Leafy Green

Collard Greens: Kale's More Interesting Cousin

February 20, 2016

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.

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.

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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.”

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:

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.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • margaret
  • Rhonda35
  • healthierkitchen
  • Carla
  • ChefJune
I like esoteric facts about vegetables. Author of the IACP Award-nominated cookbook, Cooking with Scraps.


margaret March 26, 2016
Mu boyfriend, fro Louisiana taught me to cook neck bones and served it with huge piles of collard greens cooked with mustard greens spiced with liberal shakes of hot sauce at the table. yum!
Rhonda35 February 21, 2016
In response to several comments regarding raw collards, it depends on the the collard leaves. If they are large, older leaves, yes, of course, they are going to be a bit tough used/served raw. However, young collard leaves make excellent wrappers. I have been to several wonderful restaurants in various parts of the US that use raw collard leaves as the outer layer of wraps, as well as in salads.
healthierkitchen February 21, 2016
I eat raw collards as wraps and they are delicious. when i grow them, I snap off the leaves on the smaller side so they're more tender, but I've also bough big bunches at the store and used them this way. It might not be to everyone's taste, but they are surprisingly tender. I have also held them over a pot I'm cooking something else in just to barely wilt them in the steam and that can work too
Carla February 21, 2016
Betty, you are so right....these greens need way longer than a quick blanching to get tender! My grandmother would boil salt pork or a ham hock..what ver she had...till it was tender and then throw in the greens that had been hand stripped from the stalk and torn in small pieces. I do it the same way, but don't mess with tearing...I just cut with kitchen scissors when done. We always make corn pone and crumble the leftovers in the collard dregs...so, so good!!!
ChefJune February 21, 2016
Curious about those photos above depicting raw collards. I cannot imagine trying to eat them raw. They require a good 40 minutes braising time to be succulent and delicious. No "quick sauté" for these delicious greens -- my favorites. I would be very glad to see talk of these as opposed to kale.
Sam1148 February 20, 2016
We some times wash large batches of very sandy collards in the upright washing machine.
Just bleach it and clean it, fill with fresh water and don't use a full cycle...just manually agitate with your hands and send it through 'salad spin'...now before you go "Eeeewwwh"..think of your sink and what's been in there...even the baby.
Brenda J. February 20, 2016
Yay collards! But cutting the stems out with a knife is awfully fussy. Just tear the leaves off the stems by hand, then chop. Use them in any recipe that calls for braised greens-- collards sub very well for chard, for instance.
ChefJune February 21, 2016
Collard greens require substantially longer cooking time than Swiss chard.
Brenda J. February 21, 2016
That's why I purchase younger collards and adjust the cooking time accordingly when I use them in recipes that call for chard in a braise. It works, and I often like the result better. Try it!!
Zozo February 20, 2016
Yassss, thanks for writing this! I feel the same way about gai lan, which may be the same thing but in Chinese. Plus broccoli leaves, although they're a lot harder to find sadly, even at farmers markets
Betty February 20, 2016
Anyone who thinks you can eat collard greens as a wrap does not know what they are talking about. I suppose if you want to chew them for about a week, it might work. I am from the south, and trust me people, these things have to be cooked for hours to be at their best.