Curiouser and curiouser.
If the fact that Neiman Marcus was recently selling $66 collard greens out of their luxury catalog wasn’t strange enough, then what about the additional fact that the high-end retailer has now sold out of the once humble, now high-falutin’ side dish?
Well, they have, thanks to the power of the internet. We’d barely caught our breath from the Bon Appetit cultural appropriation of pho debacle when the web lit up with the latest in culinary gentrification: a $66 pan of collard greens from the luxury department store Neiman Marcus.
The item: four 12-oz trays serving up to 10 people, fully cooked and shipped frozen for your next holiday dinner. With a shipping fee of $15.50, the dish (“seasoned with just the right amount of spices and bacon”) sold for a total of $81.50.
Local soul food chefs were both bemused, and not at all amused.
“I had so many questions,” says Lachelle Cunningham, executive chef of North Minneapolis’ Breaking Bread, and champion of vegan collard green cooking. “Since when is Neiman Marcus selling collards? For $66 dollars? I mean, what’s in these collards? Are they good?”
“It just shows how other people can make money off of our culture,” says Gerard Klass, of Klassics Pop-Up Experience. “It hurts, because for me, collards mean family coming together, they mean three or four hours of patience, and my mother making them every week for our Sunday meal.”
They also mean slave food and very real challenges of making the most out of nothing. "Collards are about what you can become," says Klass. "It’s disturbing to see the purity of collards profited on in this way."
Justin Sutherland of Handsome Hog says the phenomenon is “just another example of us making something good, and now they want it back.”
“We didn’t choose collards and pigs feet and chitterlings," he says. "It was basically shit, and we figured out a way to make it good, and now they’re like, ‘Let’s make money on it!’”
Similar examples can be found all across American culture, he says, from music to fashion. “It just makes me think of that [Grey’s Anatomy star] Jesse Williams quote, ‘They’re gentrifying our genius.’”
Each of these chefs has their own personal way with collards, and here’s the genius part -- you can get them for way less than $66.
“My collards are inspired by our African ancestors,” Cunningham explains, and she uses a variation of a Liberian recipe. She slow cooks onions, garlic, tomato, bay, oregano, and hot sauce instead of pork or smoked turkey. “But the real ingredient to good collards and soul food is love, regardless of what else you put in there.” Get them for $4 at Breaking Bread.
Sutherland says he thinks his collards are the best in the state. He starts with his house-smoked ham hocks which is used to make a gelatinous stock before adding the collards. Then, white vinegar, brown sugar, and crushed red pepper add more flavor. “As with any soul food or BBQ the key is the time, and low and slow cooking.” Get ‘em at Handsome Hog for $6.
And here’s perhaps an even better idea: With collard greens selling as cheaply as $12 a case, just make your own at home.
You could feed the neighborhood for $66.
Klass provides his recipe below (and don’t forget the love):
Klassic Collard Greens
½ lb salted butter
2 T minced garlic
¼ C minced yellow onion
¼ C turnip greens
2 bunches collard greens
2 bunches mustard greens
2 bunches bok choy
3 qt. Vegetable stock
3 T Lowry’s Seasoning Salt
2 T Tabasco
2 T liquid smoke
1 T black pepper
2 T apple cider vinegar
1 T brown sugar
Remove ribs from turnips, collards and mustard greens. Cut into 2-inch strips.
Cut off the bottom stalk of the bok choy 2 inches up from the base.
Slice the leaves in half then slice into 1-inch strips. Fill up a sink with warm water and rinse all of the greens thoroughly, removing all sand and dirt. Repeat.
In a large pot on medium heat, melt butter and sauté onions and garlic for two minutes until fragrant. Add 1 T of Lowry’s and 1 T of black pepper and sauté for one additional minute.
Turn the heat up to high and stir a handful of greens in at a time until all the greens fit in the pot.
Next, add vegetable stock, liquid smoke and Tabasco and bring back up to a boil.
Reduce heat back to medium and cover. Simmer green for 2 ½ hours until desired tenderness, stirring every 15 minutes. Once the greens are tender, add cider vinegar, sugar, the remaining Lowry’s and black pepper.
Pro tip: Greens always taste better the next day, so for best results cook your greens one day before you plan to eat them.