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Holiday “Green-tings”

December 16th, 2011 - By Therese Madden

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For many families, from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day collard greens are a staple of the holiday spread. And while many believe eating collards on New Year’s Day will bring money in the coming year, it is certain that greens have health benefits. Learn how to make this traditional southern dish with an eye to nutrition.


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There are some things that just taste better in cold weather.

“Oh, definitely chili.”
“Coffee and hot cocoa.”
“Chicken soup of course.”

And collard greens. These members of the cabbage family grow year round, but they’re said to be more tasty and nutritious after the first frost. No wonder so many families make collards a holiday staple. Culinary student, Inea West prepares collard greens at least 3 times a year. “Thanksgiving, Christmas, and it’s a tradition for New Years.” West uses the same methods her great grandmother used to make this traditional southern dish. “I first will simmer some smoked meat. Preferably a turkey wing, and then maybe after an hour or so after that liquid has reduced, and the liquid is smokey and flavorful, then I add the fresh cut collards and let them simmer for about 2 hours ’till they are tender.”

Some people cook their greens even longer. The results can be delicious, but from a health perspective, there are a couple of problems. Erica Steinhart is a Registered Dietician, “the longer you cook a food when it’s immersed in water, especially a vegetable, the more nutrients you are actually pulling out of it.” Which is a bummer because collards are full of vitamins B6, C and fiber. Steinhart says another path to healthier collards is to leave out the smoked meat, “smoked meat is really high in sodium, so that can be an issue if they have high blood pressure and they are trying to watch their sodium.”

Valerie Erwin, Chef/Owner GeeChee Girl Rice Cafe

Collards the healthy way can still be tasty. Valerie Erwin is the Chef/Owner of the GeeChee Girl Rice Café in Philadelphia. They specialize in the Low Country cuisines of Georgia and South Carolina and they sell a lot of collard greens. “It’s funny, I really love them, but I didn’t always love them. When I was growing up and we ate collard greens that were stewed I didn’t like them at all.” Today, Erwin’s collards are bright green and made without meat. She says the key is blanching the greens, which means plunging the vegetable in boiling water for a very short time, followed by a quick dip in ice water. “What blanching does is allow it to be tender but still be green.”

After blanching, Erwin sautés the collards with onions, garlic and peppers. Blanched collards can be stored in the freezer for a quick and healthy side dish that can make any week night feel like a holiday.

Photo by Flicker user I Believe I Can Fry / CC BY-NC 2.0

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