The refrigerator at my parents’ house in Maryland is always chock full of vegetables (thanks, Mom!). I grew up eating a lot of broccoli, spinach, and kale. But I never knew, until this summer, of the miraculousness, the crunchiness, the sweetness, the green-chlorophyll-juicy splendor of the best kept secret in the world of veggies: collard greens.
A member of the mustard family (same as kale, broccoli, radish, etc), collard greens are a cultivar: they have been bred by farmers. They evolved from a Mediterranean wild cabbage plant that was probably eaten for thousands and thousands of years before people thought to cultivate it. Collards arrived in the US in the 1700s, and are particularly popular in the southern part of the states, where dishes like bacon and collards feed the soul.
Harvesting collards is really easy and fun. Multiple leaves grow from one plant. You snap off about two of the largest, outer leaves from the outside of the plant. You can keep harvesting from the same plant for months; it regenerates leaves pretty quickly, too.
The thing about collards (and other mustard family members) is that if you steam the heck out of them, much of the nutrition disappears through evaporation. The goal is to cook them carefully– don’t overcook them, and use minimal water when steaming them. I like to saute them in stir-fry because they hold up better than kale (falls apart easily) and spinach (not a mustard green, totally different flavor). They’re also sweet enough, stems included, for green smoothies and green raw soups.
I really love garlicky stir-fry with collards. Chop three cloves of garlic, cook in sunflower oil on high heat with leeks or onions, or both if you’re feeling ambitious. Add one large, shredded beet– everything will turn pink! Add chopped collard greens last, allowing them to cook until just wilted, but still slightly crunchy. Serve on the side of locally farmed meat, or add a protein like chickpeas/lentils/cashews/sliced almonds/quinoa/millet to make it a complete meal.
I leave you with one of my new favorite haikus, by Issa:
The man pulling radishes
pointed my way
with a radish.