When you think of collard greens, Southern cooking may be the first thing that comes to mind. And if you were raised in the South, collards may bring back memories of the classic New Year’s Day good-luck supper: Hoppin’ John, greens, black-eyed peas, and cornbread.
But that’s not the only way collards can be done. Whether you’re vegan, vegetarian, Paleo, or omnivorous, these hearty, nutritious broad-leafed greens are incredibly versatile.
Think lunch wraps, spring rolls, curries, warm salads, stews… whatever your taste, you can prepare collards in a way you’ll like.
There’s no shortage of reasons to make collards a staple in your diet. Rich in vitamins A, C, and K and some good-for-you fatty acids such as alpha-linolenic acid, collard greens will keep your liver happy.
Collards also provide a refreshing, palate-cleansing flavor that can offset some of the heavier fall and winter foods, like sweet potatoes and root veggies. It’s no wonder classic Southern meals keep a side (or main) of these greens on the table.
Lucky for those who love greens as much as I do, collards have a long harvest season.
In California and western North Carolina, where I live, they’re one of the few crops (add peanuts and sweet potatoes to that list) that are in season year-round.
But if you’re not in those states, check your supermarket. Collard greens can be found fresh in many places throughout the United States, especially in the fall, winter, and early spring.
Getting choosy with your greens
When shopping for collards, pick a bunch that looks full and bright green with minimal tears and holes. A bright color indicates nutrient richness.
Especially if you plan on making collard wraps (we’ll get into that in a moment!), having large, whole leaves will make your culinary adventures run a bit more smoothly.
Always be sure to wash your greens thoroughly before eating, as they can get a little sandy or gritty, especially if you buy them fresh from the farmers market.
There are a multitude of ways to prepare collards. But here are a few universal tips:
1. Stems off!
Especially if your digestion is delicate, cut off the tough end stems before cooking up your collards. If your gut is particularly finicky, you may want to remove the entire center stem. This is easy to do with a sharp knife.
2. Time your cook color
Speaking of your gut, the more you cook your greens, the easier they’ll be to digest. However, you can definitely have too much of a good thing.
I like to turn off the heat when my collards are tender and are a bright, deep green color. If you’re using a classic Southern-style recipe, the cooking time will be longer and slower and the greens will be a darker color when finished.
3. Use oil and salt
Collards are delicious simply sautéed in a little good-quality oil (such as avocado or coconut) or ghee. I prefer to use oils that stand up to high heat, since collards are best when cooked for at least several minutes.
A pinch or two of salt complements the pleasant mildly bitter, astringent flavor of the greens. Sea salt or rock salt is fine. For a good salty flavor with a little umami, I particularly like a dash of tamari or liquid amino acids, such as coconut aminos.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes
This is one of my favorite ways to cook collards, and it works great if you’re short on time and looking for a filling, nutritious small meal. You can buy roasted red peppers in a jar or chop a fresh red bell pepper and add it along with the onion and pumpkin seeds.
- 1 bunch fresh collard greens
- 1 tablespoon coconut or avocado oil
- 1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped
- Small handful of raw pumpkin seeds
- Pinch of smoked paprika
- Pinch of black pepper
- Pinch of cayenne pepper
- Tamari or liquid amino acids
- 1–2 tablespoons roasted red peppers
- Small block of sharp cheddar cheese, cut into small cubes
- Wash, stem, and finely chop collards.
- Heat oil in a large skillet and throw in onion and pumpkin seeds.
- Adjust heat to medium-high and cook, covered, until onion starts to turn translucent.
- Add collards, paprika, black pepper, and cayenne (omit the cayenne if you’re very sensitive to spicy food).
- Reduce heat to medium and add tamari to taste.
- Cook, covered, over medium heat for 10–15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until collards soften but retain a bright hue.
- Remove from heat, transfer to a bowl, and add roasted peppers and sharp cheddar.
This method for preparing collards is super easy and intuitive, and the cheesy-peppery flavor combo is reminiscent of Southwestern cuisine.
If you’re looking for another easy recipe, Coconut Curried Greens requires just a handful of simple ingredients and has a wonderful warming, mild spice and South Asian flavor.
I love the combination of ginger, garlic, curry, and coconut in this simple dish. The recipe calls for collards and kale (double the greens), but it’s up to you if you want to use just collards, just kale, or both. This dish pairs nicely with peanut sauce noodles or zoodles.
For a fresh, light bite that’s also satisfying, try making collard wraps. You can fill them with hummus, sprouts, and avocado. Or consider shredded red cabbage, carrots, tofu, bell pepper, fresh basil, and bean sprouts, as in this Collard Green Spring Rolls recipe.
While some people like to make their wraps with raw collard leaves, I prefer to do a quick steam. My training is rooted in Ayurveda, which teaches that cooked food is generally easier to digest.
The important thing is to pay attention to your own gut and do what works for you.
Here’s how you can create simple collard wraps:
- Make a sauté of red cabbage, shredded carrots, garlic, and bell peppers. This is especially delicious when cooked in coconut oil. All you need to do is chop the amount of veggies you’d like to eat and cook in coconut oil over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the veggies are still bright but tender.
- Season as desired. I like to use a dash of black pepper, ground coriander, paprika, and turmeric. It’s best to add the spices early in cooking so they blend well with the vegetables.
- Layer the cooked vegetables in a large raw or steamed collard leaf with a spoonful of cooked rice; a dash of soy sauce, tamari, or liquid aminos; and even a bit of peanut butter or sunflower butter.
- Wrap it up like a burrito and voila! You’ve got an easy, delish, satisfying meal.
Whether you’re looking for hearty Southern flavor, a warm curry, or fresh low-carb lunch wraps, consider collards your friend for fall cuisine and beyond. These tasty greens are versatile, nutritious, and easy to cook, and they offer fresh green flavor that will pair well with fall foods and holiday dishes.
Greta Kent-Stoll is a writer and Ayurvedic practitioner. Find more of her work at ashevilleayureveda.net.