C ollard greens, a staple of Southern cuisine, are often part of the classic “meat and three.” “What’s a meat and three?” you ask. You can find this combo at most traditional southern restaurants: a meat with three vegetables on the side. Collard greens are often a requested side item!
When I think of collard greens I am reminded of my family’s New Year’s Day tradition of eating greens and black-eyed peas for “good luck and wealth” in the coming year. The greens signify dollar bills and the black-eyed peas signify coins. The more you eat of both, the more money you will earn in that year, hypothetically speaking of course!
No matter the superstitious beliefs, collard greens always bring me back to family. Amongst the black side of my family, I can always find them on the stovetop simmering in a large pot with ham hocks or bacon. My food background is a blend of my family’s different cultures: black soul food from my dad, Midwestern self-taught cooking from my mom, and a splash of Texas cowboy from my stepdad. This can also describe my cooking: a blend of influences and flavors. To me, one of the most enjoyable aspects of cooking is being able to make something your own or recreate an old classic.
Collard greens have a lot more to offer than New Year’s blessings; they are a rich source of vitamins and minerals, including calcium and iron. High in antioxidants, fiber and vitamins A, C and E, these nutrient-rich greens help keep your body healthy. Although you can find collard greens in the store year-round, they are freshest and cheapest during the months between April and June at your local farmers’ market.
The most common way to prepare collard greens is to simmer them for many hours until they look like withered leaves. Unfortunately, with this method, the health benefits of collard greens are cooked out by the time you eat them. A healthier and equally tasty alternative is to steam your collards or sauté them with various nuts and spices.
I encourage you to find your own inspiration in the kitchen. Take a pot of collard greens to your next family gathering or ensure good luck and wealth in the coming year by eating them on New Year’s Day.