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Collard Greens: Kale's More Interesting Cousin

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Seasonal produce makes us giddy, so we’ve partnered with Natural Gourmet Institute for Health & Culinary Arts to share the scoop on some of our favorite unique fruits and vegetables.

You’ve likely heard that kale is the latest addition to a certain major fast-food chain’s menu. Once any vegetable reaches that level of popularity, it has arguably jumped the shark, or at the very least, approached an over-saturation point.

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We’re not giving up on our love of kale anytime soon, but agree that it might be time to let a few other dark, leafy greens back ​onto our plates—starting with collard greens. As our beloved Tom Hirschfeld (aka thirschfeld) once said: “Sure, you could hang out with the pretty people and eat kale, but kale isn't collards. Neither are mustard or turnip greens. For me, because they are like the brainy girl who likes to read, collards are far more interesting.”

Photo by James Ransom

Kale and collards are closely related—so close, in fact, that they share the same classification (Brassica oleracea Acephala Group) and can be used in many of the same ways.

Thus,​ it’s somewhat surprising that collards are less well-known—unless you’re in the southern United States, where they’re ubiquitous. Elizabeth Schneider notes their culinary connection with the South is not unique though: “Collards are cooked (under other names) in countries around the Mediterranean and in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.”

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Photo by James Ransom

If you haven't cooked with collards much, select, store, and prep them just like other dark, leafy greens.

Select: Look for firm, deeply-colored leaves, free from yellowing. They are available year-round, but are at their most flavorful now, in the cold winter months. In Leafy Greens, Mark Bittman says: “Young leaves with stems no thicker than a pencil will be easier to clean, less wasteful, cook more quickly, and have a better texture when cooked.”

Store: Wrap them in paper towels or tea towels and then place them in a plastic bag and store them in the refrigerator. They’re at their best within the first few days, but can keep for up to 5—after that they’ll begin to get limp and dried out.

Prep: Wash the leaves well to remove any grit: Here’s our go-to method. The stems are edible, but can take a long time to cook, so recipes often call for them to be stripped from the leaves. Do so by cutting along either side of each stem (1, below) and then removing it (2, below).​​

Photo by James Ransom

Collard greens have a hearty, earthy flavor, and although they can stand up to lengthy cooking times, they don’t have to be subjected to them (though if you do, save the flavorful broth that’s left behind—and debate whether it should be referred to as “pot liquor” or “potlikker" in the comments). Collards can be braised, blanched and used as wrappers, and even enjoyed raw.

Here are a dozen recipes that prove just how versatile collards can be:

Zesty and Zippy Tangled Collards

Zesty and Zippy Tangled Collards by hardlikearmour

Collard Roll Ups with Coconut Curry Kale

Collard Roll Ups with Coconut Curry Kale by Diane Hoch

Collard Greens Braised in Coconut Milk

Collard Greens Braised in Coconut Milk by Gena Hamshaw

Tempeh and Sweet Potato Hash

Tempeh and Sweet Potato Hash by Gena Hamshaw

Asian Summer Rolls with Leftover Fish and Market Greens

Asian Summer Rolls with Leftover Fish and Market Greens by cheese1227

Marinated Collard Green Salad with Sausage over Gruyere Grits

Marinated Collard Green Salad with Sausage over Gruyere G... by CarolineWright

Lemony Gumbo Z’herbes

Lemony Gumbo Z’herbes by drbabs

Collard Wraps with Herbed Cashew Spread and Roast Peppers

Collard Wraps with Herbed Cashew Spread and Roast Peppers by Gena Hamshaw

Freedom Pork with Sticky Greens and Mop Sauce

Freedom Pork with Sticky Greens and Mop Sauce by thirschfeld

Beer and Bacon Braised Collard Greens

Beer and Bacon Braised Collard Greens by stirfrei

Collards and Cheese Pasties

Collards and Cheese Pasties by hardlikearmour

Red Hot Greens

Red Hot Greens by vvvanessa

Tell us: What are your favorite ways to cook with collards?

Natural Gourmet Institute for Health & Culinary Arts was founded in 1977 to advance health-supportive culinary education—and more than 2,500 chefs from over 45 countries have graduated since. Find out more about NGI's Chef’s Training Program, recreational classes, and more here.

Tags: down and dirty, diagrams, special diets, collard greens, greens