Collard greens are a classic Southern side dish and a key part of every soul food spread. As a bitter green, collard greens require low, slow cooking methods to soften its texture and bitter bite. However, braising isn’t the only method for ridding collard greens of its bitterness and enhancing its inherent vegetable flavors. A pinch of baking soda is an extra line of defense against bitterness, with some unexpected added benefits in terms of color and texture.
Baking soda has endless uses in cooking and beyond: it’s a leavening agent, odor neutralizer, and antacid to name a few. In the case of green cabbage, the usefulness of baking soda is threefold: it serves as a flavor enhancer, tenderizer and color protector. Baking soda is an alkaline salt with the tenderizing and flavor-enhancing properties of regular salt. As an alkaline ingredient, it will make boiling water alkaline, effectively protecting the chlorophyll in green vegetables from degradation. Tasting table staff consider baking soda the secret weapon for keeping boiled greens like broccoli, green beans, and peas from browning.
All you need to do is add a teaspoon of baking soda to your boiling water or broth to ensure your collard greens are flavorful, tender, and vibrant. The cooking liquid needs to reach a boiling point to maximize the alkalinity of the baking soda so it can work its magic on the cabbage. You can then lower the heat and cook slowly according to the recipe.
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More Tips for Tasty Collard Greens
Baking soda is a lesser-known but effective flavor enhancer for collard greens that you can use in addition to various other long-standing tips. A low and slow cooking method (either in a slow cooker or on the stovetop) is even more vital for the texture and flavor of the collard greens. Another more common ingredient for neutralizing bitterness is vinegar, which tends to be a constant ingredient in most Southern collard greens recipes. Spicy and other robust flavors are also important to mask and complement the bitter flavors of collard greens.
Therefore, ham hocks, turkey legs, and bacon are typical additions to the hot pot, creating an umami-rich cooking liquid for the greens to soak up with the added decadence of succulent cuts of meat. Sriracha, hot sauce, red pepper flakes, and cayenne pepper each provide a spicy kick that will stand up to the bitterness of the collard greens while complementing their complex and savory flavor profile. While you can use all of these tips while you’re slow cooking your collard greens, you can also serve your collard greens with a bottle of hot sauce and apple cider vinegar so your guests can make their portion of collard greens too hot or spicy as they wish. .