Southern cooks and soul food lovers have made collards a staple of their popular regional cuisine. Diners new to this succulent and nutritious cabbage variety won't be disappointed, provided the cook learns how properly to choose and cook these tasty greens.
A Cross Between Kale and Cabbage
In their book "The New Food Lover's Companion," experts Ron Herbst and Sharon Tyler Herbst describe collards as a cross between cabbage and kale. In fact, collards are often confused with kale, but they're quite a different taste, say the authors. Collards don't form heads like their cabbage cousins; instead they grow in a rosette shape around a tall stem. A good source of vitamins A and C, iron and calcium, collards have a dark green color like kale, but their leaves are very tough compared to other vegetables of the genus Brassica. Besides cabbage and kale, Brassicas include broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, mustard, kohlrabi and rutabaga, according to The Pollen Library.com.
Get to Know Collards
Smart cooks get to know their collards well. "The New Food Lover's Companion" says that collard crops mature from January through April, although most markets carry them year-round. Cooks should choose bunches with crisp green leaves and no sign of yellow. Collards kept in plastic bags may be stored for three to five days in a refrigerator, say the authors.
Cooking Method 1: Saute or Braise Quickly
Cooking collard greens basically has two "speeds"; they're cooked quickly or slowly, with no in-between, according to FineCooking.com. For fast cooking, the greens are sliced into thin strips and then sautéed or braised in olive oil, water or broth. When braising collards, the key is to keep the liquid at a gentle simmer. Southern cooks often use a cast-iron skillet to braise collards because cast iron distributes heat evenly, says FineCooking.com.
Cooking Method 2: Slow Stewing
The other method for cooking collards involves slow stewing for a long time, often with bacon or ham for seasoning. Collards stand up well in soups and stews because their tough leaves maintain texture and their strong taste mellows with time, reports FineCooking.com. Cooks shouldn't fear collards' taste, because the flavor pairs well with similar strong foods such as smoked meats and vegetables such as onions, garlic and ginger. Collards also work beautifully with spicy and acidic tastes such as vinegar and red pepper. In fact, "mean greens" combining collards with hot sauce, chilies or even curry paste are a favorite in many soul food kitchens.
Experiment with Collards
Cooks experiment with collards using exotic ingredients. Writer Louisa Shafia offers a recipe that pairs sautéed collards with toasted flaked coconut and chopped almonds in the October 2013 issue of "Bon Appétit." In an October 2011 article from "Self" magazine, writer Georgia Downward served up Shirred Eggs with Black-Eyed Pea Salsa and Collard Greens. Quickly sautéed collard "nests" were baked with eggs to create an unusual breakfast packed with vitamins, minerals and good taste.
Cynthia B. Astle is a longtime journalist who has written on practically every topic of human interest for newspapers such as the "United Methodist Reporter," magazines including "Response," "Arts Ministry" and the "Progressive Christian" and websites such as Darkwood Brew and United Methodist Insight. She was also a food editor and restaurant reviewer for the "Clearwater Sun."
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