gramig