Creamed collard greens have a decadent quality, with slow-cooked onion tempering the collards' mineral-like flavor. When enveloped in nutmeg-spiked cream, you'll find the collards resonantly tender and luscious in their flavor.
What is it?
Collard greens are a leafy green in the brassica family, which also gives us broccoli, mustard (and mustard greens), kale, and cabbage among others. Indigenous to West Africa, where they remain a popular food, were brought to the American south by enslaved peoples where they became a staple of southern American cookery.
The greens are also cultivated throughout the Mediterranean, including Portugal, Spain, and the Balkans where they feature prominently in regional recipes.
Collards have a slightly briny, mineral-like flavor with a subtle, bitter undertone. They pair well with cured pork, such as bacon and ham, as well as fresh cream which adds a little sweetness.
What's in it?
In this recipe for creamed collard greens, you start by blanching the collards first, which helps preserve their color and prevents them from overcooking. Next, you warm some butter in a pan. Then toss in the onions which cook down to a beautiful soft texture and sweet flavor. Chicken broth and cream make the sauce that envelops the collards, and a bit of nutmeg and black pepper give it flavor.
Collard greens have a verdant flavor undercut with a slight bitterness. They're rich in many vitamins, but especially vitamin K, folate, beta carotene, and various minerals such as calcium, iron, manganese, and magnesium (1).
Onions give this recipe for creamed collard greens a little sweetness, especially when you cook them until translucent and completely tender. Onions are rich in quercetin, a strong anti-inflammatory compound (2) found in many fruits and vegetables.
Fresh cream and butter bring the whole dish together. When produced from grass-fed cows, cream and butter are also more nutritious and richer in healthy fats (3).
Tips for creaming greens
Making this recipe is fairly straightforward and simple, but you might want to pay attention to a few key points. Namely, how you prepare the collards can make all the difference in the recipe.
- Trim the collards well to remove any tough stems or veins. The veins and stem of the collard green cooks at a different rate than the leaf. So, trimming them will speed the cooking process and ensure a consistently cooked dish.
- Blanch the collards before tossing them in the cream. To blanch greens, you'll boil them very briefly before cooling them quickly either in an ice bath or a stream of cold water from the faucet. This practice improves their color and prevents overcooking.
- Cook the onions to a melting tenderness, because slow cooking gives onions a chance to develop their sweetness. It's that sweetness that combines with the cream to bring balance to the mineral-like and slightly bitter flavor of collard greens.
- Use fresh nutmeg if you can. Fresh nutmeg has a sharper, more vibrant flavor than preground nutmeg, and the fresh variety improves the flavor of the dish.
Creamed Collard Greens Recipe
- 3 bunches collard greens (trimmed of tough stems and sliced ½-inch thick
- 2 tablespoons butter
- ½ teaspoon finely ground real salt (plus additional for blanching the greens)
- 1 large yellow onion (sliced thin)
- ½ cup chicken broth
- 1 ½ cups heavy cream
- ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
Blanch the collard greens.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat, and season with salt as you like it. When the water is at a rolling boil, drop in the collard greens and cook them in the hot water for about 2 to 3 minutes or until bright green, then immediately strain them into a colander and rinse them with cold water. Set aside while you prepare the onions and cream.
Prepare the onions and cream.
- Melt the butter in a wide skillet over medium heat. When the butter foams, toss in the sliced onion and sprinkle them with salt. Cook the onion, stirring occasionally, for 2 to 3 minutes, and then stir in the chicken broth. Continue cooking until the chicken broth is almost gone, and the onions are tender and soft - about 6 more minutes.
- Pour in the cream, and simmer, until reduced by half. Stir in the nutmeg and black pepper, and then fold in the collards. Turn down the heat to medium-low, and continue cooking until collards are warmed through. Serve hot.
Add ham or bacon. The salty, smoky flavors of cured pork partner well with the green, vegetal flavor of collard greens. Crisp up to 4 ounces of chopped ham or bacon in the 1 tablespoon butter (rather than 2) before adding the onions, and continue the recipe as written.
Add smoked paprika. Smoked paprika gives a pleasant, sweet, and smoky note to the collards, similar to ham or bacon, but without the salty notes.
Add sundried tomatoes. Collards, and other greens, benefit from bright acidic flavors. Sundried tomatoes with their savory, and slightly tart flavor, give a punch of brightness to this dish.
Add cayenne pepper for a little heat. A sprinkle of cayenne pepper can bring the dish to life, and you can use it in place of the nutmeg.
You can substitute light coconut milk for the heavy cream; however, it will taste slightly of coconut. Olive oil, chicken fat, or coconut oil can be added in place of butter; however, each will influence the flavor of the greens.
Spoon any leftovers into a container with a tight-fitting lid, and store it in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
No, creamed collards don't freeze well. The greens lose their texture and the cream can become grainy or separated when reheated.
It's to serve creamed collard greens immediately after cooking; however, you can store them in the fridge for up to 3 days and reheat them on the stove over low heat by adding a few tablespoons of water or broth.
Cured pork is a natural match for collards, and they pair well with glazed ham. Slow-roasted turkey is also a good pairing for collards as well.
Try these cold-weather favorites next
- Self. Collards Nutritional Information. (2021)
- Chen, Shuang et al. “Therapeutic Effects of Quercetin on Inflammation, Obesity, and Type 2 Diabetes.” Mediators of inflammation vol. 2016 (2016)
- Heins, Brad. "Grass-fed cows produce healthier milk." (2021)