Growing up, we always stuck with the staples on Thanksgiving – a turkey roasted in the oven, diligently basted until the skin turned a crackly golden brown, sweet potatoes with a brown sugar and oat crumble topping, stuffing made from bagged bread cubes and copious amounts of dried sage, cranberry sauce, gravy, and pecan pie. The menu and guest list varied little over the years. Despite only cooking to feed 4-8 people (nuclear family plus various permutations of grandparents), we always looked for a 20lb+ bird so that we could count on days of sandwiches and easy dinners. For 24 years, this was the annual feast I looked forward to and, when I moved from Colorado to Connecticut for college then Boston for work, the feast I travelled home for.
Four years ago, when I moved to Louisiana for medical school, the trek home for both Thanksgiving and Christmas started to seem unnecessarily expensive and hectic and I embraced a new tradition – Friendsgiving as actual Thanksgiving. My brother Jake, by then also in college away from home, decided it would be more fun to join me than the parents and the two of us accepted the invitation of a friend of mine to join a bunch of Thanksgiving orphans for a pot-luck feast. Away from our family traditions I decided to try out some new recipes, so we showed up with bacon-roasted brussels sprouts and a pear-cranberry galette (a galette made out of necessity as I didn’t own a pie pan). The potluck turned out to be an amalgamation of cross-cultural Thanksgiving traditions – wild rice casserole shared the table with marshmallow topped sweet potatoes and macaroni and cheese. The star of the show was the turkey, roasted in a mole-like sauce made by a friend originally from El Salvador. For me, that eclectic bunch of foods mixing different family customs was far more interesting than the traditional meal I was used to. From then on I was hooked on the Friendsgiving pot-luck concept.
Four years after that first Friendsgiving, the friend who hosted my brother and I is now my husband and, earlier this year, we left Louisiana for residency positions in DC. We weren’t ready to give up our beloved tradition though, so, when time came to put in vacation requests, we both made sure to ask for a week around Thanksgiving so that we could fly back to visit some friends who remained in New Orleans. In the spirit of our return, I decided to make a huge batch of collard greens for one of our vegetable courses. We made collards fairly often while living in Louisiana, so I never really thought of them as a holiday food. Apparently I was wrong, as finding collard greens the day before Thanksgiving turned into an epic, multi-store trek. On the big day, we enjoyed them smashed together with mashed sweet potatoes, turkey, and stuffing, but they are equally delicious on their own, spooned over rice, or (more traditionally) paired with red beans.
Friendsgiving Collard Greens
- 4 slices thick cut bacon
- 2 large hatch chiles or Anaheim chili peppers, seeded, diced
- 1 small or medium onion, diced
- 1 bunch collards, stems removed, julienned
- 1-2 C. chicken stock
- Salt, to taste
- Cayenne pepper, to taste
Cut bacon into 1/4″ wide pieces. Heat a large skillet over high heat, add bacon, and saute until cooked through. Remove bacon from skillet. Drain off grease, reserving 2-3T. Add onions and peppers to the hot bacon fat. Cook onion and peppers until lightly browned but not quite caramelized. Add collards and toss thoroughly. Cook until collards are beginning to wilt, then turn down heat to medium-low. At this point, add about 1C chicken broth, about 1/4 – 1/2 t cayenne pepper, depending on your heat tolerance, and the pre-cooked bacon. Put a lid on the skillet. Cook until greens are tender, about 30 minutes. Stir every 5-10 minutes and add more chicken broth as needed so that the pan is never dry. By the end of the cooking time, most of the broth should have evaporated. If greens are still in a pool of broth at the end of the cooking time, simply remove lid, turn up the heat on the pan and continue cooking until remaining liquid boils off. Add a pinch or two of sea salt, to taste.
Note – collards can be rather tough and bitter – julienning them quite finely helps them to break down more quickly and thoroughly.