Friday, November 21, 2014

Featured Vegetable: Collard Greens

By Sarah Janes Ugoretz
Collard greens in July

Collard greens are descendants of wild cabbage, and their existence has been traced back to prehistoric times. For this reason, researchers joke that collards count themselves among the dinosaurs of vegetables. Likely originating in Asia Minor, written and pictorial accounts have ancient Greek and Roman civilizations cultivating collards, and by 600 B.C., Celtic wanderers had begun spreading them far and wide throughout Europe. Towards the end of the 17th century, collards arrived in the U.S. but contrary to popular belief, they were not introduced by enslaved Africans.

Today, collard greens are integral in traditional southern American cuisine, though they are becoming more popular in other parts of the U.S.. Part of this rise in popularity is likely due to the fact that collards are nutritional powerhouses. Not only are they high in vitamins K, A and C, they’re also a good source of calcium, iron and fiber. Studies show steamed collards coming out ahead of steamed kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and kale when it comes to each vegetable’s ability to bind bile acids in the human digestive tract. What this means is that collards contribute rather significantly to the lowering of cholesterol levels. The cancer-preventive properties of collards are also high. Four specific glucosinolates help to lower cancer risk by supporting both detox and anti-inflammatory systems.

Collards, like kale, grow well into late fall in colder climates like ours. The collards in your box this week were actually cut from the top of the plant, thus the leaves are a bit smaller and more tender than fully matured leaves. Steaming collards for five minutes is the fastest way to get them onto your plate and into your stomach, but you can also try your hand at the more traditional way of preparing them. If you’re going for the latter, boil a ham hock and 3 cloves of garlic in 10-12 cups of water for two hours (with the pot partially covered). In the meantime, de-stem and cut collards into thick ribbons. Once two hours have passed, remove the ham hock and add the collards, cooking at a simmer for another 45 minutes to 2 hours (again with the pot partially covered). Sauté an onion in bacon fat or canola or veggie oil, and add the shredded ham hock meat. Add the cooked collards to this mix, top with salt and pepper, and you’re all set! Word to the wise—the cooking liquid in which you simmered your collards is full of nutrition and loaded with flavor, so consider using it in a stock. In advance of preparing your collards, store them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to 5 days, removing as much air as possible.

Wilted “Baby” Collards with Ginger & Shoyu
Recipe borrowed from Chef Andrea Reusing’s book, Cooking in the Moment.

Serves 2
¾-1 pound collard greens, (smaller leaves less than 9 inches long are ideal), cut into ½-inch wide strips
1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp shoyu soy sauce, or less if substituting regular soy sauce
½ tsp toasted sesame oil
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 scant Tbsp very thinly julienned fresh ginger
1 dried red chile, such as de Arbol, crumbled into small pieces
Kosher salt
⅓ cup chicken stock

  1. Blanch the collards for 30 seconds in a large pot of salted boiling water. Drain, and then quickly transfer them to an ice bath. As soon as they are cold, drain again and gently squeeze them with your hands to remove as much moisture as possible. Transfer the collards to a medium bowl and toss with your fingers to separate, adding the shoyu and sesame oil and thoroughly distributing them.
  2. Heat the vegetable oil in a medium saute pan over medium-low heat. Add the ginger and chiles. Saute for a minute, until the ginger is wilted and fragrant but has not colored. Raise the heat to medium and add the collards. Season with salt and toss to coat and incorporate the ginger and chiles. Add the chicken stock and cook, stirring frequently, for about 3 minutes, until the greens are very hot. Season with additional salt if necessary.

Collards & Black-Eyed Pea Soup
Recipe borrowed from Lorna Sass’ Complete Vegetarian Kitchen.

Serves 6
6 cups water or vegetable stock
1 Tbsp oil
2 cups black-eyed peas, picked over and rinsed
1 small bunch collard greens
2 large onions, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 stalks celery or ½ medium celeriac, finely chopped
4 large cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
½ tsp dried thyme
Pinch cayenne or crushed red pepper flakes
Hot Sauce, optional
Salt, to taste

  1. Bring the water, oil, and peas to a boil in a medium stock pot. Meanwhile, wash the collards. Cut the thick stem from the middle of the leaf. Chop the remaining leaves and tender stems into 1-inch strips. Add the collards, onions, celery or celeriac, garlic, thyme, and cayenne to the pot.
  2. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until the peas are tender, about 45 to 55 minutes.
  3. Stir in salt to taste. Serve piping hot with hot sauce if desired.

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