You can change lives, and the only thing you need to do is cook dinner.
There's a line in New York Times food editor Sam Sifton's latest cookbook that says, "People that are lonely, feed them."
"I don't think we like to admit it, but I think people are lonely," the author of "See You on Sunday" told Salon in a recent interview. "Invite them in, feed them and they're going to have a better time. And you're going to feel better for having given them that gift."
In the book, Sifton tackles one classic of southern cuisine: collard greens. Though preparing this green is labor-intensive, few things are as rewarding as when you finally take a bite and taste the flavor inside each and every leaf. They're the perfect thing to make when you have extra time on your hands at home, but Sifton also developed a quick version for when you want a collards fix in a hurry after spending time with the famed Alabama chef Frank Stitt.
When Sifton recently appeared on "Salon Talks," he shared his secrets for acing this southern classic. To learn the answers, you can watch my interview with Sam Sifton here, or read a Q&A of our conversation about collards below.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
I'm from Alabama, and one of my grandmothers was born and raised there, and I have many a fond memory of her cooking collard greens over a stove. But it's an all day process. So I was very intrigued by your quick-cooked collard greens recipe in the book.
Yeah, it's interesting. I learned this from Frank Stitt in Alabama.
Who is an Alabama chef — yes.
Yes, I learned from Frank Stitt, who cooks in Birmingham, and he was perhaps Alabama's greatest chef. He quickly blanches collard greens and then gets them in cold water to stop the cooking, so that they're soft but they haven't gone on forever. There's no potlikker situation going on. You squeeze all that water out, you just cut them into strips and then toss them in a hot pan with oil. It works really, really well. It's not the same as your grandmother's, right?
And I've got a slow-cooked collard recipe in there, as well. It's not the same, but boy is it a way to elevate those greens into something different. You have a couple choices with the collard greens. You can cook them for a long time, until they become silky and amazing and take on the flavor of the pork or turkey that you're cooking with it. Or you can do this fast method, and by golly, it works. Frank Stitt was right.
Recipe: Quick-Cooked Collard Greens
- 2 large bunches collard greens or other sturdy greens, such as mustard or turnip
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 slices slab or thick-cut bacon, chopped into bâtons
- 1 large onion, peeled and diced
- Red pepper flakes
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
- Red wine vinegar
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Trim the greens so you get rid of the stems, then take 3 or 4 of the leaves, stack them on top of one another, and roll them into a cigar. Slice these crosswise into thin strips, slightly thicker than a chiffonade. Repeat with the remaining leaves.
2. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil on the stove and, while it heats, set up a big pot or bowl filled with ice water in your sink. When the water is boiling, add the greens and cook them for 2 to 3 minutes, until they begin to wilt, then drain the pot or fish the greens out of it and put them into the ice bath to stop them from cooking, swirling them around in the ice to cool. Drain the ice bath and squeeze the greens dry, into baseballs you can store on a sheet pan or platter until ready to cook.
3. When you're ready to finish the greens, swirl the oil into a large, wide-bottomed pan or pot set over medium-high heat and, when the oil shimmers, add the bacon. Stir to coat with fat and allow to cook until it sizzles, then add the onion. Cook, stirring, until the onion has started to soften and turn translucent, about 10 minutes. Add red pepper flakes to taste and the garlic and continue to cook until fragrant, another 2 to 3 minutes.
4. Turn the heat to high and add the greens, then cook, stirring and tossing, until they are wilted and glossy with fat, 5 to 7 minutes. Fish out the garlic cloves and mound the greens on a warmed platter, seasoning with salt, black pepper, and a splash or two of vinegar to taste.