Southern Cooking Is Healthy, Too: Citrus Collards with Raisins

collard greens
Image Credit: monamifood.
If you don’t know much about Southern cooking, you might think Paula Deen is the final word on comfort food south of the Mason-Dixon line. I’m not going to lie. I’ve never eschewed butter. When I was a kid, I ate the hell out of fried chicken, baked mac n’ cheese, beer-battered catfish, and Shake n’ Bake crusted pork chops. And don’t get me started on all the BBQ pork ribs I devoured until I became a vegetarian. Southern Alabama has the corner on the BBQ rib market.

Southern BBQ shack
Image Credit: Dixie Dining.

I converted to strict vegetarianism in 1997 during my first year in college. (That Yankee liberal arts college put all sorts of Commie ideas in my head.) I’m not a strict vegetarian anymore. After living in coastal regions in China and Malaysia, I re-integrated the occasional seafood treat back into my meals, but the focus is on flavor rather than the deep-fried batter.

Still, since those early days of foregoing meat for tofu, I’ve been considering ways to focus on the nutritious and less meaty alternatives on offer in the Deep South. Right about now you might be thinking that alterations to Southern cooking destroys what it signifies, but who says a type of cuisine must exist in a vacuum? As much as we’d like to believe Southern folks are still whiling away their days on rotting antebellum porches sipping mint juleps or repairing their moonshine still in the backwoods, people have been migrating to and from the South for as long as it’s been the “south,” and every new resident brings along his or her cuisine preferences.

Innovative and creative Southern cooking has never been missing in the South. Maybe most of us folks just don’t look very hard to find delicious and nutritious Southern dishes. They’re there, though. Look no further than the many small farms that cover so much of the South. The first time Cameron visited Alabama to meet my parents, he was blown away by how many produce markets Baldwin County showcased. The amount of healthy, local food available in southern Alabama is truly astounding, and it made me rethink all those summers my father forced my brother and me to tend our own 1/2 acre vegetable plot.

collard green recipe
The lighting over these fields brings back memories from my Alabama gardening days. Of course, the weather conditions were probably 100% humidity and 90 degrees F. Image Credit: herablehands.

One of the largest and most loathed crops we yielded were the fall and winter dark, leafy greens. I grew to love spinach, but I couldn’t abide the tough texture and bitter taste of turnips and collards. Even when they’d been boiled down for pot liquor, I cringed when my father plopped a spoonful of those soggy greens on my plate.

How times have changed. Whenever Cameron and I make dark, leafy greens now, he has to fight me for his share. Certainly a person’s taste buds mature as they grow older, but I’m still no fan of boiled and salted greens or pot liquor. For me, a delicious plate of greens is all about the prep and complementary ingredients. Below you’ll find my new favorite collard recipe. Sweetened with orange juice and a handful of raisins, these greens are so good I had to double the recipe recently to keep Cameron and me from dueling over seconds.

Collards are in season right now, so it’s a perfect time to add a great Southern recipe to the “eat your greens” campaign.

vegetarian times citrus collards with raisins
Image by Author.

Citrus Collards with Raisins
Serves 6 as a side or 2 if you’re hungry

– 1 1/2 lbs collard greens, tough stems trimmed
– 1 1/2 TBS olive oil
– 4 cloves garlic, minced (3 tsp)
– 2/3 cup raisins
– 1/2 tsp salt
– 1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

1. Stack several collard leaves atop one another, and roll into tight cylinder. Slice crosswise into strips.

2. Cook greens in large pot of boiling, salted water 8 to 10 minutes, or until softened. Drain, and plunge into large bowl of cold water to stop cooking.

3. Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic, and sauté 1 minute. Add drained collards, raisins, and salt, and sauté 3 minutes. Stir in orange juice, and cook 15 seconds more. Season with salt and pepper, if desired.

Vegetarian Times Side Dish Recipe
Image by Author.

12 Comments Add yours

  1. Anna says:

    This sounds delicious, G, and I can’t wait to try it! Like you, I couldn’t STAND greens as a kid, but now can’t get enough of them. Thanks for highlighting some of the positives of Southern cuisine — there really are so many! (And don’t even get me started on my disdain for Paula Deen, who I think has done exactly the opposite. Ugh. Talk about capitalizing on your Southern-ness in the worst way possible. I have no time for that.)

    1. gwynnem says:

      Apparently Mrs. Deen has Type II diabetes, which would make me second-guess all her recipes if I was a P.D. follower.

      I hope you like this recipe. It’s very easy to make, and while you technically do boil the greens, it’s a much shorter time than how they’re traditionally prepared. I usually let them boil for about 5 minutes so that they have just a bit more texture. Next week’s treat: that kale recipe I’ve been talking up. 🙂

  2. Thank you, thank you for a recipe with collards which I actually want to fix.

    1. gwynnem says:

      Awesome! Let me know how they turn out for you. Since they are such bitter greens, the orange juice and raisins are a great way to mellow the bitter.

  3. Jody and Ken says:

    Ok, I’m a little skeptical–where’s the pork?–but I’m trying to keep an open mind that collards cooked quickly can have a great texture. I certainly love them slow-braised. Thanks. Ken

    1. gwynnem says:

      I know, I know. But think of this along the lines of the blue zone diet. Without the pork and long cook time, you get a little more of those vitamins and minerals and less of that fat. 🙂

  4. Michelle says:

    Well put. The Paula Deen stereotype of Southern food is just that: a stereotype. I prefer to think of Southern food as Edna Lewis’ version: seasonal and heavy on the bounty of wonderful vegetables that we have (with or without a bit of pork!).

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