Keen for Greens
By Fiona Breslin
Collard greens are one of the true glories of Southern soul food. Below the Mason-Dixon Line, a chicken dinner without them is almost unimaginable. Collards have earned their place on the table not just because of their taste, but also because of their heart-healthy fiber and high vitamin content. Collards are packed with folate, vitamins K and A, and the cancer-fighting carotenoid lutein, a nutrient The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) considers a possible protection against breast, lung, and colorectal cancer. Collards are part of the Brassica family that includes cabbage, broccoli, and kale, all among the AICR’s recommended foods.
Collards are traditionally slow-cooked with ham hocks for flavor, alas not the healthiest way to eat them. We think they taste great with less cooking, and with garlic and herbs instead of ham. Collard greens are available year round, but taste best in winter after being nipped by the first frost. For freshness and extra nutritional value, purchase collard greens that are grown locally if you can.
Collards have a reputation for being tough and bitter, hence the long cooking times many traditional recipes call for. But if you buy young greens, they’ll be sweeter and tender. At the market, look for bunches of collards with small, bluish green rather than giant ones. The leaves should be crisp, without any wilting or yellow patches, but don’t worry if there are a few holes, since this usually shows that they haven’t been sprayed with pesticides. The woody stems of collards are inedible, so before cooking, strip the green leaves off and discard the stems.
The trick to maintaining the nutritional value of greens is to not overcook them. Sprinkle the greens with salt and steam them until water clings to their leaves and they are just tender. Drain and squeeze out the excess water. Roll up the leaves and chop into 1 inch thick slices. They will then be ready to sauté or freeze.
Collard greens prepared this way can be added to a number of dishes. For collards with a kick, try Cook For Your Life’s Sautéed Collard Greens with a hit of jalapeno or miso lime sauce . Or for a tasty, vitamin-packed supper, try our Greens and White Bean soup with a slice of hearty whole grain bread.