The New Year’s Day tradition of eating black-eyed peas for luck and greens to ensure a sound financial future rises to the level of superstition for some. Whether it’s a habit you enjoy since it’s a tasty combination, or you truly believe your fortune won’t be as good in the coming year if you don’t, one thing is certain: throwing out any leftover greens and the liquid they cooked in would be akin to throwing away money and is far worse than forgetting to make them in the first place on January 1. It’s a sin, really.
I haven’t always felt so strongly about this though. In fact, I have a confession to make, one that may bring an angry, gingham-clad, magnolia-scented mob to my door demanding I hang my head in shame and relinquish my “Southerner” card.
Until a few years ago, I didn’t know what potlikker was.
In the hopes that at least a few of you don’t know either, I’ll explain. No, potlikker does not refer to that family member who constantly sticks their spoon (or finger!) in whatever’s cooking to give it a taste. And it’s not a nickname for the kid who always begs to lick the cake batter or icing out of the bowl. Potlikker is the vitamin-rich broth left over after slow-cooking turnip or collard greens. The odd name is Southern-speak for pot liquor. You’ll also see it spelled as two words: Pot likker.
How I escaped this knowledge is no mystery. My grandmother was always cooking up a “mess of greens” (and homemade chow chow to go with them), and while I greedily gobbled up pretty much everything else that came out of her kitchen, when I heard the word “collards,” I made myself scarce. Everyone else in the house would be lined up at the stove, fingers impatiently tapping their plates as they waited to get their serving of greens. I was as uninterested as they were excited. As far as I was concerned, cooked collards looked like the slimy stuff floating around the edges of my granddad’s catfish ponds. No thanks.
Today, good collard greens are near the top of my list of faves, and I know now that like so many of the best things in life, potlikker’s simplicity belies its magical properties. You can enjoy this elixir all by itself, or use it as the base for a comforting soup.
If you google “potlikker soup,” you’ll find different recipes, each as unique as the cook who created it. The only real required ingredient is the potlikker itself and some collard or turnip greens. If you’ve got left over greens in their broth, start there. If you’ve just got the broth, add some fresh greens. If you don’t have either, you can cheat and create the potlikker at the same time you’re making the soup. (See the instructions for this below the first recipe.) Just remember to save the broth next time you make greens, and you can put the soup together a little faster. (You won’t have to cook it as long to achieve its hallmark flavor.) Here’s my version:
• 1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil
• 1 sweet onion, chopped fine
• 1 1/2 cups black-eyed peas or white beans
• 1 cup chopped potatoes
• 1 pound Conecuh sausage, cut into bite-sized pieces
• 4 cups potlikker
• 2 cups chicken or veggie broth
• 2 to 3 cups cooked greens or 6 cups fresh greens (torn or chopped roughly)
In a large Dutch oven, heat the oil and add the sausage and onions. Cook over medium-high heat until the sausage browns and the onions are softened. Add the potlikker, broth, greens, and beans and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes. If you added fresh greens, cook an additional 30–45 minutes or so to make sure they cook down.
NOTE: If you don’t have any potlikker, but you want to make this soup, you can start from scratch. Cook greens as you normally would. When they’re done, use a separate pot to follow the directions above. You could just add the sausage and beans to your cooked greens, but I like the flavor I get from browning the sausage with the onions first.
SEE ALL POTLIKKER SOUP PHOTOS HERE: