North Carolina is home to some excellent regional food. There's barbecue, of course, but also local favorites that you're not likely to find outside the state like livermush. If you're lucky enough to visit the state during county fairs or local festivals, or if you know someone who knows someone, you can easily find these dishes. And one dish you absolutely need to try is the collard green sandwich.
A collard green sandwich combines three of the South's best foods: collard greens, pork, and cornbread. It's also part of the heritage of the Lumbee Indian tribe, who calls North Carolina home and takes their name from the Lumbee River in Robeson County.
Instead of slices of bread, the collard green sandwich starts off with two circles of crispy cornbread, fried golden brown. The cornbread is filled with collard greens and slices of fatback (a dry-cured piece of fat from a pig's back). It's often served with chow chow, which is a tangy, spicy and sweet relish.
The exact origins of the collard green sandwich aren't known, but collard greens, corn and pork are all staple foods for the Lumbee. Especially cornbread, which you can find as part of most Lumbee meals. Writer Elizabeth Shestak says, "The collard sandwich tells of a people who, until not long ago, often ate their collards by scooping them up by hand, forgoing a fork for a hunk of fried cornbread."
Given that collards and cornbread are regularly eaten together, it's not a surprise to think that someone would eventually put it in sandwich form. The official collard green sandwich has only been around for about a decade, and it's mostly something you find sold by vendors at the Lumbee Homecoming in July and the Robeson County Fair in October.
It's a wildly popular food when you can find it. One food vendor said that they regularly cook up to five hundred gallons of collard greens each week during the summer for events.
We should note that the Lumbee collard green sandwich is an entirely different thing than the collard green melt served at New Orleans restaurant Turkey and the Wolf. That collard sandwich is braised collard greens, three slices of rye bread, coleslaw, and a Russian dressing made from Duke's mayonnaise and cherry peppers.
To make the collard green sandwich at home, the trick to the sandwich is to keep the cornbread batter at a pancake-like consistency, so that it's crispy on the edges and soft in the middle. For the collards, don't overcook them. Sauté the greens in a cast iron skillet for about ten minutes over medium heat with a splash of water and season well with kosher salt, black pepper and hot sauce. If you don't have fatback, you can swap in bacon. It's not exactly the same, but it will do in a pinch.
This article was originally published on October 24, 2019.