There are some compelling reasons to be a vegetarian—health; eating lower on the food chain; horror at the way animals are often treated when they are raised to be our food. So I’ve been known to dabble in vegetarianism every now and then. I say dabble because I’ve never done it with any great commitment—if I had dinner at your house and you served roast chicken, for example, I might not eat the chicken, but I would eat the vegetables that you cooked around the chicken. A fine point, and one that’s hard to defend. So during my vegetarian phases, I try not to be a pain in the neck about it—if I go to someone’s house, I eat the side dishes and skip the main course. I have friends whose children are vegans, and preparing food for them is like dealing with people who are sick and have multiple food allergies—you have to be so careful. I never want people to be that careful around me. I love good food, but the best part of a meal is sharing it with the people I love.
I like to think that my guests feel the same way. So I make side dishes that can be enjoyed by vegetarian and omnivore alike, and hope that my friends and family feel welcome at my table.
I’m a southern girl at heart and by definition love my greens. Collards are my favorite-- braised for a long time with bacon, the broth sopped up with good French bread—it’s just this side of heaven.
So here’s a vegetarian version—no bacon, but still delicious.
For the greens
About a pound of greens of your choice—collards, chard, kale
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large sweet onions, cut pole to pole and sliced thin
Wash greens well and trim the stems. Cut into 1-2 inch pieces. Set aside.
Heat olive oil in a large skillet or dutch oven over medium heat till shimmering. Add onions and salt, stirring occasionally till the onions become translucent and begin to brown. Stir in garlic and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, till garlic has softened but not browned. You can keep the heat on low and the skillet covered and just let this go as long as you want till it's all soft and brown and caramelized. When you're ready to start the greens, pour in vegetable broth and raise heat, stirring and scraping up any browned bits, so that the broth comes to a low boil.
Stir in greens. You may have to do this a little at a time depending on the size of your skillet. Reduce heat to low and cook greens covered until they are soft and wilted. (The amount of time will depend on what greens you use.) Stir in red pepper flakes. Taste and add lemon juice, salt and pepper as needed.
For the gremolata
While the greens are cooking, heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add pecans and cook, stirring constantly, until nuts are golden and fragrant. Add garlic and stir until mixture is very fragrant and nuts are golden brown, about a minute; don't let the garlic burn. Place in a medium bowl and add parsley and lemon zest, stirring to combine. Set aside.
To serve, scoop some greens onto a plate and top with a tablespoon or two of the gremolata. Or you could serve the greens with their broth in a bowl with a fried egg on top and sprinkle the gremolata over all that. But probably not for Thanksgiving. Although if you served me that for Thanksgiving, I’d happily eat at your table.