Collards are my favorite green leafy vegetable to grow. They’re adaptable to many temperate climates, they’re slow to bolt, they don’t wilt easily, and once they get to a good size you can harvest leaves over the course of a season without killing the plant itself.
Plus they’re extremely forgiving in the kitchen. Unlike the daintier greens—spinach, chard, mustard—collards can be cooked for a long time and still retain texture. When people think of collards, I think they usually think of southern-style braised greens, slow-cooked with a hunk of bacon or fatback. No doubt that’s delicious, and I do a vegetarian version myself on occasion, but I like to think of collards as an easy addition to other dishes. They’ll add texture and nutrition to soups and indian-style dal, for example. And they are hands-down best at making wraps (recipe below).
I also love kale, and I grow it too, but the curly varieties are more difficult to prep in the kitchen, and the dinosaur/lacinato variety is more finicky in the garden. (It’s also less productive, in my limited experience.) Collards are the all-around winner, I think: easy to grow, easy to maintain, productive for a long time, and easy to use in the kitchen. And having regular access to greens is a serious boon to the wallet, too. Your mileage may vary, but here in San Diego a bunch of collards (maybe 8–10 leaves) goes for $2 to $3.
There is of course a huge amount of information on the internet about growing and using collards, and I won’t try to digest it here. But one thing I was amazed to learn when I first started gardening is the diversity of the genus collards belong to—Brassica. It includes kale, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, turnips, rutabagas, bok choi, and mustard. (But not chard, which is a Beta, the same genus that contains beets.) There is even a long-lived perennial collard known as tree collards, and I hope to get my hands on a cutting at some point.
Recipe: Collard Wraps
Yes, this is kind of a ridiculous recipe that seems to combine batty hippie with faddish low-carb diets—I laughed when I first heard the idea, too—but these are great, and very easy. (N.b. also that people have been wrapping things in leaves since before Dr. Atkins unleashed his madness on the U.S.; think of dolmas, tamales, Korean ssam.) Use your sandwich-making sense to improvise a good combination of fillings, or just use these.
- collard leaves, ribs removed
- sweet bell pepper, cut into thin strips
- mushroom such as button or crimini, sliced
- cucumber, cut into thin strips
- cooked rice
- tofu, pressed and cut into 1/4″ slabs
After prepping all ingredients, heat up a skillet with some oil and add the tofu. (Pressing is key, as surplus moisture will spatter.) Once the tofu starts getting nice and crispy on both sides, add some things to season it. I like curry powder and soy sauce, but maybe you like something else. Cook some more but don’t let anything burn, and transfer the tofu to a plate or towel to cool off. Once the tofu is cool enough to handle, start making wraps with the collard leaves. (Note: you might not need to remove the collard ribs if they’re small enough.) Eat right away, and if you want to be fancy you can have a crisp beer or make a dipping sauce. Or both. This is fast summer food and should be enjoyed as such.