Monday, May 30, 2011

A Whole Mess of Greens

Over the holiday weekend, I challenged myself. As a burgeoning Southern cook, I like to do this from time to time. I like to break out of my comfort zone of microwaved pepperonis and instant Ramen and attempt something new and exciting. I'm complicated that way.

During my short and varied stint as a "cook," I've managed to prepare a variety of traditional Southern recipes and dishes. Buttermilk biscuits and gravy, shrimp and grits, homemade macaroni and cheese, cornbread, hashbrown casserole, cubed steak, the list goes on and on. But the one dish that has eluded me, the one dish that I have avoided preparing out of fear and intimidation has been turnip greens. Now, in the South, we have this thing. We like to eat. A lot. We like to eat all manner of things, especially fried things and yummy vegetable things (sometimes the yummy vegetable things are one and the same with the fried things, which only makes them better). Turnip greens fall into the yummy vegetables category. In fact, I would probably say that turnip greens take the cake as the yummiest of all the vegetables but that's only my opinion, and you can take it for what it's worth.

As a great lover of turnip greens, and other types of greens which I'll discuss in another post on another day, I have not deprived myself or my husband of them in the years since I left the nest and the comfort of my Mama's turnip greens. No, in fact, I prepare them quite frequently and shamelessly out of a can. I know. I should be horribly ashamed. To even refer to myself as a Southern cook is a gigantic lie, but for some reason, I haven't been able to work up the courage to make fresh greens. Something about the entire process is just a little frightening.

Out of the can. 
While I was grocery shopping on Saturday, I encountered my old nemesis on the vegetable aisle. It mocked me with its leafy goodness, taunted me with those long stems and its sheer bulk. Not to be outdone by a stinking vegetable, I snatched up two bunches of the offending stuff and wheeled around to my husband. "I'm cooking greens!" I declared, plopping the greens into the buggy.

Puzzled, he hazarded to reply with "sounds great" and wisely pushed the buggy on down the aisle.

When we got home, I chose to sit around for a couple of hours before starting dinner. I'm used to throwing something together in about an hour, so I didn't think anything of it when I started my meal of turnip greens and dried field peas at around 6:30pm. Needless to say, it was around 9:00pm before we ate.

A Whole Mess of Greens
After quick-soaking my field peas and washing and chopping my turnip greens, I finally got everything on the stove. The greens were a daunting task but not quite as daunting as I had anticipated. I was feeling pretty good about myself when we sat down at the table to my pretty little meal. Jeremy had done his part and grilled up some pork chops as well, so we had quite the feast before us.

I cut into the pork chop. Tender, juicy perfection. The husband fulfilled his role as grill master well. Next, I scooped up a fork full of those delicious smelling field peas. Not bad for my first time cooking dried peas. They weren't too dry or too tough. I turned to the greens next. My husband had already tried them and kept calling them the "feature" of the meal. I tried a tiny bite. Good flavor, the pork fat I'd cooked with them had done its job. Surprisingly, they were also very tender. But alas, the greens weren't perfect. Nope, I'd made a rookie mistake right out of the gate.

Sure, I'd washed the greens. Ran them through nice cold water in a colander. I had been talking to my Mama on the phone when I was washing them. "Be sure to wash them good." She'd warned. My response? An impatient and flippant, "Yeah, Mama, I know." Well, I'll sure know next time that just running water over greens doesn't hardly "wash" them. Those bites of crunchy, gritty turnip greens were a testament to that fact.

The moral to this story? What you've heard is true. Mamas sometime, every so often, do know best.

Have you ever tried greens? If so, have you ever tried cooking them?

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