Thursday, April 25, 2013 4 Comments
Can we be friends?
I don’t always remember the first time I am introduced to a new vegetable. Usually, there is not a lot of conversation. No, “How are you? What a lovely shade of orange you are and oh, so deliciously crunchy. Carrot, I think we will be friends.”
But I do remember the first time I was truly introduced to collard greens. I was visiting one of my closest friends at her university. They had a more progressive student store than we had at my university, the benefits of a smaller, more isolated, let’s face it–cooler–school.
We were making dinner, and the collards were the star item. The leaves were enormous, more like the type of natural fan you would find on a tropical island, swaying softly from the ceiling. The greens were totally unfamiliar in some ways, but not in other ways. I knew of them as a soul food staple, and I may have even eaten them, but if so, they would have been stewed until brown and mushy. Regardless, this was the first time I really tasted them, and they remained bright green, slightly toothsome, and were a revelation.
Fast forward eight years, I was in Brazil, taking long bus rides along the beautiful Northern coast and amidst the brick red earth of the sertão. Jaunts at rest stops punctuated the scenic journey, and my education in the gustatory habits of Brazilians began. I knew that meat featured heavily in their diet, but I was unaware that this was also a culture in love with buffets. They were everywhere.
Buffets and I get along. I love the variety and the endless combinations of tastes and textures, but I do not gorge myself, the main complaint I have heard from those weary of the buffet. And in Brazil, there was no chance of my eyes being bigger than my stomach. I am a vegetarian, and my options were limited. But there were options! Rice, a few salads, fresh fruit, and more often than not, collard greens. Since collards and I had met that fateful day we had gotten to know each other better, but we weren’t as close as I had hoped. Once I encountered the Brazilian version, however, I knew our relationship would change. These greens were simple and straightforward, seasoned with nothing more than salt and garlic, but they were special, too. The leaves were not chopped willy nilly, but meticulously cut into perfect, narrow ribbons. The thinness of the strips allowed them to be done just after a few tosses in a hot pan, transforming them into a brighter green than when raw and tender without being sad.
“Collard greens, nice to see you again. I am glad we are friends, because I think I love you.”
Brazilian Buffet-style Collard Greens
1 small bunch of collard greens
1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
pinch of red chili flakes
salt to taste
Remove the thick stem from each collard green leaf, keeping the very top in tact. Stack about three leaves on top of each other, and roll from left to right.
Slice each roll into 1/8 inch thick ribbons.
Repeat with remaining leaves.
In a large wok-style pan, heat olive oil over a medium-high flame. Add chili flakes and garlic and swirl around in oil until they begin to perfume, about 30 seconds.
Add collard green ribbons. Gently stir until just tender, about 2-3 minutes.
If your greens are larger and tougher, prepare them add a few splashes of water to help them soften.