Bookshelf TM_BK_SOUTHERN_FI_002

Global Greens

For a fresh spin on collard greens, look to the Mediterranean. An excerpt from The New Southern Table.


Brys Stephens’  The New Southern Table explores classic Southern ingredients such as okra, lima beans, peaches, and pecans through recipes inspired by cuisines from around the world. In this excerpt, he tackles collard greens with recipes that go well beyond the “mess o’ greens”. The book is available now on QBookshopAmazon and at your local bookstore.

As a child, I mostly knew collards as that wet mess of overcooked greens in a small bowl alongside chicken or pork chops in a countrystyle meat-and-three (a casual, country-style restaurant common in the South, usually serving a choice of one meat dish and a choice of three vegetable dishes). At home, we always seemed to prefer spinach and cabbage. Traveling in France, Italy, and the Middle East years later and seeing how folks cooked with chard and kale, I realized collards could be incorporated into all kinds of dishes in the same quick-cook way as those greens.

Since moving to the Lowcountry, where collards grow year-round in the moderate climate and sandy soils of the sea islands (including in my garden on Sullivan’s Island), I’ve made collards one of my staple greens. They do well in both the heat and the cold, unlike other greens with more delicate leaves. They tend to be sweeter in the colder months after they’ve gone through a frost, and they are usually less bitter than mustard greens, turnip greens, and broccoli rabe, though more so than chard and kale. They usually take a little longer to cook than those greens because their leaves are sturdier, and younger collards with smaller leaves cook pretty quickly.

The New Southern Table by Brys Stephens from Fair Winds Press. Available now on QBookshop.

Like most greens, collards are a natural match with beans, legumes, and pork. Collards have an assertive flavor and texture, so they benefit from strongly flavored ingredients that can stand up to that boldness: spices, fresh herbs, mushrooms, tomatoes, and aged cheeses such as Parmesan. For that reason, collards have been incorporated into cooking in tropical and Mediterranean climates — Brazil, Kenya, Portugal, Kashmir — that favor assertive flavors.

The classic Southern way to cook collards is to boil them for a long time in water with one of the less sought-after cuts of smoked pork such as neck or fatback. When done right — it’s a classic for a reason — the resulting “pot likker” is as esteemed as the greens themselves. But more often than not, I try to retain the collards’ color, texture, and nutrients by cooking them more quickly with less liquid. I love them quickly sautéed with a sweeter green such as chard or, as a snack, just tossed with a little olive oil and roasted until crispy.

At the market, choose the smallest collard greens you can find. Store them unwashed, wrapped in damp paper towels in a perforated paper or plastic bag, and they’ll keep up to a week. Since they tend to grow in sandy soils and can become gritty, clean collards well by swishing them around in a sink full of water then lifting them out to drain. I almost always cut out and discard the leaves’ central stem, either with two quick slices along both sides of the stem or by folding the leaves in half and tearing or slicing the stem right off.

Collards with Peppers, Currants, and Pine Nuts

TM_BK_SOUTHERN_AP_003From Rome southward, Italian cooks like to experiment with the combination of sweet, sour, and bitter. This trio of greens, raisins or currants, and nuts is a typical combination in Sicily, and works well with the slightly bitter collards.


¼ cup (35 grams) pine nuts
¼ cups (38 grams) dried currants
2 tablespoons (30 milliliters) olive oil, divided
½ yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 red bell peppers, thinly sliced
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1½ pounds (683 grams) collard greens, stems removed and discarded, leaves cut into ½-inch (13 mm) squares
Freshly ground black pepper


Toast the pine nuts in a dry skillet over medium heat, stirring often, 2 to 4 minutes, or until lightly toasted. Place the currants in a bowl, cover with boiling water, and let steep 5 minutes. Drain.

Heat 1 tablespoon (15 milliliters) of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the onion, bell peppers, red pepper flakes, and a pinch of salt, and cook, stirring often, 2 to 4 minutes, or until the vegetables are softened. Transfer to a plate.

Add the remaining 1 tablespoon (15 milliliters) olive oil to the same skillet over medium- high heat. Add the collard greens and another pinch of salt, and cook, stirring frequently, 4 to 6 minutes, or until the greens are wilted.

Return the onions, bell peppers, pine nuts, and currants to the skillet. Cook 6 to 8 minutes, or until the collard greens are tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

TM_BK_SOUTHERN_AP_004Lamb-Stuffed Collards

In this dish, collard greens are stuffed in the Mediterranean style. The lamb and bulgur combination is a nice match with the greens, and the tomato sauce lends contrasting brightness.


For the stuffed collards:
4 cups (945 milliliters) water, plus more for blanching the collards
½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
¾ cup (105 grams) bulgur
12 ounces (340 grams) collard green leaves (about 8 to 10 medium-size leaves)
1 tablespoon (15 milliliters) olive oil
½ medium yellow onion, diced
1 cloves garlic, minced
2 pounds (905 grams) ground lamb
2 teaspoons (2 grams) dried oregano
Freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
4 to 6 fresh mint leaves, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon (2 grams) freshly grated lemon zest

For the sauce:
½ medium-size yellow onion, diced
1 cloves garlic, minced
1 can (28 ounces, or 795 grams) whole peeled tomatoes
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Red pepper flakes
1 cup (235 milliliters) dry white wine


To make the stuffed collards:
Bring the 4 cups of water to a boil, stir in the salt and bulgur, and then lower the heat to simmer gently 10 to 15 minutes, or until the bulgur is tender. Drain, rinse the bulgur with cold water, and set aside until completely drained, stirring occasionally to help this process along.

While the bulgur is cooking, prepare the collard leaves by peeling the central stems with a vegetable peeler so that they’re flush with the leaves. Cut off the stem ends below the leaves and discard.

Bring a large stockpot of generously salted water to a boil. Working in two batches, add the collard green leaves, and blanch about 2 minutes, or until bright green but still firm. Transfer the leaves to a kitchen towel to drain.

Heat the olive oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, season lightly with salt, and cook, stirring often, 3 to 5 minutes, or until translucent. Add the garlic and cook about 30 seconds until fragrant.

Add the ground lamb and oregano, season with salt and pepper, and add the red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring often and breaking the lamb up, 10 to 15 minutes, or until meat is cooked through. Stir in the mint and lemon zest.

Transfer the lamb mixture to a large bowl, leaving about 1 tablespoon (15 milliliters) of fat in the skillet. Add the bulgur to the bowl with the lamb, stir to combine, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

To make the sauce:
Return the skillet to medium-high heat, and add the onion. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes, or until translucent. Add the garlic, and cook about 30 seconds until fragrant. Add the tomatoes and cook, stirring and breaking them up, about 10 minutes, or until it thickens to a sauce. Season to taste with salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes. Stir one-fourth of this tomato sauce into the lamb and bulgur mixture.

To assemble:
Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C, or gas mark 5). Spread out the collard leaves on a work surface. Divide the lamb and bulgur mixture among the collard leaves, mounding it in the center. Roll each collard leaf over the lamb mixture, folding the sides inward.

Cover the bottom of a large casserole dish with half of the remaining tomato sauce, top with the stuffed collards, and spread the remaining tomato sauce over the collards. Pour the wine into the bottom of the casserole dish, cover with foil, and bake about 30 minutes.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

Chicken, Collard, and Country Ham Saltimbocca

TM_BK_SOUTHERN_AP_005In Italy, you’ll see classic saltimbocca elevated with chopped spinach, but collards, where they are plentiful and seasonal, work well too. Rather than prosciutto, country ham substitutes and gives this saltimbocca a southern hominess.

Saltimbocca means “jumps in the mouth” in Italian and is popular in Rome. It’s made with veal or chicken topped with ham or prosciutto and sage, panfried, and topped with a pan sauce made with lemon or wine and often capers.


4 ounces (115 grams) collard greens, stems removed and discarded
2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup (20 grams) freshly grated Parmesan cheese, or to taste
4 thin slices sugar-cured country ham
4 fresh sage leaves
1 tablespoon (15 milliliters) olive oil
1 cup (235 milliliters) dry white wine
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons (205 milliliters) chicken stock, divided
2 tablespoons (30 milliliters) fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon (3 grams) cornstarch
2 tablespoons (28 grams) unsalted butter

Optional garnish:
Lemon wedges


Cook the collard leaves in generously salted boiling water 2 to 4 minutes, or until leaves are bright green. Drain, squeeze out any excess liquid from the leaves, and finely chop them.

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C, or gas mark 4). Place a shallow 11 x 7 x 2-inch (28 x 18 x 5-centimeter) baking dish on the middle rack of the oven to preheat.

Cut the chicken breast halves in half crosswise to make roughly triangular portions. Cover with plastic wrap and pound to an even thickness (about 8 inches, or 3 millimeters). Season the chicken on both sides with salt and pepper. Divide the chopped collards equally among the chicken, spreading evenly over each piece. Spoon the Parmesan cheese over the collards, and top the cheese with a piece of country ham. Roll each portion up tightly, top each with a sage leaf, and secure with a toothpick.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken to the skillet and cook, turning with tongs to brown, about 6 to 8 minutes total. Transfer the chicken to the preheated casserole dish. Set aside the skillet, reserving the chicken juices. Add enough white wine to the casserole dish to cover the bottom. Place the dish in the oven, and cook 8 to 10 minutes, or until the chicken is just cooked through.

Return the skillet to medium-high heat. Add the ¾ cup (175 milliliters) of stock and the lemon juice to the skillet and cook, scraping the bottom of the pan, until liquid is reduced by one quarter. Meanwhile, make a slurry by whisking together the remaining 2 tablespoons (30 milliliters) of the stock and the cornstarch.

Add the butter and stir to incorporate it into the sauce, then stir in the cornstarch slurry. Cook about 30 seconds, or until the sauce boils and thickens. Spoon the sauce over the chicken. Serve with the lemon wedges, if desired

Makes 4 servings

Excerpted with permission of the publisher, Fair Winds Press, from The New Southern Table: Classic Ingredients Revisited by Brys Stephens. Copyright © 2014 by Brys Stephens.

Brys Stephens is a writer, consultant, and photographer based in Charleston, South Carolina. He has written for Bon Appetit, Garden and Gun, Charleston Magazine, and is a former restaurant critic at the Charleston City Paper. In 2006, he founded the cooking website


  1. tinkyweisblat says:

    I haven’t been a fan of collards in general, but you might be changing my mind! Thanks, and yum.

Leave a Reply