© Denzil Green
Collard Greens, along with Kale, are one of the oldest members of the cabbage family. Collard is a “loose leaf” cabbage: its dark green leaves don’t form a tight, compact head.
The plant is biennial. If unharvested, it will live through the winter and flower in its second year.
The leaves are smooth, with slightly ruffled edges and rounded ribs. On mature leaves, the central rib of the leaf is tough. The leaves have a mildly bitter flavour. The smaller the leaf, the milder the flavour. The taste of the leaves a little better after they have been nipped by a hard frost.
Collard Greens in general are milder and sweeter tasting than Kale.
Collard Greens are particularly popular in Portugal and the American South-East.
When picking your own from your own garden, if you want the plant to keep on growing only harvest 1/4 of the leaves from each plant. When buying Collard Greens at the store, choose small, firm, crisp leaves with deep green colour and with no yellowing or bug holes. A plastic grocery carrier bag full of Collard leaves will feed 4, and probably set the right tone, too.
You can’t use the leaves fresh in salads, but you can cook them and use in composed or bound salads. You can boil, steam or microwave. The usual method is to boil them. Collard Greens cooked with Kale is a good combo; as is Collard Greens mixed with black-eyed peas as a side vegetable.
The leaves will cook faster than do the stems and ribs, which are thicker. If you cooked them altogether, by the time the stems and ribs are tender the leaves would have disintegrated into moosh. The stems and ribs are best reserved for another use in which they can be cooked on their own, such as a separate side vegetable at another meal, added to a soup, or added at the start of a stir fry. They can just be put in a freezer bag and frozen as is.
Wash Collard well because dirt and sand will cling to the leaves. Strip the leaves off the stem and thick rib. Reserve stems and ribs for another use. (On very young, small leaves, they will be tender enough to leave on.) Chop to the desired size.
Put leaves in a pot, cover with water, simmer for 1 to 1/2 hours. When tender, add a few dashes of vinegar or lemon, season, and serve. Collard Greens are a green that are best served well-cooked, not “tender to the bite”.
Optional: some people just rinse the leaves one more time before cooking, letting as much water cling to the leaves as possible. Then cook the leaves as is, not adding any additional water. They maintain that this gives a better-tasting, more concentrated “pot likker”. However, if you’re feeding a crowd that you know is all going to be expecting some “pot likker”, then you are best to add additional water so there is enough to go around.
Optional: instead of all water, you can use some chicken or vegetable stock to make a tastier pot likker.
Optional: add at the start chopped onion and garlic.
Optional: add at the start a ham bone or a piece of salt pork. When the meat is cooked, take it out of the pot, get off any meat that there is on it and return the meat to the pot, discarding any bone or fat. Bacon could also be used.
Optional: vinegar brings out the taste of the leaves. Instead of adding vinegar or lemon, many people in the American south serve Collard Greens with a spoonful of a vinegar-based hot sauce on the side.
Probably not optional: Many people in the American South feel that a dish of Collard Greens is incomplete without a piece of cornbread to dip in the pot likker.
Store in damp paper towel in plastic bag or a plastic container refrigerated for up to 3 days.
Freezing: Wash, remove stems. Blanch (not steaming) for 3 minutes. Plunge in cold water, drain, package, and freeze.
You can store cooked or blanched Collard Greens in the freezer for 3 months.
Collards comes from the Anglo-Saxon word, “colewyrts”, meaning just “cabbage plants”.