Food of the Week: Collard
Posted on June 5, 2012
Collard greens are various loose-leafed cultivars of Brassica oleracea (Acephala Group), the same species as cabbage and broccoli. The plant is grown for its large, dark-colored, edible leaves and as a garden ornamental, mainly in Brazil, Portugal, the southern United States, many parts of Africa, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, southern Croatia, Spain and inIndia. They are classified in the same cultivar group as kale and spring greens, to which they are genetically similar. The name “collard” is a corrupted form of the word “colewort” (cabbage plant).
The plant is also called couve in Brazil, couve-galega or “couve portuguesa” (among several other names) in Portugal, kovi or kobi in Cape Verde, berza in Spanish-speaking countries,raštika in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia and raštan in Montenegro and Serbia. In Kashmir, it is called haak. In Congo, Tanzania and Kenya (East Africa), the plant is calledsukuma wiki.
The cultivar group name Acephala (“without a head” in Greek) refers to the fact that this variety ofB. oleracea does not have the usual close-knit core of leaves (a “head”) like cabbage. The plant is abiennial where winter frost occurs, and perennial in even colder regions. It is also moderately sensitive to salinity. It has an upright stalk, often growing up to two feet tall. The plant is very similar to kale. Popular cultivars of collard greens include ‘Georgia Southern’, ‘Morris Heading’, ‘Butter Collard’ (or couve-manteiga), and couve tronchuda.
The plant is commercially cultivated for its thick, slightly bitter, edible leaves. They are available year-round, but are tastier and more nutritious in the cold months, after the first frost. For best texture, the leaves should be picked before they reach their maximum size, at which stage the leaves will be thicker and should be cooked differently from the new leaves. Age will not affect flavor. Flavor and texture also depend on the cultivar; the couve-manteiga and couve tronchuda are especially appreciated in Brazil and Portugal.
Widely considered to be a healthy food, collards are good sources of vitamin C and soluble fiber, and contain multiple nutrients with potent anticancer properties, such as diindolylmethane andsulforaphane. Roughly a quarter pound (approx. 100 g) of cooked collards contains 46 Calories.
Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley have recently discovered that 3,3′-diindolylmethane in Brassica vegetables such as collard greens is a potent modulator of the innate immune response system with potent antiviral, antibacterial and anticancer activity.
Southern United States
Collard greens are a staple vegetable of Southern U.S. cuisine. They are often prepared with other similar green leaf vegetables, such as kale, turnip greens, spinach, and mustard greens in “mixed greens”. They are generally eaten year-round in the South. Typical seasonings when cooking collards can consist of smoked and salted meats (ham hocks, smoked turkey drumsticks, pork neckbones, fatback or other fatty meat), diced onions, vinegar, salt, and black, white, or crushed red pepper. Traditionally, collards are eaten on New Year’s Day, along with black-eyed peas or field peas and cornbread, to ensure wealth in the coming year, as the leaves resemble folding money. Cornbread is used to soak up the “pot liquor”, a nutrient-rich collard broth. Collard greens may also be thinly sliced and fermented to make collard kraut, which is often cooked with flat dumplings.
Brazil and Portugal
In Portuguese and Brazilian cuisine, collard greens (or couve) are common accompaniments of fish and meat dishes. They are a standard side dish for feijoada, a popular pork and beans-style stew.
Thinly sliced collard greens are also the main ingredient of a popular portuguese soup, caldo verde(green broth). The leaves are sliced into strips, 2 or 3 mm wide (sometimes by the grocer or market vendor, with a special hand-cranked slicer) and sautéed with oil or butter, flavored with garlic, onion, and salt.
The juice pressed from fresh leaves and leaf stalks, taken regularly, is popularly believed to be a remedy for gout, bronchitis, and blood circulation problems.
Kashmir region (India and Pakistan)
In Kashmir, this vegetable is a very renowned one. It finds its place in almost every meal in Kashmiri houses. Both leaves and roots are consumed. Leaves in the bud are harvested by pinching in early spring, when the dormant buds sprout and give out tender leaves. Also, seedlings of 35–40 days’ age, as well as mature plants, are pulled out along with roots from thickly sown beds. When the extending stem bears alternate leaves in quick succession during on-season, older leaves are harvested periodically. Before the autumn season, the apical portion of stem is removed along with the whorled leaves.
The roots and the leaves may be cooked together or separately. A common dish is haak rus, a soup of whole collard leaves cooked in water, salt and oil, usually consumed with rice. The leaves are also cooked along with meat, fish or cheese. In the winter, collard leaves and roots are fermented to form a very popular pickle called haak-e-aanchaar.