Cathy Conway’s collards with smoked tomatoes

Photograph by Greg Dupree

Chef Cathy Conway, founder/executive chef of Avalon Catering

Backstory The Baltimore native’s love for vegetables began on summer vacations to her grandparents’ tiny farmhouse deep in North Carolina tobacco country. On the linen-covered dinner table, collards typically shared space with just-picked corn, tomatoes, and the beans and peas she and her siblings had shelled and snapped that morning. Meat, other than as seasoning, was often absent, and rarely missed. For this recipe, Conway forgoes pork fat in favor of smoked tomatoes, onions, and garlic. Tomatoes can be easily smoked outdoors whenever you’re grilling other food, then refrigerated or frozen. In months like April, when it may not be quite warm enough for cooking outside, it’s remarkably simple to create an indoor smoker in a large pot.

About 1 cup apple or hickory chips, soaked in water 30 minutes
3  large tomatoes, quartered
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
3 sprigs thyme
3–4 bunches collards (about 8 loosely packed quarts chopped leaves)
4 tablespoons butter
2  tablespoons vegetable oil    
2 cups onions, chopped
4 large garlic cloves, minced
½ cup cider vinegar
Cornmeal dumplings (optional, find Conway’s family recipe here)

To smoke the tomatoes: Drizzle the quartered tomatoes with olive oil, and season them with salt and pepper. Set the tomatoes on an oiled grill grate or rack, and scatter the thyme sprigs over them. Light the grill. Wrap the soaked chips in a double thickness of foil, leaving a small opening to allow smoke to escape. Set the packet directly over hot coals or briquettes. Place the grate over them. Once the chips start smoking, cover the grill and cook the tomatoes over low heat for about 30 minutes.

To do this indoors: Line the bottom of a large pot with several layers of foil. Scatter the soaked wood chips over the foil, then place a perforated pan or a steamer basket that reaches the edges of the pot over the chips. Add the tomatoes to the perforated pan or basket. Cover the pot tightly, set it over high heat, and let it smoke 5 to 10 minutes. (You’ll want your kitchen vent fan on.) Turn off the heat, let the pot stand 15 to 20 minutes longer, then remove the lid. Transfer the smoked tomatoes to a baking pan and roast in a 300-degree oven about 45 minutes to concentrate the flavors.

To cook the collards: Wash the greens thoroughly and discard the stems; coarsely chop the leaves. Heat the oil and butter in a large pot over medium heat until the butter is melted. Add the onions and garlic and saute until soft but not brown. Add the collards in batches, stirring and allowing them to cook down slightly before adding the next round. Add the tomatoes, vinegar, 2 teaspoons salt, and water just to cover the greens. Cover with a lid and cook over medium heat for 30 to 40 minutes, or until very tender. Serve in bowls with some of the liquid, over cornmeal dumplings if desired. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Bonus: Pair the collards with cornmeal dumplings

This article originally appeared in our April 2014 issue under the headline “Smoky Greens.”