In Defense of Collard Greens: Two Recipes

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Collard greens — most people either love them or loathe them. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone with a neutral opinion on this hearty green. If you’re on the “loathe” side, perhaps because you grew up with boiled collard greens or worse, canned collards, let me attempt to change your mind. (Canning any greens such as collards or spinach is an unforgivable sin in my opinion. If the zombie apocalypse is coming, sure, can some greens so you can at least have some leafy food, but barring such an emergency please don’t insult these plants like that.)

About Collard Greens

Collard greens belong to the same plant family as cabbages and broccoli, so if you grow them, plant according to the same instructions as for the Brassica family. When companion planting, if a plant won’t do well next to broccoli, don’t plant it next to collards.

Collard greens, like kale, contain a fantastic nutritional profile of vitamins and minerals. Of note is 407 micrograms of Vitamin K, which is almost 400% DV! (This is in the raw collards; some nutrient loss always occurs with cooking.)

They behave similar to kale and turnip greens from a culinary standpoint, and can be substituted for these other hearty greens whenever you like. The stems aren’t really edible, so remove them as you would for kale.

In the Southeastern US where I’m from, they’re a traditional food, particularly on New Year’s Day to ensure wealth in the coming year. Braising is the most common way to cook it here.

Boiling is the absolute worst way to cook them. A good braise or a light, simple sauté are my personal favorites, and I’ll give one recipe for each way.

Quick Collard Greens (Serves 4-6)

Traditional Southern-style braising takes a while, so if you’re looking for a quicker weeknight way to use some collard greens without sacrificing tenderness, here’s a nice 35 minute recipe that combines blanching (cooking then plunging in an ice bath) and sautéing.

Ingredients

  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2.5 lbs. collard greens, stemmed and halved lengthwise. (I know this sounds like a ton of collard greens. They cook way down.)
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil (You can also cook in bacon grease or lard or ghee if you prefer.)
  • 2 minced garlic cloves
  • 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes

Equipment

  • Large pot or 6 qt. Dutch oven. (I like this brand.)
  • 12″ skillet
  • clean dish or tea towel
  • spatula

Instructions

  1. Bring 4 qt. water to a boil in a large pot. Stir in 1 tbsp. salt and add collard greens, one handful at a time.
  2. Pay attention to the time closely. We want to blanch, not boil. Cook in the pot 2-5 minutes, depending on the desired tenderness. Personally, I like it on the quicker side, perhaps 3 minutes.
  3. Drain the pot and quickly rinse with ice-cold water until the greens are cool.
  4. Place the greens with a rubber spatula to squeeze out excess liquid.
  5. Put the greens onto the tea towel and compress into a log. Roll the towel tightly, then remove the greens from the towel and cut the greens cross-wise into 1/4″ slices.
  6. Heat cooking fat in 12″ skillet over medium-high heat until just beginning to smoke. Scatter the greens in the skillet and sauté, stirring frequently, until they are beginning to brown, about 3-4 minutes.
  7. Stir in the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook an additional 1-2 minutes. Serve with cornbread. (Yum.)

Southern Braised Collard Greens

This one takes longer, but is totally worth it, especially with a Sunday ham and cornbread.

Ingredients

  • at least 4 slices chopped bacon (I usually double this because why not.)
  • 2 lbs. collard greens, stemmed and cut into 2″ pieces
  • 1 onion, chopped fine. (For true Southern style, find a Vidalia onion.)
  • 3 minced garlic cloves
  • 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 6 c. chicken broth

Equipment

  • 6 qt. Dutch oven

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Cook the chopped bacon in the Dutch oven over medium heat until the fat begins to render, 2-5 minutes.
  3. Add the onion and 1/4 tsp. salt and cook an additional 5 minutes.
  4. Stir in garlic and cook 30 seconds more.
  5. Add chicken broth and bring the liquid to a simmer.
  6. Stir in the collard greens one handful at a time and continue cooking on the stove until they begin to wilt slightly.
  7. Put the lid on the Dutch oven, transfer to the oven, and braise about 45 minutes or until tender. Serve. (Cornbread is a must to sop up the “pot liquor”. In addition to being delicious, it’s chock full of nutrients.)

Selected References

  • America’s Test Kitchen.Vegetables Illustrated (2019). Penguin Random House Publications. IBSN: 978-194-52-6738

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