Superfood Saturday: Why You Should Cozy Up to Collard Greens

Article posted in: Diet & Nutrition
collard greens

If you grew up in the South, collard greens are probably as familiar as your mother’s cooking. Outside that region, the leafy member of the cabbage family is hardly known and rarely served. Collard greens’ long history in Southern cooking includes lots of saturated fats and sodium, but among healthy eaters the vegetable has now earned a reputation as a superfood to include in your diet, especially when you are trying to shed excess pounds.

Here is everything you need to know about collard greens:

Nutritional Highlights

Collard greens have a lot in common with their trendy cousin, kale. They both top the rankings of most nutrient-dense foods, meaning they’re high in vitamins and minerals and low in calories. A cup of raw chopped collard greens has just 12 calories, one gram of protein and negligible amounts of fat. In that one cup serving of collards you get more than 300 percent of your RDA for vitamin A, nearly 60 percent of your daily allowance for vitamin C, and 12 percent of the iron. Collards provide you with all the vitamin K you need, as well as healthy doses of B vitamins and essential minerals such as magnesium and manganese. The 27 percent of your calcium RDA found in collards is more than you get from kale or Swiss chard, two similar leafy greens.

Like other members of the cabbage family (known as cruciferous vegetables), collards contain glucosinolates, potent plant compounds that are known to activate your immune system and reduce inflammation.

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Buyer’s Guide

Prime time for fresh collard greens starts in January and runs through April, though you may see them in many supermarkets year-round. Look for bunches with deep-green leaves, crisp stalks, and firm edges. Avoid any that have brown or black tips or yellow spots. Collards with smaller leaves are most tender and have the mildest flavor.

You can store fresh collard greens in an open plastic bag in your refrigerator’s crisper drawer for up to five days. Don’t wash them until you’re ready to eat them to ensure mold doesn’t grow in leftover water droplets.

You can also find packages of chopped collard greens in the frozen food department. These are handy to use in soups, stews and other cooked dishes. Just be sure to select packages without added salt or sauces, which often add excess calories.

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Fresh Ideas

Fresh collard greens can come with a light layer of grit that you want to wash off before cooking. Quickly soak the bunch in a bowl of cool water, then change the water and immerse the leaves again, repeating until no more dirt settles at the bottom of the bowl.

You can eat small leaves whole, but on larger greens the stalks become thick and tough. Fold each leaf in half lengthwise and trim off the stalk with a sharp knife, then discard the stalks.

Pay careful attention to cooking times in any recipe calling for collards because they emit a sour, cabbage-like odor when overcooked. They are ready to eat after just five minutes of steaming. Braising, or long slow cooking, is the classic Southern way of cooking collards, which yields juicy, tender forkfuls of the greens. Of course, traditional recipes typically are flavored with ham hocks (the meaty legs of the pig) or bacon, which are both high in saturated fats and salt. You can make a healthier dish by braising collards with vegetable broth and using onions and red pepper flakes to bump up the taste.

You can also try one of these healthful ways to prepare them:

SOUP: White bean soup usually includes kale, but the mild flavor of collards is even better in the hearty dish. Add the greens after the beans have cooked long enough to become tender so the collards don’t overcook. You can add chopped collard greens to just about any soup, homemade or canned.

STEW: Gumbo is the popular Southern stew that often includes collards, but you can use the chopped greens in many slow-cooked meals. Like with soup, add the collards after the other ingredients are tender to avoid overcooking the vegetable.

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SAUTE: Collards cook quickly at the high temperatures used for sautéing—they’re ready to eat in about five minutes. Use just one teaspoon of olive oil to coat the leaves. For a little sweetness and crunch, include a quarter cup of raisins and two tablespoons of toasted almonds.

PASTA: To make a simple, filling meal, toss sautéed collards with penne or rotini and canned cannellini beans or chickpeas. Add a quarter cup of grated low-sodium Parmesan cheese and a sprinkle of red pepper flakes.

STUFFED: Collards are large and sturdy enough to be filled with other ingredients, much like cabbage rolls you may have had. First blanch the leaves in boiling water for three minutes and then cool them in a bowl of ice water so they become soft and easy to roll. Fill the leaves with cooked whole grains (such as brown rice or quinoa), along with diced carrots, peppers, celery and onions, and chopped herbs such as oregano and thyme. After rolling the leaves, top them with low-sodium tomato sauce and bake in the oven for about 30 minutes.