Weekend Gourmet

Healthy Southern-style greens

January 12, 2013 

COURTESY OF FRED THOMPSON

  • Smoky Collard Greens Adapted from Whole Foods Market. 1 bunch collard greens, cleaned, stems removed and roughly chopped. Or a mixture of southern greens like mustard, turnips and collards 1 medium onion, diced 1 clove garlic, minced 2 teaspoons smoked paprika 1 14-ounce can no-salt-added fire-roasted tomatoes 1 1/2 cups low-sodium vegetable stock 1 tablespoon agave nectar, or pure cane sugar 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar COVER greens with 1 inch of water in a large pot. Place over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until just tender, 30-40 minutes. HEAT a sauté pan to medium-high. Add onions, stirring frequently to prevent sticking. Add vegetable stock by tablespoonsful if needed to prevent sticking. When onions are nearly translucent, add garlic and paprika. Stir until combined. Add fire-roasted tomatoes, vegetable stock, greens (with their cooking liquid), agave and balsamic vinegar. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. If desired, drain and coarsely chop. Serve hot or at room temperature. Yield: 4 servings SERVE WITH: These greens are great with most anything, but I particularly like them with seafood. Wild Stripe Bass or Rockfish are in season and the collards are wonderful alongside this fish. Add some brown rice, and you’re done. TO DRINK: Have you tried a Chablis lately? Not the cheap jug kind but the good stuff. I think you will be surprised.

I get accused of never publishing healthy recipes. In most cases, I’m guilty as charged.

Bacon fat and ham hocks were the main seasoning ingredients while I was growing up, then butter and cream came into play when I went to culinary school in my 30s. These are all wonderful ways to season a multitude of foods, and I love every one of them. But they’re not so good if you are trying to manage your weight either for ego or health, which I try to for both reasons. And most of us vowed earlier this month to do something about our weight and eating habits in 2013. Are we doomed to frozen, low-calorie meals? Hardly.

Moderation is your biggest friend. Julia Child, the greatest foodie of all time, lived into her 90s letting moderation in all things be her guide. Learn to cook again. In your kitchen, you have complete control over what foods you eat and how they are prepared. Yes, it does take some planning to cook at home, but if you get everyone in your family involved in the process, you might reap results in stuff other than food.

When I’m working on a recipe that involves ingredients like bacon fat or butter, I’m looking to get to the lowest possible amounts. Unlike the French sauce monstrosities that call for copious amounts of butter, I’ve found that a small amount, like 1 tablespoon for 4 to 6 servings instead of a stick can give the same satisfaction, and this works with pork fat, too. I also test recipes with only olive oil to see where that gets me in a flavor profile. Usually, it works just fine. Another trick is using more and different types of herbs and spices. One of the great chef’s secrets is to add an acid, like vinegars and citrus juice, to do the final seasoning. It’s amazing what acids can do, and they also help reduce the amount of salt needed.

All that preaching aside, I have long believed that collards, or any southern green, could not be tasty without pork fat. Then, I happened on a recipe from Whole Foods Market’s Health Starts Here counter for Smoky Collard Greens.

These greens satisfied so many of the tastes I want in greens with no – let me repeat, no – pork fat anywhere. Using new spices – in this case, smoked paprika, vinegar as an acid and fire-roasted tomatoes – an outstanding and delicious dish resulted. The recipe is very simple, and all the ingredients are available in any supermarket. I think you will be as surprised as I was. Pair it with a healthy protein, like fish, and a new way of cooking and thinking comes into play. I really like a mixture of greens, which adds another set of flavors and textures.

Good luck trying to make a change in your eating lifestyle. Small changes can yield big results over the course of a year.

Fred Thompson is author of “Fred Thompson’s Southern Sides” and publisher of Edible Piedmont. Reach him at fdtfx1@earthlink.net.

For a printable copy of the recipe, click the link:

Smoky Collard Greens

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