All about collard greens: Handling, preparing and storing

Learn about choosing, handling, preparing and preserving your collard greens during the busy holiday season.

Raw collard greens.
Photo: Ghaida Batarseh Havern.

Add a little greenery to your holiday plate with collard greens! Collard greens are a nutritious, leafy green vegetable that grows well in the cool seasons of spring and fall. Collard greens are high in vitamins, minerals and many other antioxidants that can help prevent disease. Collard greens are a part of the Brassica oleracea family, which also includes cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli.

Collard greens are a classic side-dish in the South and are sometimes described to as a soul food. Although collard greens are traditionally consumed in southern states, collard greens are becoming a staple side-dish all around the country, and they are fast becoming a tradition on the holiday dinner table. According to the University of Illinois Extension, collard greens are unique because unlike other leafy greens, they can be grown in northern states as well because they are frost tolerant. Although they are commonly consumed in the U.S., Tufts University reports many of the recipes trace their origins to Eastern and Southern African cultures.

Choosing greens

Collards greens are available all-year round. In the market, fresh collard greens are usually located next to kale, bok choy or Swiss chard. When selecting fresh collard greens, look for dark green leaves rather than yellowed ones. For best quality, avoid brown, spotted, wilted or slimy leaves. Canned or frozen options are also available and can provide just as many nutritional benefits as fresh collard greens.

Handling greens

Wash your hands before handling your collard greens. Prior to cooking, wash your collards in a bowl of cold water with a pinch of salt. According to Purdue University Extension, the salt will support in the removal of any dirt or grit. Scrub the leaves lightly with your hands before rinsing them under cold running water to eliminate any remaining dirt. Multiple rounds of washing may be necessary to remove all the soil found between the leaves. In accordance with USDA Guidelines, never use soap or detergent to clean fresh produce, as they are not approved by the FDA for washing foods. You may also risk ingesting soap residue, which can cause you to become sick. Pre-washed and chopped, ready-to-eat, fresh collard greens are also available in the market. MSU Extension recommends storing unwashed greens in moist paper towels and placing in sealed plastic bags in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator. They will keep about three to four days.

Preparing greens

Use a separate cutting board for your collard greens from raw meat to prevent cross-contamination. Cut stems from leaves immediately before cooking. The smaller leaves tend to be more tender than larger ones. It is common to prepare collards using a slow cooked method to make them more tender. Cutting the leaves into smaller pieces will help speed up the cooking time. Tufts University recommends that if the stem is thick and tough, you may cut them and cook them first for a few minutes prior to adding in the leaves. You may also choose to discard the stems if they are too tough. Collard greens may also be consumed raw. In this case, thoroughly wash and rinse your greens with cold water as stated above.

Storing greens

If you choose to freeze your greens, first wash the fresh collard greens and cut off the woody stems. According to MSU Extension, you should blanch your collard greens with about a gallon of water for three to four minutes per pound, blanching only one pound at a time. You may use the same water to blanch each batch of greens but be sure to bring the water to a rolling boil prior to adding in the next batch. After blanching, cool your greens using ice-cold water. After cooling, drain the water well, pat the leaves dry with a paper towel and package your greens in plastic freezer bags. Remove as much air as possible from the bags. Remember to date and label your bags. You will also want to leave a half-inch headspace for expansion. According to MSU Extension, you may freeze collard greens for up to one year. For canning instructions, view the Michigan Fresh Fact Sheet.

Try this delicious collard greens recipe by Nancy Hampton, Community Nutrition Instructor from MSU Extension. For more information on keeping your family's food safe, visit MSU Extension's Safe Food & Water website.

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