By Jenny Hammer
When most people think of collards, they think of the traditional Southern style of cooking them--usually slow-boiled for hours with a ham hock. While collards are delicious in this way, they are good prepared in other ways, as well. A plus is that shorter cooking times retain more of the nutrients and health benefits of these amazing greens.
And amazing they are. Collards, like others members of the Brassica/ Cruciferous family (kale, bok choy, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli raab, rutabaga, and turnips) are loaded with nutrients, low in calories, and have been shown in numerous studies to lower cancer risks. While kale is hailed the superfood-de-jour in this regard (and rightly so), all Cruciferous vegetables have great health value, and can be cooked in a variety of delicious ways.
Collards are no exception. Their taste is not as sharp as kale’s, and they don’t have the sulphur flavor of cabbage. Like kale, though, collards are packed with vitamin K, which is important for bone health. A low intake of this vitamin can increase the risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures. U.S. Dietary Guidelines suggest a daily intake of 90-120 micrograms. A cup of cooked (boiled) collard greens has 770 micrograms of vitamin K, more than enough to help keep your bones healthy.
But there’s more. Decades of advertising by the dairy industry have convinced many of us that cow’s milk is the quintessential food source for calcium. We need calcium because a deficiency in this important mineral can lead to muscle cramps, lethargy, weak bones and teeth, and abnormal heart rhythms--to mention just a few possible results from “not enough.” Is it possible for vegetables to supply us with enough daily calcium? Collards sure can. One cup of them, cooked, contains about 268 milligrams of calcium, or over 25% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA). Compared to the 300 milligrams in a cup of cow’s milk, perhaps it’s time to ask ourselves: “Got collards?”
Collards are very high in vitamin A and also contain protein, folates, numerous antioxidants, iron, fiber, and vitamin C.
According to nutritionists, adult women need 75 milligrams of vitamin C per day, and men need 90 milligrams. With a cup of collards providing nearly 35 milligrams, it’s clear that these are powerfully healthy green leaves.
Okay, you say, so collards are healthy. But if they taste awful, who’s going to want to eat them? The good news is they’re good. Try various recipes available in cookbooks or on-line, or cook up Tart Collard Tangle. You’re likely to become a collard convert because of the flavor; good health will be a bonus.
Collards are in season now at local farmers’ markets and grocery stores. For next year, though, consider growing them yourself. Each plant produces many leaves; pull them off as needed, leaving the plant to keep producing more. In this way, you can have a steady supply of these healthy greens. A good variety for the Bay Area is Vates, a non-hybrid. Its blue-green leaves are beautiful and the flavor is mild. Save the seeds, and you can have collards year after year.
Tart Collard Tangle
What you’ll need:
Eight or nine large collard leaves
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 large red onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 cup rice vinegar
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Remove center ribs of collard leaves. Wash and drain leaves. Coarsely chop. In a heavy skillet, sauté red onion until lightly browned. Add collard leaves and sauté until the leaves begin to wilt. Add the paprika, mustard, sugar, and rice vinegar. Continue to cook until the collards are tender (about 4 minutes). Serve warm.