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Grits and Greens

Wilted rainbow chard wreathes a mound of yellow grits. The grits are drizzled with olive oil and potlikker.
difficulty:
yield:

4 to 6 side dish portions

time:

20 minutes, not counting the grits time

introduction

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Because the greens in this recipe are flash-wilted rather than stewed to death, tender young greens are essential. For example, baby collards no bigger than a corsage and vivid in hue have cooking properties very different from the dusty green, mature leaves that lay in the pot all day with a ham bone. The stems of collards, beet greens, and Swiss chard, diced small, have enchanting marrow-like properties and should be included (but leave out fibrous kale stems). The classic...

Because the greens in this recipe are flash-wilted rather than stewed to death, tender young greens are essential. For example, baby collards no bigger than a corsage and vivid in hue have cooking properties very different from the dusty green, mature leaves that lay in the pot all day with a ham bone. The stems of collards, beet greens, and Swiss chard, diced small, have enchanting marrow-like properties and should be included (but leave out fibrous kale stems). The classic accompaniment to grits and greens is pork: a chop, a slab of ham, or a slice or two of roast will each perform nice, supporting work here. But the real beauty of this dish lies in its counterpoints: the brightness of the greens, the bite of garlic and red pepper, and the round, embracing mellowness of the grits that lift the flavors off your fork.

Historical Notes

Native Americans were the first to throw maize and greens together, and it was an inspired match—the two have been inseparable ever since. Before the Civil War, Southern cooks favored noble greens of European provenance: spinach, Swiss chard, and kale. Following the war, “ditch greens” were used in their stead. The greens in grits and greens have gone from feral to domestic, rags to riches—and back again. Ultimately, collards, brought to the lowcountry by African slaves, became the defining better half of this dish.

equipment mise en place

For this recipe, you will need a large colander, a heavy-bottomed 3- or 4-quart saucepan, a slotted spoon, and a pair of tongs.

    • 1
      pound young collard greens, beet greens, chard, or kale or 2 pounds mature spinach
    • 1
      tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus additional for serving, if desired
    • 1
      tablespoon unsalted butter
    • 4
      large garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
    • ½
      teaspoon red pepper flakes
    • ¼
      teaspoon fine sea salt
    • Good-quality cider vinegar or red wine vinegar
    • 1
  1.  

    Wash the greens well and drain them in a colander. If you’re using collards, beet greens, chard, or spinach, trim off and discard the tough parts of the stems, then strip the leaves off the stems. Chop the stems and set them aside; keep the leaves whole and set them aside separately. If you’re using kale, strip the leaves off the stems and discard the stems; keep the leaves whole.

  2.  

    Heat the olive oil and butter in a heavy-bottomed 3- or 4-quart saucepan over low heat until the butter melts. Add the garlic and cook slowly, stirring constantly, until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the garlic to a small dish and set aside. Increase the heat to medium-high, add the chopped stem pieces, cover, and cook slowly, stirring once or twice, until the pieces are tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the leaves to the pan and cook, tossing frequently with tongs, just until the leaves wilt, about 2 minutes for collards, beet greens, chard, or spinach, and about 3 minutes for kale. Stir in the red pepper flakes and salt, return the garlic slices to the pan, and toss well. Season to taste with vinegar. 

  3.  

    To serve, spoon the hot grits into a warmed serving bowl or onto warmed individual plates and surround them with the greens. Drizzle with olive oil, if desired, and potlikker. Serve immediately.