Von Diaz, a Puerto Rican raised in the Georgian south, went on a culinary journey to make sense of her two worlds. What she found was a deeper understanding of who she is and a recipe for coconut-braised collards.
Not your traditional collard greens by any measure, this coconut-braised collards dish is an edible portrait of how Von Diaz, the author of "Coconuts and Collards, Recipes and Stories from Puerto Rico to the Deep South," merges her Southern-born roots with her Puerto Rican ancestry.
The author, who was raised in Atlanta, was tired of the all-too-common narrative that says food from the South needs to be heavy and fried. She confronts that belief in the kitchen, with a skillet in one hand and her abuela’s (grandmother) beloved recipes in the other. What she discovers is an invention that is entirely her own.
To make coconut-braised collards, she sautés scallions in butter before folding bunches of chopped collards into a wok.
As for the pork, which is traditionally included in collard green recipes, she nixes those salty bits altogether. Instead, she adds a touch of soy sauce, which helps to fill in the gaps that would otherwise be occupied by ham.
Lastly, she adds a generous helping of coconut milk – a nod to her Puerto Rican roots. Keeping the recipes simple and affordable, she opts for canned milk over fresh. “I always have multiple cans of coconut milk in my house,” Ms. Diaz said.
For those who love the chew of meat, we recommend adding slivers of hard coconut meat. This bumps up the texture and crunch of the overall recipe.
Serves 4 | Time: 15 minutes
1 large bunch collards, rinsed well
1 bunch scallions, about 5 ounces
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1½ cups coconut milk, homemade or canned
1 tablespoon soy sauce
½ teaspoon salt, or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
Coarsely chop the collard leaves and stems. Discard the bottoms of the stalks. Set aside. Thinly slice the scallions. Discard the rooted bottoms. Set aside.
In a large wok or skillet, melt the butter and coconut oil over medium-high heat. Add the scallions and sauté for 1 minute. Add the collards and sauté for another minute, stirring well to incorporate.
Add the coconut milk and soy sauce and bring to a simmer before lowering the heat to medium-low. Simmer uncovered, stirring frequently, for another 7 to 10 minutes. Cook for less time for firmer leaves and a little longer for more tender greens.
Season with salt and pepper and serve.
This recipe appears in Coconuts and Collards: Recipes and Stories from Puerto Rico to the Deep South by Von Diaz. This version has been reprinted with permission of the publisher, University Press of Florida, 2018.