Any time a big group gathers in a family of cooks, there are designated jobs in the kitchen. My job was to cook the greens, and that always felt like an honor because my mother was known as a “green cooker.” Our green of choice was either a flat-leafed Chinese mustard or a curly mustard purchased by the bunch at our neighborhood market. Now, I like to get my mustard greens from local farmers like Jamil Burns of Raised Roots and Yolanda Burrell of Pollinate Farm.
Two important things to do ahead:
First, don’t let Grandma taste any sand in her greens! If you’re cooking 26 bunches of greens—like I did for Thanksgiving 2021—you can wash them the day before, but please wash them!
Take the time to make a flavorful stock: For smoked meat stock, use ham hocks, ham shanks, or bacon ends or smoked turkey tails, necks, or wings*. Vegetarians, I never forget about you. To make your stock, use carrots, leeks, onion, celery, and bay leaf*.
1 1/2 –2pounds smoked meat or vegetables (*See lists above)
To make smoked meat stock: Place meat in a stockpot with 1 gallon of cold water (or enough to cover the meat). Place a lid on the pot and simmer for 2 hours to extract flavor. When the meat is tender and falling off the bone, remove the meat and cut in pieces to set aside and return to the greens near the end of cooking.
To make vegetable stock, simmer carrots, leeks, onion, celery, and bay leaf in 1 gallon of water for about an hour.
To prepare greens, fill a basin with enough cold water to cover the greens and toss them around in the water several times. Then shake off excess water and set the greens aside. Now, drain the water and you will see all the sand that came off the greens. Rinse the basin and wash a second time.
Cut away the thick stems from the center of the leaves. Cut off and discard dry stem ends and chop the rest in ¼-inch slices like you would chop celery. Set aside in a bowl of cold water.
Remove any discolored parts from the leaves, then stack leaves and make 3 lengthwise cuts. Cut across to make 1-inch pieces.
Heat the olive oil in a skillet and sauté the chopped onion and sliced stems for about 5 minutes. Add to stock and bring the pot to a boil. Add the washed and cut greens, 1 handful at a time. As the greens start to shrink, add more greens and turn them using a large spoon so the uncooked greens go to the bottom and the shrunk greens come to the top. (You don’t want two different textures of your greens!) Reduce heat to a simmer, and once all greens have shrunk, simmer on low. Do not cover the pot, as this would change the vibrant color of your greens.
After 20 minutes, taste for tenderness and saltiness. Tasting is important, since smoked meat could add a lot of salt to your stock. Add black pepper to taste and dash in some Tabasco. Gently turn the greens over from the bottom up.
For an umami vinegar complement, add some Pepper Chowchow juice to your cooked greens. Serve the peppers on the side, and now all you need is a good sweet potato cornbread. Dip the cornbread in the potlikker (the stock left in the pot).
Keywords: Southern-Style Braised Mustard
Wanda Blake learned to cook within the camaraderie of an extended, multigenerational family kitchen. In 2015, she started a catering company called Wanda’s Cooking (wandascooking.com) and began hosting pop-ups with themes like Sunday Cooks and Church Ladies (Grandma’s house on Sunday) and Wanda’s Cooking loves New Orleans.
During the 2020 lockdown, Blake developed her Pepper Chowchow to sell online. It was so popular during the recent holiday season that supplies ran out, and we had to go to Sobre Mesa in Oakland, where Wanda continues her kitchen camaraderie with Chef Nelson German.
At Sobre Mesa
Lingering in the rich green, blue, gold, and red environment of Sobre Mesa, we learned that Chef Nelson German—a “Top Chef Portland” contestant on Season 18—has recently gotten excited about Yandilla Mustard Oil, a product that’s relatively new on the scene. Made in Australia, it’s the only FDA-approved mustard oil sold in the United States. The exception is allowed because it tests out below a threshold for erucic acid, a monounsaturated omega-9 fatty acid that the FDA fears might pose a health risk to children or animals exposed to high levels in feed.
German characterizes this oil as “the missing ingredient” he had been seeking in his exploration of the West African angles in his Afro-Latin cuisine, and he’s been pacing its introduction, so you might want to ask for it when you dine at Sobre Mesa. Cookbook author Nik Sharma describes Yandilla as tasting like horseradish.