Collard greens may not have (yet) made as big of a splash as kale in the contemporary vegetable world, but they’re also quite versatile and tasty. Don’t be intimidated by those big leaves! This guide to collard greens will prove why you should be using more of them, offers tips and an easy way to prepare them.
Because they’re so favored in Southern cuisine, it’s sometimes assumed that collards came over as part of the African slave trade, but that’s not the case. Food historian Michael Twitty explains:
“Collards are not African, they are temperate and Eurasian in origin, but their consumption, and with them — turnip, kale, mustard, and other greens are a healthy blend of tastes — West and Central African, Scottish, Portuguese, German and the like …”
Buying and storing collard greens
Collard greens are available year round, though they’re traditionally best when grown in the cool seasons — it’s said that makes their leaves sweeter. Look for collards with fresh, unblemished leaves and plump stalks.
Once you get them home, wrap in paper towel, then a plastic produce bag, and use within three days for optimal flavor (though they’ll keep a bit longer).
Why collards (and other greens) are good for you
Leafy greens often top lists of most nutritious veggies, and for good reason. Collards and other greens offer numerous benefits, including these:
- Leafy greens are good sources of vitamins, notably folic acid (a B vitamin), vitamin A, and vitamin C. They’re a particularly notable source of vitamin K, which is essential to good bone health.
- They’re also a rich source of minerals, including potassium, magnesium, and iron.
- The calcium content in some leafy greens, especially collard greens, kale, and spinach, is significant. The calcium is also highly absorbable, unlike that in other foods. Thus, for vegans and those who don’t consume dairy calcium for other reasons, dark leafy greens can become an important and reliable source for this mineral.
- Greens contain phytochemicals with antioxidant properties.
- Greens are high in fiber, and quite low in calories and carbohydrates, which makes them great for the digestive tract and for weight maintenance.
- Leafy greens are a great source of chlorophyll. This is the pigment that makes leaves green, and has all manner of health benefits, including overall support for all our internal systems.
Here’s a detailed view of the nutrition profile of collard greens.
How to prepare collard greens
Back in the day, most recipes for collard greens called for boiling or braising the leaves for 20 minutes or more. Doing so, found the semi-mushy, olive-drab results less than exciting.
But cut into narrow ribbons and stir-fried or braised, this leafy green is a standout, and its mild, sweet flavor is up there with the best of them (the leafy greens, that is). Maybe this shouldn’t be surprising; collard greens belong to the family of cruciferous vegetables (which includes cabbage and broccoli), none of which are very appealing when overcooked.
The coolest way to cook collard greens (in my opinion) is to roll up the leaves, slice them very thinly, and stir-fry or braise until just tender-crisp, retaining their wonderful color and sweetness. (Prepped in this way, then can also be tossed into roasted vegetable medleys — add them in the last 10 minutes or so of the roasting time so they don’t get overdone.)
Cut the leaves away from the stalks with kitchen shears or a sharp knife. Unlike other greens like kale or chard whose stalks can be thinly sliced and used, collard stalks are quite tough, so compost or discard them. Stack 5 or 6 like-sized leaves atop one another. Roll each stack up from one narrow end.
Cut through the rolled-up leaves crosswise to get narrow ribbons. Then cut in the opposite direction to shorten them. Give the collard ribbons a good rinse in a colander and drain thoroughly. Now they’re ready to be braised, sautéed, or stir-fried. They’ll cook up quickly in your recipes without losing their bright color and sweet flavor. For a basic garlicky sauté, see The Most Basic, Best Way to Cook Leafy Greens.
Find lots more delicious vegan recipes featuring collard greens.
Do you love greens? Find lots of easy, tasty ways to use them in Wild About Greens by Nava Atlas.
Do you want more greens? See our Guide to 10 Leafy Greens Everyone Should be Eating.
See more of our Good Food Guides.