How to cook collard greens soul food
Outside the South, few people have adopted this healthy, strapping leafy green into their cooking repertoire. We’ve found a limited amount of recipes aside from the traditional southern «mess of greens»: 1-3 hours of cooking ample quantities of collard greens in a large pot of water flavored with smoked ham or ham hock. Not a task geared to busy people looking for a quick greens side dish for a dinner meal. Luckily, there are quick, easy, and low-fat ways to prepare collards that taste great, too.
Look for smooth, green leaves without any yellowing or insect holes. Avoid wilted greens; they have already lost some flavor and vitality. Try to find young or small collard leaves. They will be more tender than large leaves.
Nutritionally, collards are a goldmine. According to the USDA Compensation of Foods, collard greens outrank broccoli, spinach, and mustard greens in nutritional value. A cruciferous, cancer-fighting vegetable along with kale and broccoli, collard greens are low in calories, high in fiber, and rich in betacarotene, vitamin C, calcium, and B vitamins.
Depending on the preparation, collards can have a mil, likable taste – though not as sweet as kale. There’s no bitterness to them. We asked a longtime South Carolina collards grower to describe the taste of collards, and she had a hard time. «Hmm,» she said. «I don’t know; just say they taste good.»
We find collard greens taste too grassy to eat raw in a salad. Under cooking can also produce a grassy taste. Collard greens taste great simply prepared with olive oil and onions, leeks, or garlic. Strong flavorings such as hot pepper, ginger, curry vinegar, hot sauce, and bacon also enhance the flavor. Slivered collard greens taste good in soups and bean stews.
What is the best way to turn out delicious collard green? Surprisingly, not be steaming. We have found, through comparison tests, that steamed collard greens are hard to chew and almost unpalatable. Boiling them in a large pot of water, southern style turns out a limp mass of mild-tasting greens that have lost distinctive flavor. It is also time-consuming and makes for a greater loss of nutrients.
The method we prefer to use is quick-cooking in a small amount of water as a preliminary step before sautéing. Bring about 2 cups of water to a boil in a skillet large enough for the greens to spread out. Add the chopped greens to the boiling water, cover, and cook on high «fast and furiously» for 8-10 minutes. Cooking greens quickly preserves nutrients, color, and taste. The cooked greens can then be drained (save the broth!) and sautéed in a little oil with other vegetables and flavorings. The cooking broth is a delicious, nutritious beverage to enjoy while you finish your preparations.
Alternatively, you can sauté the collards. These greens will be a little chewier and stronger tasting than precooked collards, but slightly quicker to cook. Start with onions or leeks and garlic in a small amount of oil. Add the sliced collards and enough water to keep the greens from sticking to the pan and burning about ½ cup per bunch. Cook the greens for the same amount of time, up to 10 minutes. This way saves the step of precooking.