Southern-Style Collard Greens, Oven Braised

Collard Greens in our CSA box this week reminded me of the first time I had them almost 30 years ago during a road trip with my good friend Dora.

Dora and I were both going to start grad school in a couple of weeks. We'd already spent two glorious summer months backpacking and Eurorailing across Europe. Not wanting the fun to end, we returned to the States and promptly got behind the wheel of a Honda Prelude. And started driving. From the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic.  Along I-10, we gazed somewhat unimpressed at a muddy Rio Grande slowly wending its way past El Paso; remembered the Alamo in San Antonio and imagined the last moments of its defending Texians; drove thru an eerily deserted, oil-busted Houston; and fell in love with New Orleans and its iconic wrought iron balconies, historic streetcars and beignet breakfasts at Cafe du Monde. We veered north on to I-20, up to Atlanta, and at Mary Mac's we got our first taste of collard greens and pot likker, the savory, vitamin-rich broth in which the greens are braised.

I can't say it was love at first sight. Traditional Southern-style collard greens are boiled for a couple of hours, resulting in a rather unappetizing-looking, drab olive-colored dish. You're kinda left wondering what all the hullaballoo is about. But once you get over the looks and take your first bite, you're rewarded with silky, soft greens and a rich, bacon-flavored broth, perfect for dunking cornbread in.

I even managed to dig up the menu from our meal on Thursday, July 17, 1986! Here's to good friends, road trips and collard greens!

Southern-Style Collard Greens, Oven Braised
Serves 6

Note: Normally, collard greens are left to simmer on the stovetop for an hour or two. However, I happened to also be baking at the time, so I finished braising the greens in the oven. Choose which ever method works for you.

In a 4-qt oven-proof stockpot with lid, saute till crispy:
2 slices bacon, cut crosswise into thin strips

Add to the stockpot and saute until soft, but not browned, about 4-5 minutes:
1 medium onion, chopped

Add and saute for about 1 min, stirring to coat with oil:
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch collard greens, destemmed and chopped roughly into 1 1/2" - 2" squares

3 1/2 cups of water or chicken or vegetable stock or combination of
1 tsp salt
ground black pepper

Bring to a boil. Place lid on top and place in an oven set at 350°F (no need to preheat). Cook for 1 1/2 hours or until greens are cooked to desired tenderness. If cooking on the stovetop, reduce heat to a simmer and cover pot with lid. Cook for 1 1/2 to 2 hrs, or until greens are done to your liking.

When greens are done, stir in:
juice from 1/2 lemon

Serve warm in small bowls along with the broth (pot likker) for drinking afterwards or dunking cornbread into.

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