Sweet and Spicy Bitter Greens

Beth Kirby of Local Milk carries her Southern heritage -- and the ingredients, dishes, and recipes that come with it -- with her wherever she goes. Every other Monday, that place is here. 

Today: A fresher, quicker, weeknight-friendly version of Southern-style greens. Just don't forget the cornbread

If you grew up in the South, chances are you're familiar with the phrase "a mess o' greens." Generally speaking, we're talking a pot of collards, mustard, or turnip greens that have been cooked all day in a pork broth of ham hock and onions. They are, personally, my favorite of southern sides. I will never not get greens if I see them on the menu. Their flavor is wonderfully complex with a texture that almost reminds me of a great bowl of pasta.  

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I was a fake vegetarian for two years. That ended abruptly when I had a craving for Southern-style greens; unfortunately there is no authentic mess o' greens that doesn't involve some form of pork. And so I quietly migrated back into omnivore territory by tucking into a bowl of pork-speckled collards. I could give up a lot, but I couldn't give up those tender, smoky greens.

More: Another reason not to go vegetarian? These babyback ribs.

This rendition is a departure from the traditional: instead of imparting the nutrients to a "pot likker" (what the resultant flavorful, nutrient-rich cooking liquid is called in a traditional mess o' greens) bitter dandelion and spicy mustard greens get a quick hit in a hot pan until they're just wilted, retaining their bright color and nutrients. 

The bacon grease and bits are a nod to the ham hock, and these are seasoned just slightly with honey. That subtle sweetness is, in my opinion, the key to truly great greens. The resultant mess is quick, bright, and smoky -- a wonderful homage to a southern tradition that you can whip up in no time on a weeknight. But if you're being serious about this, don't forget the cornbread

Southern-Style Greens from Food52

Sweet and Spicy Bitter Greens

Serves 2 as a side

2 slices of bacon, fried crispy, grease reserved
3 cups dandelion greens, stems discarded or saved for stock, cut into rough 1-inch ribbons
1/3 cup diced shallot
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups spicy mustard greens, tough stems discarded, sliced in rough 1 x 3-inch ribbons
2 three-finger pinches of kosher salt
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon vinegar based hot sauce, like Louisiana, Crystal, or Frank's
1 teaspoon honey 

See the full recipe (and save it and print it) here.

Photos by Beth Kirby

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A Southern writer with a cast iron skillet & a camera. Freelance food writer & photographer. Blogs at