There is nothing revolutionary about this dish. It’s just southern greens and pot likker served over cheese grits. I make it often, and have never shared it because it’s so simple. I’ve always figured if this is the kind of thing my readers want, there are a million recipes out there.
The only thing is, it’s so darn good! Every time I make it I am floored anew by how delicious and satisfying it is. The creamy, mild grits are such a great foil for the savory, smoky, ever-so-slightly bitter, vegetal chew of the greens. And then that broth! This is food that just makes you feel good: warm and healthy and cared for. And it’s a meal all by itself. You could have a slice of bread and butter on the side, but you don’t need one.
It’s also a meal that doesn’t require the kind of time and care that traditional recipes would have you believe. You don’t need to braise the greens for hours and hours to coax out all that deliciousness and make them tender. And you don’t need to spend five careful minutes adding the polenta to the water in a slow, thin stream. Just whisk while you’re pouring it in and you’ll be fine.
You can use all kinds of greens here. Collards, of course, are absolutely classic. Use them alone or mix with turnip greens, mustard greens, or whatever other greens catch your fancy. I adore the combination of meaty collards and silky mustard greens.
Though bacon is traditional and I love it, the recipe can easily be made vegetarian. Just leave the bacon out or replace it with chewy bits of savory baked tofu. (This isn’t as easy to find as it once was, but Sprouts carries the Wildwood brand.) Add a tablespoon of miso or a half teaspoon or so of smoked salt (or a few careful drops of liquid smoke) to get some of that smoky salty umami, and you’ll be in business.
This is a casual recipe, especially the pot of greens, and the ranges of ingredients in the instructions reflect that. I don’t measure anything for the greens anymore. It’s casual and easy, and always delicious.
- 2 to 4 ounces bacon (2 to 4 thick slices), sliced crosswise into 1/4" pieces
- 1/2 medium onion, chopped
- 2 to 4 cloves garlic, minced or pushed through a garlic press
- 1/2 teaspoon or more red pepper flakes, to taste
- 1 to 2 pounds collards or mixed greens, thick center ribs removed, chopped
- 2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1/2 cup milk or half-and-half
- 2 1/2 cups water
- pinch salt
- 1 cup cornmeal ground coarse for polenta
- 1 or 2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
- 1/2 cup grated cheddar or 1/4 cup parmesan cheese
- 2 tablespoons cream, optional
- Freshly ground pepper
For a vegetarian version, leave out the bacon, replacing if desired with baked tofu or seitan. Use vegetable broth or water and add 1 tablespoon of miso, 1/2 teaspoon of smoked salt, or a drop or two of liquid smoke.