Collards are an integral part of the Southern culinary vernacular. But it seems they are only allowed to sing one song. I get exasperated when I hear people complain and campaign they must be made no other way then the traditional way; that’s with salted pork, vinegar, broth, crushed red pepper (and a few other things depending whom you ask) and simmered for hours. We don’t dictate how other vegetables are cooked and served. Actually, I take that back, okra suffers a lot of the same pigeon holing as collards. That’s a blog for another day. Honestly, I don’t usually cook collards the traditional way, I usually saute them, with some (gasp!) garlic. This allows them to to retain a bright green and due to their sturdiness they work great in this application. Don’t get me wrong, I like them boiled army green and swimming in pot likker too, I just don’t think that is their only use.
The other day while staring aimlessly into the fridge I found myself craving Southeast Asian food. We eat a lot of it around here. Much of it isn’t authentic but certainly inspired, especially in the summer when the traditional table salad is growing on our porch in abundance. I remember the very first time I had Vietnamese food. I had just moved to Houston for my first post collegiate job. Houston is home to the this country’s second largest Vietnamese population and my new co-workers wanted to show off this treasure. Well I was absolutely hooked. The food is fresh, cheap and delicious and for someone with a less than stellar straight out of college salary this fit the bill.
And it continues to fit the bill. I’m just happy Jim enjoys it as much as me. So, tradition be damned, eying a bundle of large collard leaves from a farm in North Georgia I decided they would fill in for traditional rice paper wrappers.
Collard Rolls - Serves 4
8-10 collard leaves
4 cups thinly sliced napa cabbage
2 carrots - peeled and shredded
1/4 cup peanuts - toasted and chopped
1/4 cup herbs torn from the stalks - mint, basil, cilantro
Prik Nam Pla (Fish Sauce with Chiles - adapted from Hot Sour Salty Sweet)
1 cup fish sauce (gluten free)
1/2 cup dried bird chiles - chopped in a mini food processor
Blanch the collard leaves in boiling water for 15 minutes, then refresh under cold water and pat dry. Remove the thick part of the stem. I did this by removing the tough part of the stalk then to get the rest of it but to keep a good part of the leaf I made a small triangular shaped cut chopping out the thicker part of the stalk but leaving the leaves. Toss the cabbage with 2 tbs. spoons of the sauce. Lay out a collard leaf with cut end facing towards you. Starting near this side, layer the ingredients, starting with cabbage, then the herbs, carrots and topped with the peanuts. Roll the leaf by pulling the two ends over the mound, then pull in the sides, pull tightly and roll. Serve with more prik nam pla or a sweet chili sauce, such as Mae Ploy.