Collard greens are a type of large, leafy green vegetable common in southern U.S. cooking but are found in recipes around the world. They're often cooked using moist heat because it helps soften their toughness and reduce their bitterness, but collards can be used in more ways than you might think.
What Are Collard Greens?
Collards have dark green, fanlike leaves with tough stems. They're a member of the same group of plants that includes kale, turnips, and mustard greens. Likewise, they share many of the same characteristics and are often prepared interchangeably or in the same ways (at least in the southern U.S., where they're most popular) and with similar ingredients. Collards do well in dishes that require low, slow cooking such as simmering, braising, or steaming, with ham, beans, okra, and so forth.
They aren't hard to work with, they just require a little TLC, before and during cooking, to get them to their optimal texture.
How to Cook With Collard Greens
These greens need to be washed thoroughly before cooking them, as they can carry a lot of grit. But you don't typically eat the stems, so remove those first.
Simply fold the leaves in half lengthwise and trim the stems off with a knife. Or just tear the leaves away from the stems. Then fill up the sink with cold water and add the leaves. Swish them around a bit to loosen the dirt, which will settle on the bottom of the sink. Drain the sink, refill, and repeat as necessary until no more grit is visible in the sink. Pat the leaves dry with a clean cloth or paper towel.
Many recipes, especially traditional Southern ones, will call for cooking this veggie in moist heat, such as braising with ham or turkey. You can also sauté, steam, or blanch them.
When you're cooking them, save the flavorful liquid. Known as pot liquor, it's highly prized and is especially wonderful when sopped up with homemade cornbread.
What Do They Taste Like?
On their own, collards are pretty bitter and the texture is tough. But once you add some moist heat, their flavor softens and becomes milder the longer you cook them.
Collard Greens Recipes
Yes, they're popular in the southern U.S., but think beyond geography. Anywhere you'd use a dark, leafy bitter green, you can use collards. Toss chopped collards into a soup, slice the leaves into ribbons for pasta, or sauté them with a cruciferous cousin such as kale—it's all good. If you massage the raw leaves to soften them, they're a surprisingly good addition to salads.
You can also use them as you would a wrap, for a gluten-free sandwich stuffed with hummus, tofu, shredded veggies, beans, and so forth.
Where to Buy Collard Greens
Collards are not usually hard to come by, as they're available all year round in most grocery stores or in markets that serve African-American populations. They're stocked in bunches in the produce section, chilled, near the kale, Swiss chard, and other leafy green veggies. The leaves are so big, they're hard to miss.
You can also buy collards at farmers markets, but regardless of your source, look for firm stalks and crisp green leaves that are large and sturdy, almost as if you could use them as a fan to cool yourself off in the summer. Steer clear of anything yellowing and/or wilting, as they're already past their prime.
Collard greens are best kept in the fridge in a plastic bag, unwashed, to help preserve their crispness. You don't want to wash them and then put them in the fridge, as introducing excessive moisture will accelerate the spoiling process.
Collards will keep for up to five days, depending on how fresh they were when you bought them. Anything you buy locally from a farmers market will often keep for twice that length of time.
To freeze, blanch them first, which sounds fancy but just means you simply plunge the greens into boiling water for 3 minutes. Then, transfer them to ice-cold water to stop the cooking process. Drain and pat dry. Chop and store the greens in a resealable plastic bag in the freezer for up to 12 months.
Nothing's stopping you from freezing raw collards, but blanching will preserve the quality and nutrition of the veggie; it halts the enzymes that could potentially lead to spoilage, once frozen.