So, you live in a country where you are hard pressed to find some greens for a proper mess ‘o greens? Can’t find collards or a culinary-linguistic expert to figure out what the local language calls them (if anything)? Then, here are a couple of suggestions…
Collard Greens: The Mayor of Soul Food
Cooked down in a smoky broth, collard greens can be dubbed the mayor of soul food. Not only will they fix any mood I may be in, but they are healthy: loads of vitamin A, C and K, along with manganese and folate. Collards are members of the cabbage family, but are close relatives to kale. And although collards are available year-round, they are at their best after the first overnight frost of the year.
Although collards are a bit bitter and take a lot longer to cook, tradition has tied me close to preferring them as my choice greens. However, now that I live in Europe, I’ve had to spread my soul food wings and adopt other go-to greens candidates, most notably: curly kale. Here are a few you could try, but don’t forget:
An authentic ‘mess’ of greens needs a solid flavor base. They need to be cooked down with a ham hock (or other salty/smoky hack that I cover in Soul Food Thanksgiving) to make a juice so concentrated with love it has its own name: potlikker.
Kale is not only less bitter than collard greens, but they cook a lot faster. Kale is also an excellent source of beta-carotene, vitamins C and B6. But, more importantly to curing a soul food craving: the curly more mature kale varieties are the closest I’ve found to collards.
Cavolo nero (“black cabbage” in Italian)
Cavolo nero has been grown in Tuscany for centuries and is one of the traditional ingredients of minestrone soup- so you know it stews well. It is a leafy and hearty green that will definitely do the trick.
Mustard greens have a stronger and bitter taste than collards, so it is best to mix with another milder green. However, they are tender enough to eat raw in salads, so cooking doesn’t take too long. They are also high in vitamin A, C and K, similar to collard greens.
Available widely in Europe, chard belongs to the beet family and cooks much quicker than collards as well. Rainbow varieties have a slight sweetness, so try blending with mustard greens for a nice balance. Chard provides high amounts of vitamins A, C, E and K, as well as magnesium and potassium.
Broccoli rabe has a nutty, bitter, and strong flavor reminiscent of mustard greens. It is a great source of vitamins A, C, and K, as well as potassium, calcium, and iron.
Spinach (not baby spinach!)
This would be my last choice only because spinach has its own distinct flavor and a very mild texture that does not stew as well. However, spinach provides much more folic acid than collard greens, and high amounts of iron, along with being high in vitamins A, C and K, manganese, and magnesium: so Popeye really knew what he was doing!
Once you get your hands on a few bunches of suitable greens, be sure to download my mini digital cookbook “Soul Food Thanksgiving” and check out my three-page recipe on making love to one of my favorite dishes of all time. 10% of profits will be donated to The Hunger Project.
And don’t fret, these greens are on average packed with more nutrients for collards. Just don’t get crazy and turn to Nieman Marcus for your fix… just a friendly warning.