Brys Stephens hails from Birmingham, Alabama, and lives in Charleston, South Carolina, where he writes about the global reach of Southern food and ingredients.
Last month, when I wrote about sweet potatoes for The Daily South, I mentioned that when deciding which ingredients to focus on in my first cookbook, The New Southern Table: Classic Ingredients Revisited, I picked ones that instantly bring classic Southern cooking to mind, like field peas, okra, and butterbeans.
This month, I’m cooking a lot with (and writing about) collard greens, which are in season all year long in much of the South.
With collards’ bold attributes in mind, consider my Lamb-Stuffed Collards recipe, which borrows from the Mediterranean tradition of stuffing blanched greens such as cabbage with ground meat, then baking the whole package in a hearty sauce. The combination of ground lamb and bulgur is classic, and a nice match with the collards, while the tomato sauce lends good contrasting brightness and acidity.
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 country-style meat-and-three.
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 those greens were.
Like most greens, collards are a natural match with beans, legumes, and pork, beef, and lamb. They have an assertive flavor and texture, so they benefit from strongly flavored ingredients that can stand up to that boldness, like spices, fresh herbs, mushrooms, tomatoes, and aged cheeses such as parmesan.
For that reason, collards have been easily incorporated into tropical and Mediterranean cuisines — Brazil, Kenya, India, the Middle East — that favor assertive flavors. Fresh mint, as usual, goes great with lamb, and is something of a spring tradition.
This is a dish that’s light enough for a warm spring day, but also hearty enough to be comforting when winter is lingering.
For this recipe and more great Southern dishes with a global spin, find The New Southern Table at your local bookstore or order it here.