How to Make the Most Delicious Greens Ever - Christine Kane

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.

Steaming Greens

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.

Seasoning Greens

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!

  • Joshua

    It’s amazing, that after 5 years, this article is still finding people and helping them. My thanks really will never be enough Christine. You have no idea how this information in this article, such a simple article about how to cook Greens and make them taste good, has come to me just when I needed it most…

    Never in my entire life did I think I would eat or cook Collard Greens. They are one of the roughest and most intimidating green vegetables I have ever seen. Sadly, I never ate much vegetables at all. I was brought up on the “standard” American diet. Now 27, for the past 7 years I have been struggling to find the right balance for a healthy lifestyle. Greens and raw foods were never really a big part of that struggle. I just did not know how to use raw, green foods, yet I always knew they held the highest amount of powerful nutrients my body so desperately needed (and in the most easily absorbing form too).


    I saw this article yesterday. And I said to myself: “You know what? I can do this. This looks like it’s doable. I’m going to buy these greens and cook them just how it says here.”

    I had my doubts. But, I did it. I bought the greens, I cleaned them as good as I could, I chopped them as carefully as I could (with a Wusthoff which I’ve always had but never used) and I layered them exactly how you said. I even got an onion, shitake mushrooms and garlic and added that in the way you explained above.

    Needless to say, I have been BLOWN AWAY by this experience. Not only do the greens taste unbelievably good, but they feel good in my mouth, they smell good and they even look good! I gobbled up a serving and thought to myself: “I’m going to be making this again…and again…and again…” Finally, I have broken the barrier down preventing me from having good health and nutrition from the best (yet most intimidating) source available: Raw Greens.

    Christine, I am now a better person because of reading this article. You inspired me to use greens that I never thought I would bring myself to cook or eat. I will be grateful for this until the day I die.

  • Melody

    A friend of a friend recommended this post today via Facebook. Recently having discovered the fabulousness of chard, and loving more veggies than any time in my life before, I’m enthralled by your recommendation. And am looking forward to trying this one.

    I love your writing style; very easy to follow, and just fun to read. Made me feel I was actually watching you prepare your greens. Thank you!

  • Sari Grove

    Ok, so I went to Whole Foods, & the grocerman helped me to distinguish the collard greens from the chard & I picked a purple cabbage, three things I have not touched before…Then someone else showed me Braggs, which didn’t say aminos on it here, but we settled that it was the right one…I went home & chopped & steamed & mixed & my husband & I each had two plates full…Three days later I felt lighter…Like I had left some excess baggage somewhere…Now I have started eating soyabean burgers when we go out…& again, that same feeling of lightness…So, thank you for making my life a little better, I keep thinking of that Milan Kundera book The Unbearable Lightness of Being- I wonder if he ate greens too…

  • val

    This sounds great. I often steam greens and also love rabe, esp when bitter.

    What kind of seaweed are you using?

    Colin – I am a vegetarian and have had meat cravings. I’ve found that the more vegetables, especially greens that I eat, the less I crave meat. I no longer crave it since my diet is better.

    Also, there are studies that say, the more colorful your food is, the more satisfied you are (I’m not talking Lucky Charms). So eat some green with carrots, peppers and purple cabbage on a big heap of brown rice and you’ll feel full but not weighed down.

  • themichellesmith

    Winter squashes go great with winter greens! I just throw a whole squash into the oven at 375 and bake for 30-40 minutes. First I poke a few holes in them with the tip of my Henkel’s knife. (I haven’t yet experienced the bliss of the wustof!) Then I throw the whole thing into the fridge till I’m ready to cut and scoop pieces into whatever dish I’m making.

  • themichellesmith

    I meant to say …. in the I WINTER it’s harder to get local greens. There here but not as abundant…and like I said, I eat a lot of greens!

  • themichellesmith

    One of my priorities for 2007 was to have my winter garden in by fall. I became a first time home owner last year and I was proud of myself for setting a realistic goal of having a fall garden instead of pushing myself to have the spring garden in earlier this year. Plus the fall garden is really so much more vital to my quality of life. I’m lucky to live in a place with great local food and I really like to support our local farmers. But in the summer it’s harder to get plenty of local greens. I eat greens of some kind every day (makes me feel like such a good girl!) so it’s a great joy to have them right outside the kitchen door. The winter garden is especially nice because the weather is not so hot. I had lettuce until October and I still have collards, chard and kale. The broccoli is just coming in–cute little florets tucked amongst big fluffy leaves. I do Square Foot Gardening because it’s so efficient. Uses much less water and my gardening style of benign neglect still produces plenty of food. Bobby and I built little chicken wire cages and a sheet of plastic over top makes an instant green house. I’ll reuse these in the spring to get my seeds started early. Christine, I incorporated a couple of your tips and my greens were indeed even tastier. Thanks!

  • Steph

    Oh, wow, these sound awesome. I MUST try it. I’ve been trying to find good ways to cook these leafy greens. I will try and find some nice-looking greens at the grocery store…

  • Christi

    I did use soy sauce instead of Bragg’s, because I haven’t bought Bragg’s yet. Even so – wow! – I think these are delicious. Thanks so much for the recipe.

  • Colin (the heathen one)

    Christine – This is heathen Colin again, not Fr. Colin. But you never can tell what the future will hold. I’m the one who brought you to Tallahassee with DL all those many years ago. Anyway, there is no longer any fatback in my collards. I miss it, but I’m learning. Apple cider vinegar is a must…

  • Lori

    I love collard greens but have never really got the hang of cooking them. Usually the only time I eat them is when someone else does the cooking. Your post has inspired me to give it another try. I love what you said in one of your comments ‘I don’t cook I intuit’ that’s great!

  • ChickiePam

    Hi ya’ll,
    Well, you are sure exciting me with all of this talk about chickens and greens! Two of my favorite subjects, right up there with health and massage! My chickens get only the stems of any greens. I get them all.

    Anyway, this southern girl has never mixed her greens. Never. I always eat them alone. I don’t get fancy with them and I love them! Last year I had a fall garden for the first time ever. I had collards, and cabbage and broccoli and mustard greens. Nothing too fancy, just an experiment. Oh man! Never again will I miss a fall garden! I harvested meals all winter long and all I did was throw some plastic over them when it got cold. We had a kind of mild winter until that snow/freeze in April, so it worked.

    Well, let me tell you about collards! The best thing ever is to eat them after they have been “kissed” by frost. They are so tender that they melt in your mouth. I don’t get real fancy, I just wash them, clip out the thick stems, get my water boiling with a veggie bouillon cube in it, then throw the collards in and cook until they are bright green. I know that steaming is better, but I love ’em boiled! I fixed kale today for lunch. It was leftover and I ate quite a bit of it cold before I got it to the pan to warm it up. It had been cooked just like the collards I described.

    Another favorite is kale salad. The kale is raw. You chop or tear the kale into bite sized pieces, the mince up some garlic (6-8 cloves of garlic cuz I don’t like vampires), then use a vegetable peeler on some carrots for color, (you can also add in some zucchini or cucumber this way as well) slice up some mushrooms, and for variety, throw in some walnuts or raisins and then toss it with a mixture of Bragg’s aminos and olive oil. OMG. That is a bit of heaven! I make it in a huge mixing bowl and then eat it 3 meals a day until it is gone. Yes! True comfort food here.

    Thanks so much for sharing recipes. I guess I just might have to break down and try the green mixture you described, but I am the queen of the 30 minute meal. I put on beans to cook in the morning. In the evening I mix up cornbread to bake, put on some greens and serve it all with raw onion scoopers. (Quarter an onion and pull the layers apart and you have little scoops.) Viola! About the only time I chop veggies for hours is when I make homemade soup, but since I plan to eat nothing else for days, it works for me.

    PS: I guess I’m lazy. I’m just not going to type out “vegetable” when I can get by with “veggie”. Come to think of it, I do that when I talk, too!

  • Christine Kane

    hi stacey!

    well, that’s exciting! and sorry – i’m gonna have to vote on chickens for the kohlrabi. every time I get it, i have no clue what to do with it. (too bad i don’t have chickens!)

  • Stacey

    I did it! Or, rather, a very delicious variation: I had collards (as mentioned earlier), kale, and baby bok choy from my CSA this week and I thought the kale, which is also quite springy, would substitute well for the cabbage, and the baby bok choy for the chard. The best testament to the tastiness of this dish – my 2 year old son said, “Mmm!” with his first bite and ate up his portion and then went after mine! Thanks again, Christine. Now any recommendations for the kohlrabi that comes in my farm share and invariably goes to the chickens?

  • Christine Kane

    katherine/me — tell her to write a comment. i have made greens a few ways – from ideas given to me by friends. so i’d love to hear her methods!

  • Katherine/ME

    oops-okay now I have officially changed my name here.

  • Katherine(changing my name to Katherine/ME because I see there is more than one K here!

    I think maybe “veggie” is too cute. Especially for those of us who are struggling with becoming vegetarian eaters, the word veggie does not describe the discipline invovled. Christine-It had never occurred to me to even buy collards. I still haven’t. But my good friend who owns the natural market in my town made some on her break and gave me a bite. It was pretty good. I am going to show her your recipe. You might have a competition on your hands though. She seems pretty convinced her way of fixing them is superb! Have a great retreat this weekend.

  • Christine Kane

    hi colin – so does that mean you’re not the first colin who wrote up there? i don’t think the other colin writes in all that often. (maybe he does – and i didn’t know there were two of you!) i don’t like “veggie” either. i have no idea why.

    thanks stacey – you have lucky chickens and they must produce some very healthy eggs!

  • Stacey

    I just got a pile of collards from my weekly share at Full Sun Farm. I eyed them and thought, “I’m sure our chickens will LOVE these.” I love kale, chard, beet greens, turnip greens – but the collards always go to the chickens. Now I’m excited about eating the collards – thanks for the encouragement.

  • Colin

    After giving this vegetarian thing a shot for about 6 weeks now, I’m ready to throw the greens in the mulch pile and scarf about a pound of that fatback with a side of bacon, sausage, and a couple ‘o ribs for good measure…but…I shall continue to crawl kicking and screaming towards health for awhile longer. By the way, this is a different Colin (Fr. Colin). We gotta work something out here. Also, somebody please help me get over my utter contempt for the word “veggie”. Don’t know why I get apoplectic at the abbreviation…just weird. Any ideas?
    VA Colin

  • Christine Kane

    good morning all –

    danny – i don’t actually cook. i intuit. i’m not much into following recipes!

    that sounds good colin – i’m assuming there’s no fatback in the collards? 🙂

    caren – yes, before i was vegan i used to love the creamed spinach at boston market – though i’m not sure there’s a whole lot left of the spinach in that dish.

    mk – i remember the first time i used a wusthof – and i was amazed at how much easier life in the kitchen became!

  • MK

    Wüsthof knives are one of the greatest things EVER! I acquired mine when I worked at an indie gourmet kitchen shop in Greensboro – the Extra Ingredient – it’s a cool place.

    I think I’ll be experimenting with greens when I get home.

    🙂 mka

  • Caren

    With kale, I like to steam it lightly, then (very) briefly saute in sesame oil. Yum, yum. I’ve never layered greens before – thanks for that!

    There’s an Italian restaurant here, Portofino’s, that has side orders of spinach. I haven’t quite figured out how they cook it, but garlic and butter (lots and lots of butter!) figure prominently. It’s not even what I would call spinach any more. I love raw spinach, but this! Heaven. I figure it’s mentally and spiritually healthy, and that counts for something.

  • Colin

    You have me hungry for greens at 6:30 in the morning. Mustard greens are the best thing ever grown. I like them raw. My cooked green mixture is usually half collards and half mustards. Add a pan of cornbread, and you have a meal for a week.

  • Danny

    All that, and you cook, too? Thanks, I LOVE me some greens!