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Column - Be a good hillbilly, eat them greens

I've often accused my neighbors, Richard and Marty, of being hillbillies right out of the Minnesota Ozarks. After all, they grew up in the wild-and-wooly Pierz-Genola-Gilman area.

I'm a snot-nosed South St. Cloud city slicker, to hear them tell it.

We like to exchange jibes, trying not to crack a grin.

A few months ago, at a Marty-made meal, on the plate was a tangled mess of what looked like seaweed with red streaks in it.

In a thick Southern hillbilly drawl, I asked Marty, "Goodness gracious, what in Sam Hill is that green mess curled up on that there plate? Next to that possum road-kill. Ah swear them's nothin' but hillbilly ditch weeds."

"Well, kind of," she said, grinning. "It's Swiss chard, right out of ma's garden by Genola. And that's a pork chop, not a possum, you dumb old man."

Kidding aside, the meal was fantastic. I discovered then and there I must have hillbilly blood in me because the "weeds" were so delicious I've been buying and eating them ever since. In the 1950s, we kids loved the Popeye cartoons, but we'd cringe every time he'd toss a can of spinach down his gullet.

Spinach. Yuck! As bad as Dad's sardines and limburger cheese.

"But it's GOOD for you," Mom would always say. "Try it. You might like it."

These days, I not only love spinach in every shape and form, but I'm wild about all greens: Swiss chard, mustard greens, collard greens, turnip greens and kale. I've been urging everyone I know to try greens, but they almost always turn up their noses.

They don't know what they're missing. One of my favorite meals these days is a fried chicken breast, a few boiled red baby potatoes and a tangled mess of greens. The meal is as easy to prepare as it is delicious.

My early avoidance of greens, no doubt, stemmed from TV shows like the Beverly Hillbillies. Granny Clampett was always squawking like an old hen about "collard greens, grits and possum." Hillbilly food not fit for cultivated humans to eat, or so we hoity-toity city slickers thought. Greens, in fact, are one of the glories of Southern-style "soul" cooking, along with its kissin' cousins, ham hocks and black-eyed peas.

I've been enjoying greens at least twice a week. They are all a tad pungent, slightly bitter and earthy-flavored, but each kind of green has its own unique taste. Three months ago, I consulted a dozen cookbooks and online recipes, seeking the best way to prepare them. Based on what I gleaned, I invented my own greens recipe. Here it is:

1/4 cup chopped onions.

2 garlic cloves, chopped fine.

1 Tbsp. olive oil.

1/2 tsp. horseradish or Dijon-style mustard.

1/8 tsp. red-pepper flakes.

1 chicken-bouillon cube.

1 Tbsp. brown sugar.

1 tsp. white-wine vinegar.

1 Tbsp. dry white vermouth.

1 Tbsp. butter.

Salt and pepper to taste.

Wash a bunch of greens, chop the leaves roughly (including stems) and boil them for 10-15 minutes in salted water. Drain well. In large skillet, saute onions in olive oil. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir constantly over medium heat for a couple of minutes. Add the hot dressing to the greens. Serves four people. If your guests are fanatic greens-eaters, however, you'd better double the recipe or you'll all be fighting like uncouth hicks over the ditch-weed strands clinging to the bowl.

If you don't want to fuss with the recipe above, don't fret. They're a treat served simply with just butter, salt and pepper.

Greens are rich in fiber, iron, calcium, vitamin C, carotenoids, lutein and folic acid.

I keep hearing Mom's prophetic voice. "They're GOOD for you. Try 'em. You might like them."

Too bad she forgot to tell us budding little hillbillies how tasty they are.

Dennis Dalman, a former reporter for the Echo Press, is a regular contributing columnist to the Opinion page. He is currently the editor of the St. Joseph Newsleader. He can be reached via e-mail at