KC 133 - Spicy Coconut Collard Greens

Why hello there, and welcome back to Kitchen Catastrophes, the site where one man attempts to subsidize his therapy bills by just rambling comically in an open forum, and wraps it up with recipes to be a little more palatable, pun intended. I’m your couch-bound cook, Jon O’Guin.

Last week was a little wild, wasn’t it? I tried opening up about some deep-seated shit I got bubbling away in the back-burner of my brain, and found that, contrary to being a stew-pot, that shit was a pressure cooker, and opening it up vomited out a hot mess I was not prepared to handle.  A less graphic visual would be one of those joke cans of peanuts, with the springy “snakes” inside, that I then had to cram back in the can so we could get on with things, though I ended up leaving at least one spent snake lying out as shameful evidence of my poor planning and personal assessment. As an apology for whipping that out without sufficient warning.

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Whipping it out to shock and apprehension is a time-honored comedic trope. 

That process that unfolded is further frustrated because I should have anticipated it. I KNOW that I am bad at letting things go. Or, technically, maybe a little too GOOD at them. Let’s talk about that for a bit, before we get into today’s recipe. Just a bit, of course. We still have some cool stuff to talk about for the dish itself.

 

I Gotta Take a Little Time, A Little Time to Think Things Over.

Did you know Foreigner is in the top 100 best-selling bands of all time?  They had 6 singles that reached the top 5 songs in America at various times. I bring this up because I was going to call them “underrated” as 80’s bands go, and then I learned, no, they’re pretty well rated. They’re just not talked about as much as others. But that title line, as well as this paragraph, speak to a thing I do that both  is and isn’t, kinda healthy.

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If only I had some kind of easy metaphor for having conflicting views on a topic, related to recent talking points...

See, I tend to treat stress, and negative emotions, and similar stimuli similarly. I think of it as a spring, inside me, that winds a little tighter and a little tighter with each stimulus. And I simply hold onto that until I have time to process it. There’s a great story about this from college that took over 500 words to explain, so I had to cut it out, but understand that I have sources for this: I don’t tend to emotionally react to things immediately. Instead, I handle the situation, and then later, I analyze how something made me feel, I break down what parts of it were helpful, which parts were excessive, etc, and I unwind the spring.

This has upsides: I’m pretty resilient to sudden stressors, emergencies and so on, because of this strategy. I just handle the immediate issue, move on, and reflect on it later. It mainly becomes a problem when I start intermixing eustress and normal stress. Eustress, if you’re unaware, is positive stress. Like winning a game or going on a nice date. Any time something that causes you stress gets paid off in a way that makes you feel happier, more exhilarated. It’s a primary source of internal motivation: you worry, the thing goes well, you feel good, you start the next thing. But, well, if you’re locking up all your stress in a spring, you’re undermining its usefulness.

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Springs! Great for Trains, not-so-great for emotional resolution mechanics!

Further, it creates what I think of as “full-collapse” moments. If you’re going and going and going just because of this wound up spring of stress inside you, what happens when you let the whole thing unwind? I can tell you: you wind up listless and unmotivated. Heck, I often get physically SICK, like low-grade headaches and assorted pains.

I tell you all of this to explain why it’s difficult to unpack complicated emotional and mental structures I’ve built, because they’re so tightly bound to the “spring” inside me. I also explain it because it helps illustrate why, despite being home for 5 days, I’ve only cooked a 10-minute vegetable side. I unwound too far, and ended up an unmotivated shambles for a couple days.

 

It Ain’t Easy, Being Greens

I’m certain I’ve used that joke before, but hey, let’s mine some chuckles out of this fuckle wherever we can, eh?

Today’s dish, as the title told you WAY TOO LONG AGO, is a simple side of collard greens. In fact, it’s partly BECAUSE it’s so simple that I wasted so much time getting here: this side dish is like, 10 minutes of work, 4 ingredients, and maybe $6 to make. So there’s not a lot going on here, culinarily. So what’s going on Historically?

Collard greens are a variety of that favorite vegetable of mine, brassica oleracea. If you’ve missed the posts discussing it, a quick reminder: brassica oleracea is the species from which like, ¼ of all vegetables come from. Cabbage, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Kale, Brussels Sprouts, Bok Choy, and Collard Greens are all the same plant. If you take one step further out, and count all brassicas, you get to add mustard, swiss chard, turnips, rutabagas, canola, mustard greens, broccoli raab, etc. This genus is like, 1/3 your local produce section.

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Even this MC-Escher-looking son-of-a-bitch. 

Which is super useful, because this recipe wasn’t actually FOR collard greens. This was a recipe for broccoli raab (also spelled broccoli rabe, and also called “rapini”), and I just got to the store and found they didn’t have any. Which makes sense: broccoli raab is a ‘cool season’ vegetable, meaning it prefers to grow in the spring and fall. It can be grown in the summer, but most people don’t. So the tail-end of August was a silly time to go looking for it.

Thus, I was tooling around for things to replace it and I noticed collard greens were an option. This was great because I was already buying collard greens to replace MUSTARD greens in another recipe I’ll be making sometime soon, so I just grabbed two bundles, and wandered off.

Quick etymological note. When I brought them home, my brother immediately referenced the bit in the Office where Michael calls them “Colored” Greens, gets corrected to “Collard”, and says, “That doesn’t make sense, you don’t call them collared people, that’s offensive.”

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There's too much there for Stanley to unpack for Michael. Stanley doesn't even LIKE Michael. Except for Pretzel Day. 

Which led me to wonder, where does collard come from? Well, the lineage isn’t well-attested, but all the sources I checked agreed: it’s because Southerners can’t enunciate worth shit.  APPARENTLY, the plant was actually called “colewort”, meaning…”cabbage plant.” (I swear, the number of brassicas whose name translates to “the cabbage thing” is kind of irritating.)  Anyway, you can still see this, since, you know, everyone knows what goes in COLEslaw. But apparently, “colewort”, once it got to the South, became “coleward” and then “coleard” and then “collard”. I guess. Literally no one gave examples of this happening, but they all agreed it did, so hopefully they’re right.

This word shit is all well and good, but how do you cook it? There’s a variety of ways, but the one we’re using is for a quick-cooked, structurally intact side.  That means we’re going to cook it briefly, and THAT means we have to take out the stems.

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I'm weirdly proud of this shot. Like, it's not even a great CUT, but I'm proud of the shot. 

The stems of collard greens, like both its cousins Kale and Swiss chard, are very firm, and rich with fiber, and therefore cook slowly. In a long-cooking braise or boil, this would be fine. In a dish that cooks for 5 minutes, it’s less great. So we just cut those suckers out, and chop up the leaves into bite-sized pieces. Because, again, these are cooking really quick. The instructions are “boil for 2-3 minutes, drain, and fry for 2-3 minutes.” Thus, the longest part of this recipe is actually BOILING YOUR WATER.

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If only I had some recently created object with which to stir said boiling water. 

While your leaves bubble for a couple minutes, it’s time to toast your aromatics. And your aromatics for this dish are SUPER appealing to me. To wit, they are: chopped peanuts, unsweetened coconut, red pepper flakes, and garlic. And each of those, in its own way, is a Jon-O’Guin Palate-All-Star.

I’ve always been a fan of nuts. Walnuts, pecans, sunflower seeds, peanuts. I was recently called out at a chocolate shop, because the guy behind the counter asked “are you a fan of almonds…nevermind”, because I was already holding two products from their shop, BOTH of which contained almonds. And the hilarious thing is: no, I don’t particularly like almonds. But I like NUTS, and almonds are the only ones you guys use.  Peanuts in particular I get along with: peanut butter, peanut sauces, my favorite kind of bars are the ones where you get bowls of peanuts you can crack open and throw the shells on the floor…

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This is oddly appealing to me. I don't fully know why. 

After the peanuts comes coconut. I’m more a fan of coconut milk and coconut cream than the plant itself, but I’ll take a dark chocolate mounds or almond joy without a fuss. I fondly recall the many adventures of my grandfather attempting to open coconuts for my grandmother, a process that typically used multiple power tools and vises from his garage. And unsweetened coconut flake is surprising cheap: for like, 2 cups, I paid $0.75. This recipe only called for 2 tablespoons, so either I’m going to be snacking on coconut for a while, or I need to figure out some more recipes for it.

Then comes red pepper flakes, and I don’t think I need to remind you all of my constant love of chiles. Habaneros, Ghost Peppers, Reapers, I dig spicy peppers and sauces. And this recipe only needs ½ a tsp! That’s like, ONE free packet of flakes you get with a pizza. Practically pro bono peppers.

Doubling down on the spice is garlic…Does it feel like I’m calling out members of a basketball team? I don’t know, I suddenly realized that I was doing like, full paragraph plugs for each ingredient, and it felt weird once I knew what I was doing. I’d cut it and write something else, but I’ve already cut over 900 words from this thing, and I’m running late as shit.

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If only I had some kind of quick, simple dish to fill in on short notice...

Anyway, toast most of those aromatics in some oil for a bit, and then toss in the greens and garlic. Cook for 2-3 minutes, tossing and stirring to coat, season with salt, and it’s ready. I think. Honestly, it didn’t LOOK really ready to me, so I kept cooking for a while longer. I think that maybe a bunch of broccoli raab is smaller than a bunch of collard greens, so maybe I had too high a ratio of greens to aromatics.

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Somewhere that's Greeeeeeeeeeeeeeen. 

Overall, it tasted perfectly fine. The greens were cabbage like, the nuts and coconut were warm and nice when you encountered them. I just think maybe, if/when I make this again, I’ll increase the aromatics by like, 50% or so, and see if that’s a more complex and spicy side. But still, even with it being a little on the bland side, the dish was enjoyable.

AS ever, you can help Jon stack his pantry full of 2-cup bags of unsweetened coconut by supporting the site on Patreon! Just think a single dollar every month would keep Jon munching contentedly on coconuts, like some sort of Caribbean panda. Or, if that image haunts you as it haunts me, you can just support us by following us on social media, and sharing our content. 

THURSDAY: SOMETHING’S GONNA HAPPEN, I TELL YOU WHAT. (I DIDN'T TALK TO JOE YET.) 

MONDAY: I GOT A COUPLE THINGS BUBBLING AWAY, SO TO SPEAK, SO IT’LL DEPEND, BUT I THINK I’M GOING FOR GAZPACHO.

 

RECIPE

Spicy Coconut Collard Greens

Serves 3-4

 

Ingredients

1 bunch collard greens, stems removed, leaves washed and chopped.

3 tbsp vegetable oil

¼ cup chopped (salted, dry-roasted) peanuts

2 tbsps unsweetened coconut flakes

½ tsp red pepper flakes

2 cloves of garlic, sliced

Salt to taste.

 

Preparation

1.       Bring to boil a pot or large pan of water. Salt the water, and add the collard greens, boiling for 2-3 minutes. Drain.

2.       Toast the coconut, peanuts, and red pepper flakes in the oil for 2-3 minutes, until fragrant. Add the collard greens and sliced garlic. Cook another 2-3 minutes, tossing to coat and combine. Season with salt, and serve warm.