It’s been a long winter here in New York, made longer by an incredibly snowy March. This month is always a question mark, and often a tease: a day or two of glorious sunshine puts everyone in a cheerful mood, only to be crushed by lingering, chilly, wet gloom for the next week. Sigh. At the beginning of winter, and even through January and February, I enjoy the thick, meaty stews and slow, warm braises that populate the seasonal menu. But after awhile, no matter how much iron I pack in with beans and lentils, I crave a big batch of greens. Their color acts as a visual cue that I’m doing right by my body, their taste reminds me of the bounty of warmer times, and, since they’re packed full of nutrients, I feel better—fresher, lighter—for hours after eating.
But in March—fickle, callous March—it’s still too early for young spring lettuces and even the most dedicated foragers will have trouble rustling up enough ramps or ferns to make more than a meal or two. So I turn to what’s available in my Washington Heights grocery: mustard greens, kale, or collards.
Collards are my go-to green. I was forced, as a child, to eat them on New Year’s Day for good luck. In the South, usually the collards are simmered with vinegar, salt, sugar, crushed red pepper, and something porky like a ham hock or ham bone. I didn’t care for the tart flavor and toothsome texture growing up, but now I can’t get enough. Besides this traditional preparation, I like collards in other forms, too.
Mature collards are massive things, with leaves six or more inches across and thick, tough stems. Before cooking them, always take the time to remove the stem. You can save it for other purposes, like chopping and adding to a stew or braise, but if you leave them on for these recipes, they’ll be inedible. Make two cuts down either side of the stem and pull away the leaves to remove (pictured).
Collards with Chipotle
2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, plus 1 Tbs. adobo sauce
1/2 lb collard greens, stems removed, roughly chopped (about 7 cups)
1/4 cup of water
salt and pepper to taste
1. In a large heavy pot over medium heat, combine all ingredients.
2. Heat until water is just boiling, and then simmer on low heat for 30-35 minutes, stirring occasionally. As they soften, crush the peppers with the side of the spoon.
Sautéed Collard Greens with Garlic
1/2 lb collards, stems removed, sliced into ribbons or roughly chopped (about 7 cups)
1/2 head of garlic, finely minced (about 2 Tbs or 30 grams)
2 Tbs olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1-2 Tbs fresh lemon juice (optional)
1. In a large sauté or frying pan, heat olive oil and garlic over medium-low, just until garlic is fragrant.
2. Add collards and sauté over medium low, stirring vigorously so garlic doesn’t rest on the bottom of the pan and burn.
3. Sauté just until collards are bright green and slightly wilted, about 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste and a squeeze or two of lemon just before serving, if desired.