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Kale may be the trendy green, but collard greens are my favorite dark, leafy greens. They are hearty and delicious; I love them raw and cooked. Collards are really good for you, high in vitamins A, C and K, as well as iron, fiber and calcium. They are a staple of Southern cuisine, but because they are less common in other regions, people may not know what to do with them. Collards can be intimidating with their giant leaves and thick ribs. Their thick, chewy texture means they may require a bit longer cooking time but it also means they won’t fall apart or get mushy like other greens can.

Many recipes you might read use some kind of pork for flavoring the greens and balancing the slightly bitter taste of collards, but I think that is unnecessary and just covers up the natural goodness of the greens. When cooked properly, collard greens are amazing. Just be sure to wash them well and get all the grit and sand out of them. Fold the leaves in half and run your index and middle finger down the stem to strip the leaves of the stem or use a knife to cut the stem out. Then you are ready to cook collards. Here are five ways I enjoy cooking with incredible collard greens.

1. Braised Collards

Braising is a good method for cooking collard greens because it softens the leaves. You get greens that are tender but not soft and mushy. Braising simply means t cooking something in both fat and liquid. To braise collards, start with a huge bunch or two. You need a lot because remember, when greens cook down, what looked like a mountain becomes very little. Stem the collards and chop them. I like to cut them by stacking the collard halves in a single pile and cut crosswise into thick ribbons.

Heat some oil in a deep saute pan over medium heat. Add a pinch of red pepper flakes, three minced cloves of garlic and the zest of a lemon. Saute until you can smell the aromatics. Saute one chopped onion until soft and translucent. Add the collards and cook them until they start to wilt. Add up to one cup of vegetable broth and cover the pan. Lower the heat and let the greens cook until they are tender, about 45 minutes. Younger leaves will cook faster. Uncover the pan, raise the heat to medium-high and let the broth reduce a bit. Season with salt and pepper and add a squeeze of lemon juice for brightness.

The remaining cooking liquid in the pan is known as “pot liquor.” It reduces to become a thin gravy of sorts so don’t throw it away. It has a lot of flavor in it so you can use it to cook other dishes or as a jus for dipping cornbread.

2. Collard Green Wraps

The size and texture of collards make them perfect for wraps. They are big enough to encompass a good size scoop of filling and sturdy enough that it won’t all fall apart when you bite into it. You have three options here: you can keep the collards completely raw, blanch them so they are softer and more pliable or stay in the middle lane and tenderize them with a bath of warm water and an acid such as lemon juice or vinegar. Choose large collard leaves and cut the stems out. Soak the greens in a bath of warm water, lemon juice and a bit of salt for ten minutes or blanch them in a pot of boiling water. If you blanch them, transfer the leaves to an ice bath or run them under cold water to stop the cooking process. Pat the leaves dry and they are ready to be filled.

You can fill your collard leaves with any filling you want – chopped veggies, spreads or hummus. Chickpea “Tuna” Salad, Crunchy Cranberry Chick’n Salad and Moroccan Grilled Eggplant, Onion and White Bean Spread sound great to me. Roll the bottom end of the leaf up and away from you. Tuck in the sides of the leaf and continue rolling and tucking as you work your way up the leaf – like making a burrito. Roll it up tight and eat.

3. Hoppin’ John

One of the first recipes I ever blogged was Hoppin’ John. It is a Southern dish of rice and beans that has its origins in African, French and Caribbean cuisine. Hoppin’ John is traditionally eaten on New Year’s Day to bring a prosperous year filled with luck. The black-eyed peas bring luck and when you add collards, it adds the promise of wealth since the greens are the color of money.

I make my Hoppin’ John by browning up slices of my vegan Italian sausages in a big pot, then add scallions, jalapeno slices, celery, garlic, and jerk seasoning. I mix in some tomato paste and thyme, then a cup of long-grain brown rice, fresh bay leaves, two cups of black-eyed peas and water. Finally, I add about eight cups of chopped collard greens, cover the pot and let it cook for about an hour until the greens are softened and the rice is tender and fluffy.

According to tradition, it’s the first thing one should eat on New Year’s Day so make sure you have a big pot ready when the clock strikes midnight. It’s a wonderful way to start the New Year – a kiss, luck and money – sounds like a midnight trifecta to me.

 4. Red Cabbage and Collards Saute

One St. Patrick’s Day, I thought about making colcannon, a traditional Irish dish of potatoes and cabbage or greens. I split the ingredients into two separate dishes, making a deconstructed colcannon. The potatoes went into cheesy potato-okra corn cakes and the cabbage became part of an amazing saute with collard greens.

Heat a deep skillet with olive oil over medium-high heat. Saute diced onion, minced garlic and a pinch of red pepper flakes for five minutes. Add ½ head of shredded red cabbage and toss to coat in the oil and spices. Stem and chop a large bunch of collard greens and add them, little by little, to the pan. As they wilt, they will allow more room to keep adding them. Saute the greens until they are tender, about 7-10 minutes, adding some liquid to the pan if it gets dry. Season the greens with salt, pepper and a pinch of ground nutmeg. This dish is not only delicious but the green and purple colors are beautiful.

5. Creamed Coconut Collard Greens

Everyone loves creamed spinach so why not creamed collard greens? Dark greens and a rich and creamy sauce, this dish strikes a great balance between healthy and comfort food.  It also couldn’t be easier to make. If you want, you can blanch the collard greens first to make them more tender and quicker to cook. Remember to transfer the greens to an ice bath to stop the cooking process. Drain them well, stem and chop the collards.

Saute minced garlic and chopped onion or shallots in coconut oil.  Add the collard greens to the pan, toss to coat them in the oil and saute for several minutes. Make a cream sauce by pouring one cup of coconut milk or non-dairy creamer into the pan and season it with salt, pepper and a pinch of ground nutmeg. Cook, stirring often, until the greens are tender and the sauce is thickened, about 5-7 minutes. Taste for any seasoning adjustments. Serve as a decadent side dish.

These are just 5 ideas for how to cook collard greens. Try replacing your usual greens in any recipe with collards. Their sturdiness makes them a perfect choice for soups and stews while their strong flavor lets you enjoy them raw in salads and sandwiches. Before you know it, collard greens might by your favorite dark, leafy green too.

Lead image source: Bordecea34/Flickr

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