Southerners love greens, but choosing a favorite? That we cannot do. Collard, mustard, turnip? Creasie, dandelion, kale, spinach? We love them all and why would we not? Deeply colored, sturdy-textured, and packed with nutritious goodness, greens are humanity's friend.
Unlike lettuce, most of the greens Southerners cherish benefit from heat and time. The tradition of boiling up a big potful of greens goes back centuries and across the Atlantic to West African cuisines. The cooking juices, what's known in the South as "pot likker," always counted, too. Given that greens grow easily in gardens and in the wild, and that a little salt pork transforms their cooking liquid into a marvelous and satisfying soup, stewed greens took root in the South.
Cornmeal in its various forms goes perfectly with greens, as a scoop of spoon bread, a crumbly hunk of skillet cornbread on the side, or as dumplings simmered right in the pot. Traditionally, greens are seasoned at the table, as Edna Lewis reminisces in her cookbook In Pursuit of Flavor: "When I was growing up in Virginia, every house had a round tray on the table holding bottles and jars of oil, vinegar, mustard, salt, pepper, and sugar so that everyone could season their own greens."
Who doesn't love greens, bacon, dumplings, and a flavorful broth all in one pot? A long, slow simmer turns tough collard greens meltingly tender here. The bacon broth is easy and can be done up to three days in advance to save time.
- Christine, October 2015
Collard Greens with Pot Likker and Dumplings
1 cup cornmeal, white or yellow, preferably stone-ground
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
In a stockpot or large Dutch oven, cook the bacon over medium-high heat until it becomes fragrant, curly, handsomely browned, and crisp. Add 3 quarts water to the pot and bring it to a rolling boil over high heat. Stir the water and then lower the heat to maintain a visible simmer. Cover the pot and simmer it for 1 hour.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a medium bowl and set it aside to cool. Increase the heat to high, and let the pot return to a rolling boil. Stir in the greens and 1 teaspoon of the salt. Let the pot come back to a rolling boil, and then turn the heat to low. Cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes. When the bacon has cooled, chop it into 1-inch pieces and return it to the pot.
In a medium bowl, stir together the cornmeal, flour, and remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt. Add 1/2 cup water and stir to combine everything into a thick, sturdy dough.
Set out a plate to hold the dumplings as you shape them. Wet your hands well with water and scoop out a generous 1 tablespoon of the dough. Gently roll it into a small ball, and then flatten it a bit into a patty, in the neighborhood of 1 1/2 inches in diameter and 1/2-inch thick. Set this dumpling on the plate and continue making all the dough into dumplings.
After the greens have cooked gently for 45 minutes, increase the heat to bring the pot likker to a lively boil. Carefully place the dumplings all around the edges of the pot, on top of and encircling the bubbling greens. Continue adding dumplings, working inward, until you have used up all the dough. Using a ladle or a large spoon, scoop up pot likker and spoon it over the dumplings to moisten them as they cook. Lower the heat to maintain a lively simmer, cover the pot, and cook until the dumplings are tender and cooked through to the center, about 20 minutes more.
Remove the pot from the heat and let it stand for 5 minutes. Serve the greens, dumplings, and pot likker hot or warm. You can serve the pot likker on the side, in heavy glasses or mugs, along with the greens and dumplings.
Reprinted with permission from Southern Soups & Stews: More Than 75 Recipes from Burgoo and Gumbo to Etouffée and Fricassee by Nancie McDermott, copyright (c) 2015. Published by Chronicle Books.