Leftovers Go Green

Eight years ago, when my father’s Parkinson’s symptoms overwhelmed his body, but not his spirit, my mother decided she needed care-taking help. For a man who cherished his independence so fiercely, this life change would not come easy. But with same courage it took to run a profitable textile engineering business for 45 years without a high-school diploma, he accepted his reality and his need for Liz.

My mother hired Liz for four days a week shortly after she moved from San Francisco to Atlanta. And each day she came through their front door carrying her supplies and her faith. It didn’t take long for my mom to discover Liz was an excellent cook and ask her to prepare many family favorites.

But soon my father had more and more trouble chewing his food, so she made her own perfectly fluffy mashed potatoes, hearty and flavorful vegetable soups and, one of my favorites, tender and wonderfully seasoned southern greens.

Once I asked Liz how it came to be she was cooking those greens in my childhood kitchen in the same pot that used to feature mostly matzah ball soup,

"Oh, your mom asked me one day if I knew anything about fixing greens, and I told her, sure!"

That was six years ago, and Liz’s greens are now a staple at the Solomon house.

Greens cooking in my childhood kitchen. My mother pouring over finances at her desk. My father reading by a window. A new world simmering in an old house.

Over the years, Liz became as much a part of my visits home as any member of my family. In some ways, more, because when my daughter and I flew in from Los Angeles, we stayed in my parent’s house, and we saw her every day. I listened as she talked to my dad about her life challenges, and he responded with his hard-earned wisdom. At least once a day, I heard her laugh at something my father said. Liz’s laugh, like my father’s, was down-deep full, echoing of life’s greatest joys, and deepest sorrows.

Even with my father’s determination, my mother’s selfless dedication, and Liz’s special help, he could not get better. One October morning, I received the phone call I most dreaded. When I arrived at their home, my father could no longer move, speak or hold his eyes open. During those days before his death, my family huddled close — six brothers and sisters roaming the rooms of our childhood home, every day, all day, around him — and Liz sitting by his bed. I don’t know what my father understood during those last wavering hours, but a few days before he died he gave Liz a hug. It was the first, and the last.

I have decided I will make Liz’s greens a feature at my Thanksgiving table and the weekend after. I am still having trouble saying goodbye to my father, but I can never say "thank you" enough to Liz.

Liz Sprott’s Greens

4 bunches or pounds of greens (mix of collards, turnips, mustard or kale)

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 cloves of garlic (minced)

1 large onion (sliced fine)

1 tablespoon seasoned rice vinegar (or to taste)

Salt (to taste)

Red pepper flakes (to taste)

1 teaspoon sugar (as needed for bitterness in turnips or collards)

Pinch baking soda (as needed to tenderize collards)

Cleaning Greens:

With one hand grab stem and with the other pull off leaves.

With collards and mustards, the leaves will come off in one movement. Fill sink with cold water and rinse until grit falls to bottom. Repeat two to three times until sink water remains clear. Rip or cut larger leaves into three or more pieces.

In large sauce pot (at least seven quart), sauté garlic in olive oil over medium heat until light brown. Add greens with two cups of water. (Pot will be very full until greens cook down, so you may need to add in batches, stirring as you go). Add diced onion and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer and cover. If cooking collards with other greens, add a pinch of baking soda to tenderize. As greens reduce, stir occasionally, approximately every 30 minutes, making sure water has not evaporated. If so, add just enough to keep greens from scalding, approximately one-half cup. You do not want them soupy.

After greens have completely reduced, at least one and a half hours, add salt, pepper and rice vinegar, tasting as you go. Then, if needed for bitterness, add sugar. Continue to simmer another 30 minutes to an hour, or until greens are soft, tender and easy to chew. (Turnips and mustards cook in approximately two hours, while collards and kale take up to three.)

Yield: 6-8 side portions

Liz’s Greens with Leftover Smoked Turkey

Since smoked turkey is popular at many Thanksgiving feasts, here is a great way to make use of that flavor, using the same quantities from the recipe above. To complete the meal, add a warmed slice of leftover cornbread.

Place either one smoked turkey leg or four smoked wings in a large saucepot (at least seven quart) with cover. Add four cups of water and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for one hour to flavor the water. Add garlic, onion and greens to pot and continue to simmer. If using collards, add pinch of baking soda to tenderize. After greens have reduced, approximately one and one-half hours, add salt, pepper flakes, seasoned rice vinegar and sugar to taste. Cover and cook for another 30 minutes or until greens are very tender.

Lisa Solomon’s food articles have been seen in several publication including The Atlanta Journal Constitution, Washington Jewish Week and The Canadian Jewish News.