Thomas Head is a native of Louisiana who lives in Washington DC. Among his achievements, Head counts working as a restaurant reviewer and co-authoring The Happy Table of Eugene Walter: Southern Spirits in Food and Drink. One of the most important factors in his resume is his personal background as a southerner, growing up eating greens as often as his family could put them on the table.
Here in the Carolinas, when you say “greens,” the large leaf of the collard is the first green item that appears. The collard is the state vegetable in South Carolina and in the south often shares table space with turnip greens and even dandelion. North Carolina even has a Collard Museum.
The book follows the format of the series in that it describes the role of the subject food (in this case, greens) in southern cuisine along with its history here in America and how it is used in cuisines elsewhere in the world. African Americans contributed heavily to the cultivation and our knowledge of how to cook collards and other leafy greens. There is no argument that they are healthy, containing many vitamins. As Head says, greens are trendy now, but he eats them, loves to eat them, not because they are trendy and not because they are good for you, but because they are a part of his heritage.
Head lists several collard festivals here in the south, including Gaston, SC’s collards and BBQ festival held annually in October. Head also tells us a bit about various types of greens and when they are available. One of the best parts of the front of the book is his careful explanation of how to make traditional southern collards and turnip greens. Washing the greens and stripping out the tough stem are two very important parts of the book.
Although I like this series very much and I like a lot about this book, the 53-item recipe section is almost entirely collards—understandable, but perhaps the title should be “Collards, Turnip and other Greens” Oh yes, Head does take us to other lands—Punjabi style greens, an Italian sausage and greens. He offers uses for the delicious dandelion green (my father’s favorite) and includes a posole and peanut stew. There is even a Lebanese and Lentil stew and a recipe for collard green dolmas. He even puts forth a recipe for a mustard green pesto! Head says his family was primarily a turnip greens family—not so much into collards, but his recipes for both sound good.
Several recipes include cornmeal or add sausages, ham, pork of various types to the greens to add flavor.
Even if you cannot get farm-fresh greens, today’s supermarkets usually offer greens of various types year-round (obviously not always locally grown). Using them in ways you might not have considered, as main courses, giving substance to a soup or stew (instead of being a simple add-in), these recipes will certainly keep you healthy and heading for the produce section of your grocer—over and over again.
At A Glance
Title | Greens
Author | Thomas Head
Publisher | University of North Carolina Press
Cost | $19.00
Spicy Collard and Black-eyed Pea Soup
Reprinted with permission of University of North Carolina Press from Greens by Thomas Head
2 slices thick-cut bacon cut crosswise into half- inch wide strips
2 medium onions, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups dried black-eyed peas
8cups chicken stock or ham stock
1 pound collard greens, washed, stems
removed, and chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 (16 oz can fire-roasted tomatoes
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon hot sauce or more to taste
1 chipotle chili from a can of chipotles in adobo
2 teaspoons adobo sauce
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
In a large pot over medium heat, sauté the bacon until it begins to release its fat. Add the onions and celery and cook until the vegetables are beginning to brown. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Add the black –eyed peas and 6 cups of the stock. Bring to a boil and simmer until the peas are tender, about 45 minutes. Add the collards, the remaining stock, the tomatoes with their liquid and the seasonings, Bring back to the boil and simmer for an additional 30 minutes. Taste for salt, adding more to taste.
Serve with cornbread, pepper vinegar, and additional hot sauce for the chili heads.