As a child growing up in the ’60s and ’70s, broccoli was about the only fresh green vegetable that appeared on our dinner table (aside from iceberg lettuce of course). But once I discovered that “greens” could be much more tasty and interesting than iceberg lettuce salads and frozen spinach, I began adding them to my meals on a regular basis.
When I realized how good leafy greens made me feel, I began to explore what else I could eat besides lettuce, spinach and chard. Especially once I discovered that spinach and chard, although still good for you, have an particularly high oxalic acid (or oxalate) content, which I had heard could leach calcium from the body.
(For the record, now experts are saying that oxalic acid content in foods is not something to worry about – unless you happen to have a rare health condition that requires strict oxalate restriction. But, it’s still good to expand the repertoire of greens that can grace your table.)
I got way into kale for a long time since it grows like gangbusters in our climate almost all year round and was readily available. I thought I hated that vegetable at first because the only kind I’d had was that tough curly leaf variety. Once I tasted Russian red kale, lancinate kale, and other varieties – well, I never looked back. Rows of kale have filled our garden beds ever since.
Enter The Collard Green
But it’s only in the last couple of years that I’ve cultivated a new love affair – with the lowly collard green. (I don’t know quite why I say “lowly.”) I just never thought much about them before – and I always thought that you had to cook the heck out of the stuff and coat it with butter and salt to make it taste any good.
Well, it simply ain’t so.
And collards have got a bad reputation for being kind of stinky, I guess. Kind of like cabbage, their close cousin. But, the unpleasant, sulfur smell happens only when the collard greens are overcooked though. This is easy to avoid because they don’t need long cooking to be tasty. I’ve never, ever noticed my collards to have a bad smell.
I first got interested in in this leafy green when visiting a friend in San Diego a couple of years ago. They have a small yard with a just few veggies growing in the garden. But one of them was this huge collard plant. My friends would just snip the leaves off when they wanted to eat some and the stalk just kept growing taller and taller – with the rosette of leaves at the top. This thing was like a collard tree!
We ate some – and…yum! So green, so vibrant – and best of all, so tasty! My perception of collards shifted that January day, and upon my return I started looking for collards at the grocery store. I found them easily enough. Great, sturdy, flat leaves – easy to store and easy to cook. And easy on the pocketbook. What could be better?
Lots, it turns out. That spring when we tossed a packet of collard seeds out in the garden, we were gratified to discover that this leafy green grows even better than kale around here. We’ve got collards up the whazoo in our back yard. Way more than we can eat, so we have become quite popular with visiting friends and family members, who like to show up with a bag and pay a visit to the garden.
They’re Packed With Health Benefits
I knew that collards were high in calcium and loaded with vitamins and nutrients – but I hadn’t realized just how healthy they really are. New studies show collards to have cholesterol-lowering action, as well as cancer preventing properties. Although all cruciferous vegetables have been touted as cancer preventative, collards’ ability to lower cholesterol is apparently stronger than any other vegetable in this family.
Collards are also super high in Vitamins A, C & K, and are a good source of manganese, calcium and dietary fiber – just to name a few important nutrients. They’ll also supply a bit of protein, Omega 3 fatty acids, zinc and iron – and all with only 49 calories per cup!
They deliver an array of antioxidants into the body, and have components that work to prevent inflammatory responses. Because of their ability to lower cholesterol, they are a great cardiovascular tonic. Fire up the stove though, recent research suggests that the cholesterol-lowering ability of collards improves significantly when they are steamed, rather than raw.
The high fiber content in collards supports digestion and can even protect the stomach lining by preventing overgrowth of a nasty bacteria known as Helicobacter pylori in the stomach.
Cooking With Collards
Call me weird, but I enjoy my collards simply steamed until soft and bright green and then seasoned with a little tamari soy sauce, or perhaps some lemon. This makes a great and healthy side dish at dinner. Try them with black eyed peas and brown rice for a traditional Southern dish. I also love steamed collards on weekend mornings with poached eggs and perhaps some sautéed shitake mushrooms.
Some experts recommend letting the collards sit for five minutes or more after cutting and before cooking. This may activate the enzymes and increase the healthful effects of the greens.
I realize simple steaming might be a little too plain for some folks. You can find dozens of collard recipes all over the internet. And here’s another option that’s almost as easy as steaming. It’s my absolute favorite way to cook collards (and kale too for that matter).
Cut up some onions and/or garlic and sautee in a large frying pan for a few minutes in a little olive oil or broth.
Wash the collards, and slice thinly. (Be sure to cut out the thick vein in the center of the leaves first – unless the collards are very young this will be tough.)
When the onions and garlic have softened, add in the collards and stir gently.
Add some more broth.
Cover tightly and let the mixture steam for several minutes until the collards are bright green and thoroughly cooked.
There are so many variations to flavor this simple recipe. You could add some mushrooms or red peppers to the sautee. You could add a few drops of tamari soy sauce, a few sprinkles of cayenne, or another favorite seasoning when you add the broth to steam the collards. If I have any around, I like to add some cherry tomatoes for color. YUM.
Collard greens are delicious when added to soups and vegetable stir-fries. They don’t cook down nearly as much as spinach or chard, so they will add some substance to any dish that calls for a punch of fiber and vitamins.
Check out some collards at your favorite grocery store today. And if you enjoy home gardening – add a row to your spring crop. They will continue to give green goodness all summer and into the fall.
What’s your favorite way to eat collards? Tell us in the comment section.