The line streaming out of Arnold’s Country Kitchen is proof enough that Nashville’s classic “meat and three” tradition is experiencing a bit of a renaissance. No longer just an everyday lunch spot for working Nashvillians, meat and three joints have become a retro hit for newcomers and a required tourist stop for visitors. Because meat and threes were simply places to eat lunch near work without going back home, the menus are straightforward home style cooking.
Turnip greens are one of the mainstay “threes.” They’re Nashville’s green of choice, long before kale salad came along. Turnip greens have an earthy, slightly bitter flavor, and a lighter texture than collard greens or kale.
So, a question for our new Nashvillians: can you make a pot of turnip greens at home? Home-cooked turnip greens will bring you closer to native status so fill up a grocery bag at the Farmers’ Market. Fresh greens often bring in quite a bit of sand from the field. The easiest way to wash them is to put them in the sink, fill it with cold water and slosh them around with your hands. The sand will fall to the bottom as the greens float to the top. Drain the sink and repeat. Do this until the sink bottom doesn’t feel gritty. Bags of prewashed and shredded turnip greens are available at the supermarket.
The recipe is easy and variable. All you’re doing is stewing them in flavored water. Use a large pot. A big pile of greens may seem like too much, but they’ll cook way down. You can easily make them vegetarian without using any of the pork products. Buy a bottle of pepper sauce (whole green Tabasco peppers packed in vinegar) to sprinkle on the cooked greens and make a pan of corn muffins. FYI, that delicious greens broth is called pot likker. Drink it up.
- 1 medium to large onion
- 2 to 3 tablespoons oil (or bacon grease, if you have it)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 smoked ham hock, a chunk of side meat or country ham, optional
- 2 pounds turnip greens, washed and coarsely chopped
- Pinch of hot pepper flakes, optional
- Black pepper and salt, to taste
Cook the onion in the oil in a large pot over medium heat until softened, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook an additional 2 minutes. Add the ham (if using), the greens, and about 6 cups water. Bring to a boil and simmer until the greens are tender, about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Makes 8 servings.
Note: For more pronounced ham flavor, simmer the hock or ham in the water for about 30 minutes before adding the greens.