Learn how to cook collard greens properly, and you'll love this antioxidant-rich vegetable that provides lots of fiber, vitamins and minerals. Collards are a member of the cabbage family, and their tough leaves lend themselves to longer cooking times than more delicate greens such as chard and spinach. This state vegetable of South Carolina benefits from a long braise with a juicy, salty ham hock, but don't stop there -- use a variety of techniques to prepare the vegetable.
Classic Long Braise
Braised collards leave behind a gravy, called the likker, that was used in the past to feed a family. You may not need the juices from the cooked collards for all your nourishment, but Matt and Ted Lee, authors of "The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook," suggest reserving it to use for a soup base later. To braise collards, heat a few tablespoons of vegetable oil in a deep stockpot and add a ham hock, browning on all sides. Pour several cups of water into the pot and season generously with salt. Add multiple handfuls of collards to the pot, submerging them in the boiling water. Allow to cook for an hour or until the greens are tender. Strain from the gravy and serve, as the Lee brothers recommend, with fresh cornbread crumbled over the top.
Although some traditionalists may say collards must braise for hours, you can make a tasty side dish by sauteing collards in half the time, says the Lee brothers. Quick sauteed collards retain their bright green color and have a distinctly chewier texture than when cooked for a long period of time. Strip the thick stems from the collards when you choose a quick saute or you'll encounter tough, bitter pieces in your dish. To quick saute, scatter small cubes of thick slab bacon in a hot pan and brown. Add two to three handfuls of collard greens to the pan and use tongs or a slotted spoon to coat them in the bacon drippings. As the first batch wilts, add a few more handfuls, blending them into those already cooking. Add enough chicken broth to cover the greens and bring to a simmer. Add a dash of salt, sugar and a splash of cider vinegar and reduce the liquid until most of the liquid is reduced, approximately 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper before serving.
You can eat collards raw, but they are quite tough and their flavor sharp -- much like raw broccoli. To serve collards in a salad, steam them to create a more tender texture while retaining their bright green appearance. Fill the bottom of pan with a few inches of water and top with a metal steamer insert or a steamer basket. Bring to high heat and add sliced collards leaves and cut-up stems, if you like, to the steamer. Top and steam for five minutes. To stop the cooking process, shock the greens in ice cold water and drain. Pat dry and toss with any desired salad toppings and dressing. Red onions, olives and shredded carrots are possible additions.
"World Vegetarian" notes that collards are very popular in the Indian state of Kashmir. There, cooks braise the greens for hours with a selection of spices to create a tender, rich side dish. For example, you could saute them with garlic, ginger, generous amounts of sliced onions and a chopped tomato for one to one-and-a-half hours. Finish with cayenne and salt to add a kick to the finished dish. Alternatively, season stewed collards with fresh hot green chiles, dried red chiles, cumin, coriander, turmeric, curry powder and the unique Indian spice called asafetida, which Jaffrey says is reminiscent of garlic and truffles.
- What's Cooking America: Collard Greens - Mess O' Greens - How To Cook Collard Greens
- World Vegetarian; Madhur Jaffrey
- The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook; Matt lee and Ted Lee
- Photo Credit Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images