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What exactly are collard greens and how do I cook them?

I love, Love, LOVE collard greens! I always get them when they are on the menu. However, growing up here in NJ, I really don't know if they are a vegetable called collard greens, or the tops of some other kind of green. I've never seen them labeled as such at Shop-Rite. Did I mention that I really LOVE them?

I'd really like to buy some and cook them up. I won't have any problem eating them every night as leftovers. But I have no idea how to cook them, once I figure out what exactly they are. So, please fill me in. And if you have a great recipe, I need that too. I'm dying to make some of my own. Have I mentioned how much I LOVE collard greens?!

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  1. Yes, Collard greens are a vegetable called collard greens (or Collards). Part of the brassica family that includes cabbage & other sulfurous veg.

    Not that hard to find in the Northeast, but not ubiquitous either. They're big leafy greens on rather tough stalks -- sort of a cross between gigantic spinach and a rubber tree plant. Look in markets that cater to Hispanic and/or African American clientele if you're having trouble locally.

    As to cooking, first you need to clean in cold water to get rid of the inevitable grit (soaking for 10 minutes is a good idea) then remove the stems/stalks. Roll the leaves up into a bundle and cut in a rough chiffonade. Get a smoked ham hock, neck bones or other smoked meat of your choice & boil for 30 minutes to make stock. Add your greens, season with salt, pepper & red pepper flake (some add a little sugar and/or onion) and simmer until done.

    NB: A grocery sack full of raw greens will cook down to enough to feed about 4 - 6 people, so shop accordingly. This quantity, btw, is referred to as a mess.

    30 Replies
    1. re: rjbh20

      There're a regular on our table down here. I cook mine pretty much like you do, but I add onion and garlic and some chopped turnip root. The juice from the cooked greens in called pot liquor and is so good over crumbled cornbread. We always use pepper sauce too.

      1. re: bayoucook

        That's how I cook them too. I cook for a few hours. I know that's not popular anymore but I can't do it any other way.

        1. re: bayoucook

          That's "Pot Likker". ~~ I eat collards/all greens in a small bowl....When the greens are gone you pick up da bowl and drink the pot likker....Nectar of the Gods.........:)

          1. re: Uncle Bob

            ......with delicious, un-sweet cornbread crumbled atop, yeah? Mental Food porn!
            The stuff is truly inebriating and just.....so........right. Oh. Don't forget a splash of vinegar, preferably hot.

            1. re: Uncle Bob

              About 50 years ago, I remember that my mother was anemic and her doctor "prescribed" the drinking of pot likker. Since Southerners were cooking all the stuff out of their greens it was recapturing some of it. At least that was the rationale at the time. And, yeah, mamachef, crumbled "real" cornbread is the best. I haven't had breakfast yet but think I've have to settle for asiago toast and an egg :) (Try that bread at Safeway. It's really good.)

              1. re: c oliver

                I love that bread; especially the top, going from pale golden actual shreds of melted asiago to deep brown crunchy, caramelized cheese up top.....
                awesome with tunafish salad.......
                I really wish I could eat. Dinner tonight for me, post dental work, is "roth." If I could really, really move my lips, it would be "broth" but tonight it's "roth."

              2. re: Uncle Bob

                I had spelled it Pot Likker then took it back and spelled it pot liquor. Since they didn't know what collards were I was afraid that *real* term would mystify them. I eat mine in a bowl too - want all the PL right there contained in the bowl with the cornbread underneath it and the hot vinegary sauce on top. Want some now.

                1. re: bayoucook

                  Makes perfectly good sense to me....Would you pass me that jar of pepper sauce please??
                  ;)

                2. re: Uncle Bob

                  As Justin Wilson once said, "People gonna wonder why you comin' out of the kitchen lickin' you chops all the time."

                  Per Jus-TAHN, I add white wine and a splash of soy sauce when cooking them.

                3. re: bayoucook

                  Tell me you don't "chiffonade." :) If I do anything to them it's a VERY rough chop, once through only.

                  1. re: c oliver

                    OMG I stopped using that term the 2nd time I heard Bobby Fley use it, way back in the Grillin and Chillin days.

                    1. re: Quine

                      Oh, I definitely do a chiffonade but not with collards. Basil-type uses.

                      1. re: c oliver

                        Well, I do.

                        Then, add the fine chiffonade (done with stems present - i,e, entire leaves, if they are relatively young/smaller leaves) to chicken stock or similar, bring back to a boil, then simmer till softened plus a bit - maybe 5 min or so. Makes a nice soup with greens that have some texture/bite (but not chewy) to them.

                        Of course, cooking them in the US southern style can't be done with an actual chiffonade of them unless you want a pile of mush.

                        1. re: huiray

                          I've done a saute with not fine slices. Can't remember what's in it and not at home to check.

                          1. re: c oliver

                            Aren't collard greens a classic accompaniment to Feijoada in Brazil? Here's one recipe that uses a fine chiffonade, simply sautéed with olive oil and salt till just wilted. http://uma-mi.blogspot.com/2009/11/th...

                            I essentially do the same on occasion too, sometimes with minced garlic, or sliced/julienned ginger, or nothing at all besides oil, just as a kind-of stirfried leafy greens dish to eat with whatever else I am having as an appropriate veggie. Once in a while I might splash some balsamic vinegar into it before taking it off the heat, or some nước mắm, depending on what else I am eating.

                            1. re: huiray

                              Definitely re the feijoada. But it's more like a condiment. While one could take some as a side dish, it's down at the end of the table with the pork "crumbles," farofa, etc. Heading back there in a few weeks. Haven't checked the calendar to see how many Saturdays we're going to be there for feijoada :)

                        2. re: c oliver

                          Somehow "chiffonade" seems high-falutin' fer collards. INcidentally, see Huey Long's discussion of such things, and pot likker/liquor, in teh Congressional Record. The TImes-Picayune picked a fight with him on whether to dunk or crumble the cornbread.

                      2. re: c oliver

                        Its a large chiffonade -- the technique, not the dimensions

                          1. re: c oliver

                            Same as a regular one, only bigger.

                      3. re: bayoucook

                        Now I understand the name pot liquor. And I'm a cornbread lover, so I'll be making sure I have some freshly baked to go along with the collard greens.

                      4. re: rjbh20

                        You can also buy them frozen, chopped. Not all supermarkets have them but many do. Easy. Collards do well in a slow-cooker---let them and your smoked meat cook for a LONG time. I grew up thinking that spinach was the only form of "greens" and have been so happy to discover collards, turnip greens, and mustard greens. Different flavors.

                        1. re: Querencia

                          I waited too late to buy my New Year's collards (for wealth) and had to settle for frozen. I won't EVER do that again. I added enough vinegar and hot sauce to cover up the taste. Worse than bland, they were pretty nasty. I don't recommend them.

                          1. re: c oliver

                            Frozen collards are pretty bad; I'd rather not eat them at all than eat frozen. Which is strange, because collards that freeze while they're in the ground end up tasting better...but frozen after picking seems to suck all the taste out of them.

                            1. re: billyjack

                              Agreed. The frozen chopped collards are completely unacceptable as to both flavor and texture.

                          2. re: Querencia

                            I'm a fan of low and slow cooking. It helps me get great food on the table while I'm away at work. I'm going to put this on my list of ways to cook them up.

                          3. re: rjbh20

                            Well, I've just checked back and wow! So many lovers of collard greens. I'm working my way through all the replies little by little. Thanks for the great overview. I'm definitely going to have to call around for them.

                          4. Collards are just a big leafy green like turnips. I'm guessing they're not as readily available up your way as they are where I live. You probably will have to call around.

                            Cooking them is very easy. The hard part is cleaning them as they tend to hold a fair amount of grit (though not as much as turnip greens). Cut the stalks off and cut into pieces after cleaning.

                            To cook, just cover with water and season with salt and pork (usually fatback and smoked hocks though you could easily just use bacon). If you really want to avoid using actual pork, you can use Goya Jamon seasoning that is usually available in the Mexican food section.

                            They are traditionally served with pepper sauce. Not tabasco style pepper sauce but the kind that has whole peppers in the jar covered with vinegar.

                            13 Replies
                            1. re: BadRabbitAU

                              The grit problem was brilliantly solved by the MIssissippi Delta chinese families--at least that's where I got it. Put greens of any kind into a net bag like stockings are washerd in. throw in washing machine for rinse and spin. Works great.

                              1. re: hazelhurst

                                Isn't that a HUGE waste of water and energy? Just trying to stay a bit more green. Green on Greens!

                                1. re: Quine

                                  ...or do it the way done commonly in many other parts of the world esp. in East/SE Asia - plop them into a basin of water - those dish washing tubs work just fine in a home kitchen (just use a clean sink with a plug if you don't want to use a basin) - swish them around a little, let them sit in the water a bit, fish them out and dump in a colander, dump the water, rinse out basin, repeat. Great for washing fresh spinach, especially - you'd be surprised how nicely all the sand and grit falls off to the bottom of the water even with pre-washed spinach.

                                  1. re: huiray

                                    I'm intrigued by using the washing machine! I think it would have a huge WOW factor on the family. Shock and awe for the first collard greens meal! But in reality, I'm probably going the basin route. It seems a little greener and more friendly.

                                    1. re: Heidi cooks and bakes

                                      Actually anywhere I see them in the last many, many years they're all clean and tidy and WAY too expensive!!! One bundle will be $2 and that's maybe 4 or 5 leaves; not even enough for me. (A little story. When I was barely walking, I climbed a kitchen chair to get to the table where my mother had placed the collards and was turned away serving up the rest of the meal. When she turned back to the table, there I sat with an overful mouth of them.)

                                      1. re: c oliver

                                        I can see that! That's just how GOOD they are!

                                        1. re: c oliver

                                          Really? Oh dear. Around my parts, collards are available anywhere from $0.99 to maybe $1.49 or so a bundle of somewhere around 6-8 medium to large leaves usually plus cuttings of young leaves/shoots bundled in, at the usual supermarkets, essentially year-round... or somewhere around $2-3/pound at Farmers' Markets for stuff picked the day before especially in the spring.

                                2. re: BadRabbitAU

                                  So, do you just use the vinegar/juice? or spoon out the whole peppers and eat them, or what?
                                  (ignorant Northerner here...)

                                  1. re: beethoven

                                    He (she) is takling about vinegar that has had peppers in it for awhile. I use bird's eye peppers mostly but you cna use anythig. Put them in an old Lea & perrins bottle, heat some vinegar--it boils faway fast so watch out---and pour it in. I let it sit a couple of weeks before using on any sort of greens, sometimes in soup etc.

                                    1. re: beethoven

                                      Trappey's hot peppers in vinegar (see link below) was the standard in our house when I was growing up. We would splash a little of the vinegar onto our spinach (and bowls of pinto beans). Every so often, my mother would top off the bottle with some plain white vinegar. Once the peppers lost their oomph, a new bottle of Trappey's would be bought.

                                      http://www.amazon.com/Trappeys-Pepper...

                                      1. re: hohokam

                                        That's what I've always used and what I've done - topping it off. Lacking that just plain white vinegar.

                                        1. re: c oliver

                                          malt vingar, as the British use on chips, is also a good substitute.

                                          Incidentally, dog-lovers everywhere should be offended that US television never showed the Irish Wolfhound ("Conmael") that led the Irish Guards at the London hitchin' last Friday. Inexcuseable. He eats tripe and buttered toast, just to keep it on food.

                                          1. re: hazelhurst

                                            Now THAT dog has great taste. Sounds like a perfect combo to me.

                                  2. I have bought collard greens at the Manahawkin Shop-Rite. Since I like cooking kale more often I don't know if collards are always there.

                                    I like my kale shredded as described above, then pan steamed with some garlic and lots of ginger. I cook the aromatics in Olive oil then add the just washed greens, lid on tight and heat lowered. The water left on the washed greens is usually sufficient.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Quine

                                      Was at the Shop Rite in Waretown today, collard greens offered for 0.99 per pound.

                                    2. I chiffonade the greens (after stripping them their stems, which need to be cooked a long time to be edible) and sautee them in a pan and then throw in some balsamic vinegar and let it reduce a bit. For years I thought you had to cook the collards to death, but an "upscale southern" restaurant near me served them sauteed, and I'm a convert. I give them around 8 minutes in the pan on medium to medium-high heat and then an additional 2 or 3 minutes while the vinegar reduces. If I'm feeling ambitious, I'll throw some minced onion into the pan to start cooking before I throw the collards in. I eat this at least once a week.

                                      I'm not sure I ever cooked collards back when I lived in New Jersey, but I'm guessing they might be easier to find pre-shredded in a plastic bag rather than in whole-leaf form.

                                      5 Replies
                                      1. re: Constant Velocity

                                        Have never seen the pre shredded or pre packaged where I have shopped in NJ. But never thought to look for them like that.

                                        1. re: Quine

                                          Like you, I've neither looked for nor seen straight-up bagged collards, but in its West Coast stores, Trader Joe's sells a bagged "Southern greens" mix that has collards, mustard greens, turnips greens, and (I think) spinach. I have seen frozen collards at larger "ethnic" supermarkets, but I've never felt the urge to buy them with the fresh stuff being just a couple of aisles over.

                                          1. re: hohokam

                                            The bagged greens are OK - in fact, I learned to mix some mustard or turnip greens with my collards from those mixed bags - but I find them too stemmy.

                                        2. re: Constant Velocity

                                          You don't need to cook collards for a long time. You can lightly sautee them too without cooking them to death. They are more toothsome but definitely edible and I would imagine more nutritious

                                          1. re: Constant Velocity

                                            I think that I'll have to also try the saute option as well. I thought that I had tasted a vinegary taste in the greens, and the balsamic vinegar might have been that flavor. Cooking test number two!

                                          2. I love collards also. In NYC, I can get them in any supermarket, frequently organic also. I also grow my own. I cook either plain, with salted water, when I do it as a side veggie, or I make a main meal using chorizo, black beans, potatoes along with the collards. I'll just use a little chicken broth as the liquid. I I want to be fancy, I'll add littleneck or cherrystone clams...in which case I don't use the broth.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: EricMM

                                              The farmers markets in NY usually have them in the late summer to early winter.