Having been born and raised in north Texas, and being part American Indian, I’ve eaten and cooked a LOT of “greens,” my family’s favorite always being turnip greens, with or without an added third of chopped mustard greens, a good mixture.
Why? Because kale and collard greens are a bit thick, tough, and tasteless. Mustard greens are too chewy, often rough textured to the tongue, more bitter, and all of these require twice the time to cook. (My father grew up when farm families used to pour hot bacon grease over raw young chopped mustard greens. I never tried eating them that way.)
So, choose only the best, fresh, and smallest-leafed turnip greens, if given a choice. If the greens are as small as a medium-sized lettuce leaf but narrower, nothing but washing both sides of every leaf well is needed to begin. If the leaf is larger, the center ‘vein’ only is removed by hand, knife, or scissors, because it will be too tough to bite through comfortably and is often stringy! I prefer my greens chopped, if I have the time. They cook faster, chew better, and take less room to cook than do a large hot pile of large whole leaves.
Assuming you have washed them well to remove all possible sand and dirt, place them into a very large pot, remembering that they will cook WAY down, and require more leaves than one thinks per serving. I usually buy two large bundles if fresh or three packages if frozen. Prior to seasoning, my family and I “parboil” them to remove the bitterness each variety of greens has to some degree. It makes for a much more pleasant eating experience. We also tried to add diced turnips to the greens.
A note: My grandmother added apple cider vinegar to her greens after they were cooked, but I have not tried it. I know it’s very healthy, but is a taste one must acquire. On occasion she also added small amounts of vegetables like corn, potato wedges, and/or carrot slices to the greens, but not so much as to make it like a stew. Greens have a wonderful flavor of their own, so it is my practice to enjoy as much of that flavor as possible.
A meal of cooked greens was a highlight back then, a treat to all who had waited until they were ‘in season,’ but mostly for the customary accompaniment of extra-crispy, lightly baked cornbread sticks, fresh from the cast-iron molds, and lots of butter. Today I would substitute virgin coconut oil for the butter.
(Another note: During Plantation times prior to the Civil War, the slaves who did all of their owner’s cooking and manual labor used to be given ALL of the water from ALL cooked greens, I understand. This was known as “pot liquor” to the slaves, and was so nutritious it saved their lives, keeping them healthy during the worst of diseases and hardest labor impact on their bodies. It has been recorded that it and God were what they attributed their survival to.
I have over the years frozen the cooled greens water in thick zip-lock quart-sized baggies for anyone who ever gets the flu throughout the year in the church or neighborhood. They are amazed to learn of its quick medicinal cure and good flavor, even for children. Do not dilute, but you can see if it needs straining. Heat/serve it as it comes from the pot, even if it has a small remnant of missed soil and greens that got cooked. Only a few cups will do the trick. Thank God for pot liquor!!)
Oh, any leftover greens will freeze beautifully as well, or make excellent leftovers the next day. My mother and I can ‘make a whole meal’ out of greens and corn bread anytime!
Because we stopped eating pork in our family, which supplied the wonderful flavoring back then, we began to substitute Betty Crocker soy BACON BITS from its spice-bottle container. To the potful, I would add about two tablespoons, because when wet they swell and give the flavor of bacon. After you cook and sample the greens, you will know how to adjust it to suit your own taste.
Note: If you do not care for the taste of bacon, I would recommend fresh virgin olive oil and sea salt to your taste, along with about 1 teaspoon of turmeric (a healthier pepper substitute). I also cook with grape seed oil, which I would add in the approximate amount of 1/3 cup to the potful, if I still had a family at home, but I am now retired and seldom cook much.
Spinach is not considered part of the ‘greens’ in our family, and I have read that anything beyond lightly sautéed spinach causes the cooked spinach to become toxic to humans. We reserve tender spinach leaves for salads only, or added to cooked pizza, spaghetti, or other cooked vegetable recipes on occasion, even raw for sandwiches as alternative to tasteless lettuces.
Dandelion greens are the most bitter of all, can wilt quickly prior to cooking, and are eaten by a lot of folks in the north, but not in the south, to my knowledge. This may change with hard times, as may have been the case during the Great Depression? Since one may be tempted to pick them ‘wild’ growing prolifically from any sort of location here, they are often splashed with dirt, bugs, and ground debris collected after each rain, which make them distasteful to pick for a meal. I wash and save them for my bunny and chicken.
Retired in Texas
Dear Retired in Texas,
Thank you so much for your very generous letter in response to Southern California Girl’s call for greens recipes! We appreciate our readers who have written in with suggestions. We have compiled some of the recipes into one article. Click here to access the recipes submitted. If you cannot access the link for some reason, the article web address is below.
If you’d like to contact the editor, please send an email to [email protected]