Collard Greens (with Chicken & Waffles)

I probably should have posted this recipe yesterday, because hello, green is perfect for St. Paddy's and collards are much better than cabbage; no offense, cabbage.

I've been really into collard greens lately. As much as I love a bright, fresh salad, sometimes I want my greens in a warmer, more comforting form. To be fair, this past winter hardly even qualified as winter. We had one crazy snowstorm (which required multiple shoveling sessions that yielded several blisters on my hands) but after the groundhog saw its shadow, we were lucky enough to have milder weather. It even creeped up to 60F the last weekend of February.

Still, when there's even a hint of a chill in the air, I love eating comforting foods and collards definitely fall in that category. But, they get bonus points because they're not bad for you either. They're full of protein and good fat, lots of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, iron, and calcium and fiber. With all that good nutrition going on, one can hardly feel guilty about cooking them up with a smoky ham hock, right?
1 smoked ham hock
3 cups water
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, sliced
½ onion, diced
1 teaspoon crushed pepper flakes
2 bunches collard greens (1½ lbs.)
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons lemon juice

First things first, you want to make your hot ham water (bonus points and gold stars to anyone who gets that reference). Pop the ham hock into a pot, cover with water, and then bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for about 30 minutes or until the water is tinged with color. Basically, you just want a flavorful liquid that will eventually season the collards.
To prep the greens themselves, wash the leaves under ice cold water and get rid of any grit. Shake off the excess water and then cut the main ribs out of the leaves. The stalk is just too fibrous. Smaller leaves with smaller stalks can be left in tact, as the younger leaves are still quite tender.
Stack the leaves together and then cut into ribbons.
Dice the onion and mince the garlic.
Grab a big pot - I like using a French oven - and add in the olive oil and place over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, and crushed pepper flakes and saute for a few minutes until the onions are soft.
Add in the greens, a handful at a time, and stir until they're all wilted. Pour in the vinegar and season with black pepper and a little salt. Be stingy with the salt because the ham hock stock has a good amount of salt in it. You can always add more later.
Nestle the ham hock into the collards and then pour in the stock.
Pop a lid on the pot and reduce the heat to low. Cook for about an hour or until the collard greens are lovely and tender.
The last step is to squeeze in a good amount of fresh lemon juice. This just perks up the greens and tunes back a bit of the greasy mouthfeel from the ham hock.
I made these collards to go with a meal of chicken and waffles and black eyed peas and rice. I have a recipe coming for the peas and rice soon.
Look at this delicious feast!
Chicken and waffles are so good together and I love it with honey. I know syrup is the traditional "sauce" but I find it a bit too runny and it gets all over your plate. Plus, I just love the taste of honey. The fried chicken and crispy waffles were a perfect accompaniment to the collard greens. Yes, the collard greens were the star of the meal. The smokiness and saltiness from the ham, the fragrant garlic, the spice from the crushed red pepper flakes, and the brightness from the lemon all come together with the perfectly tender greens. I do wish they were a bit prettier and not so dull green, but you really do have to cook them down to that tender state to get the real "meemaw's southern cooking" feel.
Here's the recipe page: