Lots of people have stopped me in the produce section of Greenlife and said, “What do you do with those? Every time I make them, they’re awful.”
By “those,” they mean the Collard Greens in my cart.
I tell them that I make the best bowl of greens this side of the Mississippi. Then I explain exactly how I do it. I’ve perfected my approach over the years. And now, I get requests to make them for Christmas dinner at my parent’s house, as well as at many potluck dinners.
It’s Autumn – when Collards are at their finest. And we’re coming up on a weekend – so you might have time to visit a local garden market and experiment with a new recipe for dinner.
So, first get out your steamers. ( I use the Calphalon Steamer Insert. Boiling water in the bottom pot. Steamer on top.)
And next, let’s talk technique.
The 3 Secrets to Making Great Greens: Choice, Chop and Layer
1 – Choice: The 3 C’s Approach to Greens
A bowl of Collards is just that. I’ve rarely had a great bowl of just Collards. Fine restaurants tend to sear the hell out of collards, and serve them in a heap of grease – which, face it, is just fried food. Other recipes boil them and overcook them so that much of the vitamin and nutrient content is removed.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
Choice (or variety) is the key to good greens. And variety means texture. The reason a bowl of Collards is so hard to eat is because Collards are leathery. They’re thick. Too much of that one texture – and you get sick of eating it.
The best combination of greens combines different textures and tastes. Here’s the winning combination for beginners:
1 – Collards
2 – Cabbage (Red or green. I get red when I’m festive. Green when I’m moody.)
3 – Chard
To make enough (plus extra) for two people, I use about six leaves of Collards and Chard. And about a third of a head of cabbage.
I occasionally use Lacinato Kale (softer than regular kale) and one or two leaves of Mustard Greens. (If you’re new to greens, then I’d wait on the mustard greens. They’re bitter. But you’ll like that taste someday!) My favorite addition is Beet Greens. They’re a great texture – but a little harder to come by in your average grocery store.
[A Note About Spinach: I like spinach. And since I buy local organic produce, I didn't have to panic last year when spinach got pulled off the grocery shelves. But I don't like to use it in this dish - mostly because an entire wheelbarrow of spinach cooks down to about a shotglass size portion. I prefer spinach raw.]
2 – Chop
HOW you cut your greens is more important than anything else.
You need a good knife. Any knife will work for now. But if you like this recipe, you’ll want to invest in a great knife, like the Wusthof Grand Prix 8-Inch Cook’s Knife. (That’s what I use.) I used to use crappy knives. Then I got a Wusthof. Now I love expensive knives.
Most people will wash their greens, toss them in a heap on the counter, and start knifing away like Norman Bates. If this is you, please pay attention here…
Each variety of green should be sliced separately.
Each green should be sliced as thinly as possible.
Be very Zen as you slice.
The more peaceful you are, the better this dish becomes. (Really!)
First, slice the cabbage into thin little strings. Then roll up about five or six of the collard greens into a Collard cigar. Then slice it in cross sections as thin as linguini. (This is easy to do with Collards.) Do the best you can with the chard. It’s not AS important to keep Chard thin because it’s a softer green. It’s also harder to slice thin because of its rumply texture.
The reason you want to chop thin is because collards and kale are pretty tough when steamed. If you slice them thin, you make them easy on the teeth. People don’t even know they’re eating greens.
(You can also slice through the middle after you’ve sliced cross-wise and create kind of a confetti effect with your greens. This is delightful.)
3 – Layer
So, your steamer insert is waiting. The water is boiling in the pot below. You’ve got thinly sliced greens in separate piles on the counter. Now what?
Put the cabbage in the steamer first. Cabbage doesn’t get compacted like other veggies do. It maintains some ventilation for the steam to move up to the other veggies. Also, cabbage is the thickest and can endure the most heat without getting wilted.
Next, lay on the Collards. After that, the Chard or Lacinato Kale (or mustard greens or beet greens.) The softest leaves go on top.
Greens should be steamed only for about 5 -10 minutes, depending on the effectiveness of your steamer. My Calphalon insert loses a lot of steam. So it takes about 7 minutes from the moment the water begins to boil. DO NOT OVERCOOK YOUR GREENS. They should be soft, but not wilted. A lively and light shade of green. You’ll get good at determining the right steam time for you. I usually remove mine from the heat when the top layer (Chard) is just getting soft and is covered with beads of steam.
When your greens have cooked long enough, remove them from your steamer with a pasta server or with grippy tongs. Move them into a very big serving bowl with lots of extra room for stirring.
Drizzle Olive Oil on the bowl of greens, and stir around with a rubber spatula until everything is lightly coated with Olive Oil. Then drizzle with Bragg Liquid Aminos to taste. (Some people choose Soy Sauce. I don’t recommend it. Liquid Aminos are much lighter and tastier than soy sauce. Soy sauce can drown out all the flavor of the greens. Liquid Aminos are a must for any veggie friendly kitchen!)
Other Options for Tasty Greens:
- Crush a large clove of raw garlic and mix it in with the Olive Oil and Liquid Aminos. This adds a great flavor.
- Add a half cup of seaweed that has been soaked for a major vitamin boost. (This necessitates adding a little extra Liquid Aminos to get rid of the fishy taste of seaweed.)
- Cut some raw spring onions in to the mixture before serving.
- In a separate pan, lightly stir fry some chopped onions. Then add in a bunch of Shitake Mushrooms sliced small. After you’ve put your steamed greens into the large bowl, add this Shitake mixture to the bowl of greens. (Don’t use the extra olive oil – this will provide enough olive oil.) Lightly drizzle on the Liquid Aminos.
Allow yourself to make this dish imperfectly for a while. You’ll get the hang of it. And you’ll grow to crave your bowl of greens each week. This dish has more calcium than a glass of milk, by the way. So if you’re considering going Dairy-Free, this is a great opportunity!
Happy Autumn Weekend!