If ever there was a dish that served as a celebration of my heritage, it’d be collard greens. Marrying the southern roots of my paternal family from Durham, North Carolina, and my south-of-the-equator family on my mother’s side from Belem, Brazil, I get my love of collards fair and square. In my house growing up, we oft ate the Brazilian national dish, feijoada completa. This stew of various meats and black beans had to have a specific list of accompaniments in order for it to be correct – one of these primary components was collard greens. While Mom and I were usually in charge of the black beans and rice, Dad was always in charge of the greens. He had a special method of sauteeing the collards until tender, with his secret blend of onion, garlic, olive oil and ground pepper. The whole process usually involved him breaking into an impromptu blues song about “greasy greens” that I’m sure he made up on the spot. Never a dull moment in the house where I grew up.
My version of the greens is closer to the traditional Brazilian preparation the first day that I eat them, but as leftovers, they are so much like my Dad’s version. It’s wild – almost as if both sides of my heritage come out in the recipe in some way or another. A lot of recipes have you simply slice ans sauté the greens, but this is a mistake. You absolutely must blanch and shock them first – this cleans any grit from the greens and takes away a lot of the bitterness. Right is right. Also, by blanching the greens, you’ll reduce the cooking time for the sauteeing portion of the cooking. Also, if you have a friend with impeccable knife skills, get them to chiffonade (thinly slice) these greens for you. I get my friend Kate to do it when she is over, because the greens are wispy and perfect when she does it. There’s something to be said for a skillful chop, and kids, she’s got it.
Although these are typically served with black beans and rice in Brazil, they are equally delicious with fresh fish, grilled chicken or steak. Work them into your repertoire of side dishes for some serious garlicky goodness. And speaking of garlic, if you use that prechopped garlic garbage in this recipe (or any of my recipes for that matter), just pick up your pan of greens and throw them in the garbage. Fresh garlic is key, and if you don’t believe me, I want to punch you in the stomach. Not really, but seriously, use fresh garlic. Happy eating!
Couve (Brazilian-Style Collard Greens)
2 large bunches of collard greens
5 fat cloves of fresh garlic, minced
1/4 c. of olive oil
1/4 tsp. of salt
1/8 tsp. of black pepper
Put a large pot of heavily salted water on to boil.
Begin by rinsing the greens. Place each green on a cutting board and cut out the middle, woody stem. Stack the leaves and continue to prep the greens. When you’ve got about 5-7 leaves prepped, roll the leaves into a fat cigar and thinly slice as finely as you can, forming skinny strands like confetti. Put the collard confetti in a bowl and continue to cut.
When the greens are cut and the water is boiling, dump the greens into the water and push them down so that they wilt and turn bright green. You’ll only want them in the hot water for a minute or two. Working quickly, drain the greens and then shock them by running cold water over them. If you don’t shock them with the cold water, they will continue to cook and become to soft. Drain greens well and set aside.
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil until shimmering. Add the collards, garlic, salt and pepper and toss in the olive oil. Do not overcook – you basically want to coat the greens in the garlicky oil and then take them off the heat. Your garlic will still be sharp and fragrant, and your collards bright green. Serve immediately.