Collard Greens: The Southern Comfort Food That’s Healthy?

When someone mentions Southern cuisine, the dishes that have always sprung my mind are fried chicken, grits, biscuits and gravy. Yes, they don’t exactly scream “healthy.” Luckily, collard greens, the trusty vegetable staple, are an exception.

Collards are a member of the same family, which includes some of my favorite veggies such as Kale, Brussels Sprouts, and Cabbage.  It’s extremely low in calories (35 calories in half a cup of cooked greens) Really, I looked it up!   They’re rich in calcium, dietary fiber, and vitamins E, A, K, and C.  Thanks to their many nutrients, collard greens have been associated with cancer prevention, detox support, heart health, and digestive support.  May be with all this good that Collard Greens brings must be why most recipes add pork products! Hmmmmmm?

When you are a your local food market select greens with firm, vibrant green leaves for maximum freshness and highest-quality nutrients. Avoid greens that have yellowed or browned.  There is a season that is best for collards and that season here in the south is in the cooler months starting around October.  The farmers I know say the frost sweetens the collards and converts some of the starches to sugars and makes them more digestible.


Cooking them is a must, they are too tough to eat raw.  The ingredients for the best collard greens recipes include onion and garlic, and some kind of smoked meat as a flavoring. You can make collard greens with bacon, ham hocks or I have even done them with leftover turkey from thanksgiving.

A single bunch of cut collards produces a hefty mountain that will fill your pot to the top, but don’t worry, they cook down by less than half. Because collard greens are quite tough, they take longer to cook than most other greens.

(Always a great day when Nat Bradford of Bradford Family Farms shows up with amazing Collard Greens just picked)

To make top-notch Collards, two things are certain: the greens must be sturdy and the cooking liquid must be richly flavored and smoky. Beyond that, there are choices. Some of the Chefs I know and respect add heat to their greens with pepper pods, crushed red pepper flakes, ground cayenne, hot pepper vinegar, or some combination of these things. Some people temper the bitterness of their greens with a little (or a lot) of sugar, cane syrup, or sorghum. Go with what you know and crave. Remember Everyone can cook;  Thanks Chef Gusteau!!

Make-ahead note: Collard Greens are almost always better when made at least one day ahead and seem to improve with age. Check the seasoning each time you reheat them. They usually need a splash of vinegar or a touch of butter.

Yield: 4-6 servings.

6 slices thick-cut bacon
4 bundles fresh collard greens (approximately 6 cups leaves, washed well)
1 small onion, chopped
4 cups chicken stock or canned broth
4 cups water
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2-3 each ham hocks
1 tablespoon brown sugar

Cook bacon in skillet until crispy. Remove bacon from pan and set aside. Save drippings. Remove stem from each collard leaf. This can be done by cutting the stem out or by tearing the leaves away from the stem. Wash collards thoroughly to remove all sand, grit, and dirt. Stack leaves on top of each other and roll. Cut collards in 2-inch-wide strips.

Heat skillet with bacon drippings, and add cut collards and chopped onion. Sauté collards and onions for 5 to 10 minutes.  In a heavy stockpot, add chicken broth, water, vinegar, salt, ham hocks, and brown sugar. Add collards and onions. Simmer for 1 to 2 hours or until collards are tender. Remove the ham hocks and pick the meat off the bone and fold back in with the cooked bacon.


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