Until I was about twenty-four years old I thought the “collard” part of “collard greens” was a verb. To collar a green was to perform a kind of kitchen alchemy involving ham, salt, and late-summer love over a stove. Whether it was kale or broccoli, cabbage or Brussels sprouts, if the crucifer was green you were on the right track.
I had heard of collard greens—they were referenced on TV, my mother mentioned a colleague of hers who made them beautifully—but it wasn’t a phrase I came across in print frequently: collard greens. When you see it, you get it. It lacks the definitive “-ed” one expects to find applied to the posterior of a verb enacted in a humid August kitchen.
Collard greens made their first real appearance in my life when my ex-boyfriend’s father found a recipe. A retired electrician, stocky, beer in hand, he was a lone wolf by nature. He knew that if he wanted to eat well he was going to have to cook for himself. Cooking became a pastime for him, and he was good at it. His collard greens, often made with turkey thighs instead of ham, were delicious.
And I thought: This man knows how to collar his greens.
Fast forward about a year—that relationship was over, I moved to Massachusetts, and I spent my first solitary summer in five years working on an organic veggie farm. On my first day, clad in rubber overalls and muck boots, I stood in the middle of a patch of collard greens. A vegetable all its own; large and prehistoric, outstretched in the foggy morning field. I picked dozens of bunches of the big, fan-shaped leaves and bound them in bunches for market. Bunches and bunches of collard greens.
I brought a bunch home and cooked them simply: olive oil, water, salt. I wanted to taste a collard green for itself. I was smitten. When cooked slowly, they soften; their bitterness tempered by the low heat. They nearly melt in your mouth.
This recipe combines collard greens and chickpeas for a nutrient-rich, easy to make side dish. Pair it with your favorite grain for an easy and satisfying vegetarian meal or serve it next to a slab of baby-back ribs at your next barbecue.
Collard Greens with Chickpeas
Total cooking time:
- 1 Tbs. coconut oil or olive oil
- 1/2 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 3 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 can chickpeas, drained
- 1 cup low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth
- 1/2 cup dry white wine (cheap sauvignon blanc is my go-to cooking wine)
- 1 bunch collard greens, ribs removed, thinly sliced
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 Tbs. butter (optional)
- Crushed red peppers flakes, to taste
In a medium saucepan, heat oil over medium heat (oil should be glistening, but not smoking). Add onions, salt, and pepper and reduce heat to medium-low. Onions should be very gently cooking, lower your heat if they’re browning too quickly. Cook, stirring occasionally for 20 minutes. Onions will be starting to turn golden-brown as they ease towards caramelization.
Add garlic and cook for another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Raise heat to medium and add chickpeas. Use a rubber baking spatula to stir and coat the chickpeas (the rubber spatula will crush the chickpeas less, but stir with whatever you have if you don’t have one). Cook 5 minutes.
Add chicken broth and white wine, raise heat to high, and bring to a boil. Keep boiling stirring occasionally, until the liquid is reduced by half – about 10 minutes.
Reduce heat to medium/medium-low, there won’t be a lot of broth but it will be lightly simmering, and add the collard greens. Cover and steam for a few minutes to soften and make stirring easier. Add 1/4 cup water and stir well to combine.
Reduce heat to medium-low/low (the broth should still be lightly simmering), cover, and cook 1 hour. Stir every fifteen minutes or so, adding 1/4-cup of water as needed, stirring, and covering after each addition. There may be some browning on the bottom of the pan, but as long as it’s not burning it’s nothing to worry about. Lower your heat if the liquid is absorbing too rapidly.
Remove from heat, stir in butter, and top with a sprinkling of crushed red pepper flakes.
This dish can be made a day or two in advance. Warm the greens over medium heat with a little bit of liquid and stir in the butter when they are just about warmed through. Top with red pepper flakes.
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