Collard Greens

Collard GreensCollards have been around for a while. This 2000-year-old loose-leaf wild cabbage originated in the Mediterranean region and was regularly served in Ancient Greece and Rome. In fact, collards are still grown in Montenegro. The plant is very similar to kale but kale has smaller and crinklier leaves, tougher stems and veins, and the flavor of collard greens is milder than the strong and somewhat bitter kale.
It was likely the colonists brought collard and other greens seeds to America and resourceful slaves who worked on plantations created tasty meals from the poorest ingredients. Greens were abundant (and cheap!) and a “mess o’ greens” became a staple of southern U.S. cuisine and soul food. Because the leaves resemble folding money, collards are traditionally eaten on New Year's Day (along with hog jowl and black-eyed or field peas) to ensure wealth in the coming year. Cornbread, a common accompaniment to collards, is used to soak up the collard broth (potlikker), which is rich in nutrients.

Use the traditional or non-traditional recipe to create the perfect side of greens.


Traditional Preparation
  • A mess of fresh collard greens
  • Enough water to cover in a pot
  • Equal parts sugar and salt, to taste
  • Ham hock, thick bacon or fatback, as preferred
Wash and rinse the greens thoroughly to remove grit. Place ham hocks in an extra-large pot with enough water to completely cover them. Add salt and cook ham hocks at least 30 minutes before adding collards greens. Add collards, big leaves first (let them start boiling), then add remainder of greens. Cook 45 minutes to 1 hour, stirring once about midway to ensure thorough cooking. Test for tenderness of stems at 45 minutes by piercing with a sharp knife. Cook additional time if necessary.

Remove from heat and drain in a colander, reserving the juice (pot likker). Chop collards with a collard chopper or a knife, leaving no large leaves or pieces. Add some of the pot likker if the greens are too dry. Salt to taste. Serve hot or at room temperature. Some favorite collard green toppings include hot pepper, vinegar (with or without chopped onions), salsa or tomatoes.

Peppered Collard Greens (Non-traditional Preparation)
  • 1 ½ large bunched collard greens, about 3 pounds
  • 1 gallon water
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • ¾ cup ham hock stock
  • 1 ½ teaspoons minced shallots
  • 1/3 teaspoon white pepper
  • 2 tablespoons hot pepper vinegar
  • Bowl of ice water large enough to cover the collards
Wash the collards in two rinses of water and remove the stems. Stack the leaves and chiffonade them by cutting them in 1/8-inch strips. Cutting the leaves thin will cause the fibers to break down sooner, thus the collards won’t have to be cooked as long and can retain their green color.

Put the water and salt in a large non-reactive pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Blanch the collards for three minutes. Drain and shock them in ice water. This will stop them from cooking any longer and set their green color. Remove and squeeze dry. You can do this up to a day ahead and refrigerate.

When ready to serve, heat the ham stock in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and simmer for two minutes. Add the collards and cook just long enough to heat them through. Toss with the peppered vinegar. Serve with a slotted spoon to remove any excess liquid.

  Recipe courtesy of Carter's Kitchen, Mt. Pleasant, SC