Collard Greens

Collard Greens

Latin name: Brassica oleracea
Other names: collards
Uses: vegetable 

Collard greens are the same exact species as cabbage, broccoli, kale, and cauliflower — they’re all just different forms of the same mustard-family plant. They’re widely available year-round, but like other winter greens, have the best flavor and texture after the first frost; look for whole-leaf collards and select bunches that are firm and dark green with a slight waxy bloom on the leaves. Wrap them loosely in a damp paper towel, bag them, and store them in your crisper drawer.

Why are collard greens healthy?

It should be no surprise that the greenest and leafiest green leafies are powerfully nutritious: rich in vitamins (A, B-6, C, and K) and minerals (calcium, iron, folate, and magnesium). They’re also high in choline, an essential precursor to compounds your body makes to regulate everything from cellular integrity to mood and memory. 

What do collard greens taste like?

Collards taste like the little leaves on a broccoli stalk — it’s what they are, more or less. They have a flavor that’s slightly bitter (less so than kale) and cruciferously pungent (less so than broccoli), with a thick, dense texture that holds up well to long cooking.

Where do collard greens grow?

The primitive cabbage that eventually became collards originated in the Mediterranean and Turkey, and collards have been grown in the region for at least 2000 years. Today they’re particularly grown in West Africa, South America, and the American South, but also grown in Spain and the Balkans. Collards grow best in cool weather.

How do I prepare collard greens and what do I pair them with?

Collards’ sturdy texture requires a long simmer or braise, and the tough stems should be removed (you can finely chop these and cook them along with the leaves). Collards are great stand-ins for cabbage in rice-filled cabbage rolls, as a sub for grape leaves in dolmas, and you can even use them instead of lotus leaves for lo mai gai.

Collards love smoky, fatty flavors and bright acid (especially vinegary hot sauces), which is probably why you see them on pretty much every barbecue restaurant menu in the world. They also have an affinity for other foods of the African diaspora, like black-eyed peas, pigeon peas, and rice, as well as tomatoes, chiles, onions, and garlic. They’re traditionally cooked with smoked pork or ham bones, but you can achieve similar results by adding smoky grilled onions and/or a dash of liquid smoke to the cooking liquid.  

Surprising fact:

Collards have a long association with money (being green and all) and are a traditional accompaniment to the Southern New Year dish Hoppin’ John, whose black-eyed peas represent coins — both symbols of a wish for prosperity in the coming year. Adding greens to the plate might have originated with Southern Jews in the 18th century — bitter greens are a Passover tradition and black-eyed peas are a symbol of luck that dates back to both the Jewish Talmud and North Africa. 


Collard Greens