Friday, July 11, 2014

Featured Vegetable this Week: COLLARD GREENS

by Andrea Yoder

We seldom highlight collard greens and they are often overshadowed by the recent increase in popularity of kales, which are very similar in nature. Collards are in the family of brassicas and thus are related to vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli & turnips. They are characterized by thick, sturdy, flat, rounded leaves and boast  a host of nutritional attributes including being low in calories, high in fiber, and they are good sources of beta carotene, vitamin C, calcium, B vitamins and antioxidants. They have long been an important staple ingredient in southern cooking in the United States. The plant is thought to have been brought to the US during the era of slave trade either directly from Africa or possibly from Haiti. Collards are eaten in countries throughout the Mediterranean, Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Farmer Richard looks over the field of collard greens

The traditional southern way to prepare collard greens is to boil or cook the greens for 30 minutes or more in a broth with some sort of a pork product such as a ham bone, ham hock or bacon. While collard greens do need a bit more cooking than spinach to become tender, it is a common misunderstanding that this is the only way to cook collards. Because they are a thicker green, collards do stand up to moist-heat cooking methods such as braising. They are a great addition to soups, stews, bean, lentil and grain dishes where they can be cooked with the other ingredients without becoming overcooked. While cooking collards with liquid will likely yield the softest texture, they can also be stir-fried or lightly sautéed, methods that highlight their flavors and bright green color. You can also use collards in raw salads or slaws, just make sure you allow a few hours for the greens to rest in the dressing or vinaigrette to soften the leaves. Some southern cooks will make a creamy cole slaw using thinly sliced collard greens and serve it on top of a barbecued pork sandwich.

The large flat leaves also make a great wrapper and can be used in place of a tortilla, spring roll wrapper or the like. You can fill them with a whole host of ingredients such as finely chopped greens or other veggies, cooked grains, beans, meat, hummus, etc. Add a sauce to the wrap or dip it in a flavorful dipping sauce and you have a meal! You can use the leaves raw, or blanch them briefly in boiling water, cool and then pat dry. This will help soften the leaf and make them more tender.

The leaves are large and flat which make them perfect for wrappers!
Collards can stand up to other more bold flavors and ingredients including hot peppers, onions, garlic, ginger, curry & other pungent sauces, pork, soy sauce, and cream. Store collard greens loosely wrapped in plastic in the crisper drawer until you are ready to use them. Wash them in a sink of clean water and shake off excess water. Remove the thick center stem and then prepare the leaf by leaving whole, cutting into bite-sized pieces, or stack the leaves and roll them so you can slice them thinly.

Simple Garlicky Greens
“If there could be only one recipe in the world for leafy greens, 
I’d vote for this one.”
—Nava Atlas, Author of Wild About Greens

This is a basic recipe for cooking greens that can be used for a variety of greens including kale, spinach, mustard greens and a variety of Asian greens (eg bok choi, yukina savoy, etc). This can easily be a “go-to” recipe that serves as a base for a whole host of variations. In addition to the suggestions below, you can simply mix Garlicky Greens with beans or grains to round out a meal.

4 to 6 servings
1 bunch collard greens
1 to 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil or sunflower oil
3 to 4 cloves garlic, crushed
Juice of ½ to 1 lemon, or apple cider vinegar, to taste
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
  1. Cut leaves away from stems. Stack a few leaves on top of each other and roll snugly from one of the narrow ends, then slice thinly. Chop in a few places to shorten the ribbons.

  2. Heat the oil in a large steep-sided skillet or stir-fry pan. Add the garlic and sauté over low heat for 2 to 3 minutes, until golden.

  3. Add the greens and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently until just tender, approximately 5 to 8 minutes. Add small amounts of water, wine or vegetable broth during this time, if needed—just enough to keep the bottom of the pan moist.

  4. Add the lemon juice or vinegar. Season with salt and pepper, and serve.
Sweet Additions:  Once the greens are cooked, stir in ¼ to ½ cup raisins, dried cranberries or currants.
Nutty Additions:  Sprinkle ¼ to ½ cup toasted nuts over the top of the greens in the pan prior to serving.
Savory Additions:  Once the greens are cooked, stir in any of the following:  ½ cup sliced brine-cured olives, ½ cup sliced sun-dried tomatoes, or 2 to 3 Tbsp capers.
Spicy Additions:  Stir any of the following into cooked greens, to your taste: dried hot pepper flakes, fresh seeded and minced hot chili pepper, chili oil or hot sauce.

Spicy Peanut or Cashew Sauce
Recipe borrowed from Nava Atlas’s book, Wild About Greens

This rich, spicy sauce is great on just about any variety of greens.  It is a great addition to the Simple Garliky Greens recipe in this week’s newsletter.  Serve the sauce with the greens or mix the greens with a cooked grain (rice, quinoa, wheat berries, etc) and top it off with the Spicy Peanut Sauce.

4 to 6 servings
1 Tbsp olive oil or other healthy vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 scallions, top and bottom parts, sliced
2 medium tomatoes, diced
1 fresh hot chili pepper, seeded and minced or a pinch of dried red pepper flakes
½ cup natural-style chunky peanut butter or cashew butter
1 Tbsp soy sauce or tamari
1 tsp granulated sugar

  1. Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the garlic and the bulb part of the scallions. Sauté over medium-low heat until the garlic begins to turn golden. Add the tomatoes, chili pepper, and the green top parts of the scallion. Cover and cook just until the tomatoes have softened, 2 to 3 minutes.

  2. Add the peanut butter, soy sauce, and sugar. Once the peanut butter starts to soften from the heat, stir to combine with the tomato mixture and add a small amount of water, just enough to make this a medium-thick sauce. Stir into nearly done greens.

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