31 December 2009
Where I live in the “Deep South,” there is a special meal that everyone eats on New Year’s Day: collard greens, black eyed peas, and corn bread. There are different reasons given for this meal, all having to do with good luck. (Don’t ask too many questions about these reasons, I can’t answer them!)
Anyway, … also here in the “Deep South” the deep green colored, somewhat bitter leafy vegetables called Collard Greens and Kale are about the closest I can get to one of our favorite vegetables I learned to love in China, which I just call Cai Xin (pronounced something like Ch-eye, seen). I’ve adapted my Cai Xin recipe to create what I think is one of the best ways to serve collards. ( It works well for Kale, too. ) In honor of the New Year, I’m posting my recipe for Asian Style Collard Greens. Since I’m writing this from memory and not testing it step-by-step as I go along, use your best judgment as you cook.
- A couple large cloves of garlic, sliced as thin as you can slice it, to make about 2 – 4 teaspoons worth of fresh, finely sliced garlic (depending on taste)
- A piece of fresh, mild ginger, sliced as thin as you can slice it and then slivered again, to make about 2 teaspoons worth of fresh slivered ginger
- Soy sauce, to taste
- A large bunch of collards, or two (how much is in a “bunch”? LOL) If using bagged or frozen collards, one bunch would equal one bag.
- A large, sweet onion, sliced into lengthwise strips, if you like onion in your collards.
- A dash of corn starch, maybe up to 3 tsp.
Put a large pot of water on the stove and bring it to a boil.
Wash the collards. Remove excess stems so that what you mainly have is dark leaves. Using a knife, cut collard leaves into pieces that are a couple inches square (half the size of your hand). Set the trimmed collards aside until the water comes to a full, rolling boil.
While the water is heating, also slice the garlic as thinly as humanly possible. Depending on taste, this could be one whole clove of elephant garlic or many cloves of smaller garlic, so that it’s about 2 – 4 teaspoons sliced, depending on your taste.
Peel a piece of fresh, mild ginger that is about the size of your thumb. In my grocery store, the best ginger is large and plump looking, and is labeled “Hawaiian Ginger”. Avoid ginger that is thin, shriveled, and dried out looking. After it’s peeled, slice it as thinly as you can. Then, lay it back on its side and slice again so that it is in tiny slivers. Set aside.
In a large wok or skillet, heat some oil over medium heat. When the oil is warm enough to sizzle some water that is sprinkled in, it is warm enough to cook the garlic. Brown the garlic in the oil until it is crispy (very light brown) but not burned (not dark brown). In my experience, it is very easy to burn the garlic, but you do want it to be crispy so cook carefully and stir often. When garlic is done, remove it from heat immediately and set it aside.
Next, saute the onion on somewhat low heat until it is translucent, then set aside.
Clean the wok for re-use to stir fry the collards later.
When water is at a rolling boil, put the collards into it. I tend to think of this as blanching the collards. They will turn a very dark green (kale will turn bright green). Without reducing heat on the stove, bring the collards back to a boil and let them continue to boil for about 3 – 5 minutes. (This is not a recipe where the greens are cooked “to death,” as so many Southern cooks prepare their greens.) If you’re not sure when the collards are done, try a sample to see if they’re still tough. Whenever they’re tender enough to bite easily, they’re done enough.
Now, put oil into the wok, bring to a high heat. Corn oil will work best for cooking at high heat, because it doesn’t burn. When the oil is nice and hot, throw the collards into it and stir fry them. One of my Asian friends says that she loves that beautiful, loud “sizzle” sound when she throws her vegetables into the wok. The Asian view is that the sizzle seals in the flavors. Don’t cook the collards too long, just long enough to sear them. Keep tossing so they brown evenly and don’t burn.
Add the cooked onion.
Now, add in the slivered ginger. The onion and ginger should mix in with the collards as you stir them.
Next, using your fingers, sprinkle a tiny bit of corn starch over top of the collards, as if you were putting a light coat of talcum powder. This corn starch will thicken any water that remains from the boiling process. Toss them around a bit to spread the thickening sauce. Now, sprinkle with soy sauce to taste and toss a bit more. Turn off heat.
Transfer to a serving dish. Sprinkle with more soy sauce if needed. Garnish with the crispy garlic.
Note: if the crispy garlic is too much of a project (because it does indeed burn very easily), just saute it with the onion and use it that way. It will give the collards a delicious flavor, along with the ginger.
When I met my husband, he wouldn’t eat greens. Now, this is one of his favorite foods. It’s that good.