While most greens recipes have some kind of smoked meat for flavoring, Empress Akweke, a committed vegetarian, enhances hers with loads of fresh vegetables, giving the dish a lovely light quality that makes it a perfect side dish.
“Collard greens were such a staple in our family that my father used to eat them for breakfast,” says Empress Akweke. “After eating them for the greater part of my life, I decided to cook them in different ways. I was talking to a friend of mine—his name is Shaka Zulu—and he asked me to make a special collard green for his birthday. And I’m thinking to myself, what can I do to make these collard greens really different. I’m thinking about Zulus, I’m thinking about Shaka Zulu, the warrior, and what I know about his history … and I’m thinking about the taste of the greens. Finally I was able to come up with this really immaculate taste-they’re made with lots of hot pepper.”
Yield: Makes 6 to 8 servings
3 pounds collard greens
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
6 medium carrots, chopped
2 medium onions, chopped
1 medium Russet potato, scrubbed and chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 celery rib, chopped
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
2 fresh hot chile peppers, such as jalapeno, seeded and minced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 quarts water
1½ tablespoons Vege-Sal (available at natural foods groceries)
Cider vinegar, for sprinkling
1. In a large sink of lukewarm water, agitate the collard greens well to remove any hidden grit. Carefully lift the greens out of the water and transfer them to a colander, leaving the grit on the bottom of the sink. Repeat the procedure in a sink of fresh water. Cut off the woody stems, and chop them crosswise into ¼-inch-thick pieces. Coarsely chop the collard leaves.
2. Heat the oil in a 5-quart saucepan or soup kettle. Add the carrots, onions, potato celery, ginger, chile peppers, and garlic. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the vegetables have softened, about 6 minutes. Stir in the chopped stems and the water; bring to a boil. Add a batch of collard leaves, cover and let them wilt, about 5 minutes; stir the greens down. Continue to add the greens in batches until they all fit into the pot.
3. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring often, until all the vegetables are just tender, about 1 hour. Stir in the Vege-Sal, cover tightly, and remove from the heat; let stand for 15 minutes. Serve with vinegar on the side, for each guest to season his or her own serving.