Collards and Kale (cont)
By: Deborah Wechsler
Into the Kitchen
Collards and kale offer many pickings of fresh greens at a time of year when there's littl else to harvest. Folks often say collards are sweeter after the first frost, but an actual 32oF frost isn't crucial. Cool weather is enough. Doug Sanders has an explanation: "Cool weather changes starches in the leaves to sugars, and also changes the structure of protein flavor compounds."
The southern way to harvest is to break off the larger leaves, but not the lowest ones, which tend to be tough, dirty and somewhat yellowed. The rest of the plant continues to make more leaves for subsequent harvests. If the plants are threatening to bolt, I'll cut the whole plant--or sometimes use the unopened flower buds for an early spring version of broccoli. If I want a few leaves to chop into a winter salad, I take the tenderest few from the top.
In Thelma Reaves's neighborhood, they begin to cut the whole central head of the cabbage-collard types when serious cold weather is expected, traditionally around Thanksgiving. "That central head is lighter green, sweeter and very delicious," says Thelma. Central heads are the main collard crop December through February in Ayden, whereas just the leaves are picked spring through late fall, according to Thelma.
On older collard leaves and in warmer weather, the central midribs may be tough and are often cut out of the leaves before cooking. In fall when I'm cutting my collards, the midribs are very sweet and I chop them up with the rest of the leaves.
Collards and kale are a nutritionist's delight. A cup of cooked collards contains only 55 calories but twice the total recommended daily dietary allowance for vitamins C and A. That cup contains more calcium than a cup of milk, and more potassium than a banana. Kale is a bit lower than collards in these nutrients, but higher in iron.
Traditional greens cookery could go on for hours and include fatback or bacon. But to me, collards and kale are best with minimal cooking--just long enough that they are tender but still a nice green color. Our favorite way to eat these greens is sauteed with garlic, onion and tarragon, seasoned with a few shakes of vinegar and tossed with pasta and grated cheese. This very un-southern use of collards and kale is consumed enthusiastically by all members of my family, whether age 1 1/2, five or over 40. Not bad for something that grows so easily and satisfies the voice of dietary conscience.