What Are Collard Greens and How Do You Cook Them?

Here’s what you need to know. 

Step aside, kale. Collard greens are the deliciously nutritious superfood you're probably overlooking. Here's what you should know about greens, including how to clean and prep them:

What Are Collard Greens?

collard greens
Lara Hata

Collards are vegetables that have large green leaves and tough stems, which are removed before eating. The leafy parts that we eat are called "collard greens." They're closely related to cabbage, kale, and mustard greens and are prepared in similar ways. A staple side dish in Southern cuisine, collard greens are notable for their heartiness. The sturdy leaves hold up well when cooked for long periods of time, so they're commonly used in soups and braises.

Collard greens are often cooked with smoked and/or salted meats (ham hocks and bacon are popular choices), onions, vinegar, pepper, and salt. They're also used in salads or in wraps with greens substituted for bread.

Many people associate collard greens with New Year's Day. According to lore, if you eat them on January 1 — along with black-eyed peas, pork, and cornbread — you'll have good luck and prosperity in the coming year.

What Do Collard Greens Taste Like?

collard greens in a white dish
France C

Raw collard greens are bitter, but not quite as bitter as kale. Heat mellows the flavor a bit and brings out a subtle earthiness. You can buy collard greens all year, but they taste best in the cooler months.

Collard Greens Nutrition

Vegan Taco Wrap

Like other leafy greens, collards are a great source of calcium, folate, fiber, magnesium, potassium, and vitamins A, B2, B6, and C. Collard greens are one of the best sources of vitamin K, which is essential for bone and blood health.

Of course, when it comes to the health benefits of any food, you need to be mindful of other ingredients. Are you eating simple, slightly seasoned greens cooked with minimal fat — or are you preparing your collard greens with tons of butter, salt, and ham?

Collard Greens vs. Kale

Close-up of raw kale
Marie LaFauci

Collard greens and kale both come from the cabbage family (Brassica oleracea). Though they can be used interchangeably for many purposes, they are not the same thing.

Many people think that kale is as healthy as it gets (and it is very rich in vitamins and minerals), but collard greens actually have 18 percent more calcium. Their vitamin content is comparable, but kale does come out on top as far as vitamin K goes.

Both vegetables are quite bitter, though collard greens are slightly milder (especially when cooked). Because of its shape and tough texture, collard greens may actually be a bit more versatile than kale — its large, durable, and fanlike leaves serve as a perfect bread substitute for sandwich wraps.

Collard Greens Substitute

Leafy Green Vegetables Isolated

If you're planning to cook the greens in a soup or stew, kale is definitely the best alternative. They have similar flavors and textures so they can be used interchangeably in recipes. If you're looking for something to wrap a sandwich in, try butter lettuce — it won't taste the same, but it'll hold your sandwich's contents in place.

Other acceptable substitutes are:

  • Spinach
  • Turnip greens
  • Mustard greens
  • Swiss chard

How to Clean Collard Greens

Raw Organic Green Collard Greens

Cleaning the leaves is an annoying, yet extremely necessary, part of collard green prep. Depending on where and how you buy your greens, they're likely to be quite dirty. This is because the tough stems and elevated veins are prone to gathering grit and grime. To wash your collard greens, simply:

  1. Cut the roots off.
  2. Fill a large bowl with cold water and submerge the greens.
  3. Swirl them around so that the grit frees itself. Use a colander to drain the dirty water, then repeat this process until the water stays clean.

How to Cook Collard Greens

Collard Greens Bacon Onion

Got your greens good and clean? You're ready to start cooking. There are plenty of ways to cook and serve collard greens but, in the U.S., they're commonly sauteed and served on the side of a main dish. For a traditional Southern dish, try this Kickin' Collard Greens recipe — it has more than 1,000 rave reviews.

How to Store Collard Greens

Collard greens in a basket

Don't wash fresh collard greens before storing, as you'll want to keep them as dry as possible. Keep the greens in an airtight plastic bag or storage container in the crisper drawer of the fridge for up to a week.

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