Easy Quick-Cooked Sautéed Collard Greens
One of the quickest and easiest ways to cook nutritious dark leafy greens, these vegan and gluten-free sautéed collards are great as either a no-fuss side for large cuts of meat or fish, or a simple and versatile make-ahead meal prep component for pastas, egg dishes, or grain bowls. Quick-cooked sturdy greens like to be seasoned aggressively, so these are flavored with generous amounts of salt, garlic, chili and lemon to balance out bitterness for a healthy and delicious side dish of greens you’ll want to make again and again.
What are Collard Greens & What do they Taste Like?
Collards are large leafy greens similar to kale or cabbage and can often be substituted in recipes that call for either. They have a similar sturdiness, unlike a tender lettuce or spinach, that makes them ideal for cooking down; either low and slow or, as in this recipe, quickly at a high heat, rather than eating raw. Unlike the often crinkly kale and curled cabbage, collards’ waxy leaves have a broad flat surface. Flavor-wise they’re more bitter than cabbage and somewhat sweeter than kale. Collards take strong seasoning well, so while they may not be the mildest possible greens, they’re a great opportunity to use rich, salty, acidic or spicy aromatics, spices, and flavorings.
Looking for more quick & easy sides? Try these caramelized honey sriracha brussels sprouts.
Southern Style VS Quick-Cooked Collards
Collard greens are a staple ingredient of the traditional soul food of the Southern United States wherein they are usually cooked over a long period of time along with some sort of meat (often ham hocks) and served alongside other barbecue dishes. But collards can also be quick-cooked. And when they are, they’re one of the absolute fastest side dishes you can make to get dark leafy greens into larger meals like a roast chicken or beef or pan-seared or steamed fish with potatoes or rice.
How much is a Bunch?
Collard greens are usually sold in large bunches and “bunch” is often the unit referred to in most recipe ingredient lists. Of course, “bunch” isn’t a standard size. If you’re trying to figure out how much you need for a recipe, or if you’re harvesting from your own garden, “a bunch” generally means about ¾-1 pound whole greens, or 6 cups chopped.
Keep in mind, though, that getting the exact right amount of greens, in most cases, doesn’t really matter. Greens are referred to in this vague way because they’re usually a flexible component of most recipes. Greens can be cooked down more or less to achieve a certain volume, and with anything sautéed you can easily adjust flavor, should you end up using way more or way less than the recipe calls for.
How to Clean and Prepare Collard Greens for Quick-Cooking
Sturdy fibrous greens, like collards or kale, are best cut into smaller pieces before cooking and eating. To cut collard greens for cooking, remove the center rib and stem of each leaf. They’re generally too tough to eat. Fold each leaf in half lengthwise along the rib and run your knife along the rib to cut it out, cutting each leaf in half. Discard the ribs.
Try these Sautéed collards as a make-ahead healthy add-in for pasta (like this shrimp scampi), soups or curries (like this chicken and eggplant curry).
Next, shred the collards so they are small enough to be palatable for quick-cooking. Layer the halved collard leaves on top of each other and slice through the pile in thin strips crosswise Optionally, turn the strips 90 degrees and cut them again into smaller pieces (about 1-2 inches wide) if you don’t want long strips of collards in the finished dish.
One great thing about collards, especially if you are growing them yourself, is that they’re relatively easy to clean. Their large size and flat leaves don’t allow for much dirt (or bugs) to hide, unlike curly kales where dirt is easily trapped in the crevices.
To wash, transfer your shredded collards to a large bowl or salad spinner. Fill the bowl with cold water and slosh the collards around with your hands. Lift the greens out of the water and drain. Repeat one or two more times.
The key is to lift the greens out of the water before draining it because dirt settles to the bottom of the bowl and can get back into the greens if you dump the greens and water out at the same time (into a large colander or sieve, for instance.) This is most easily done with a salad spinner, but you can also do it by transferring the greens back and forth between two large bowls.
Ideally, you’ll remove as much moisture from the greens as you can before you cook them. To dry, spread the collards out in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with paper towels or a clean dish towel and set aside. Do this as early in the day (or even the night before) if you can. Otherwise, cut, wash and clean your greens first, before starting the rest of the components of your meal to give them as much time as possible to dry off. You can also pat them dry with paper towels.
What to Serve with Quick-cooked Collards?
Quick-sautéed collard greens are incredibly versatile as either a side or a make-ahead meal prep component. Try serving them:
Serve them as a Side
As a no-fuss side for larger meals that involve other time consuming elements or large cuts of meat like roast chicken, pork or a hearty beef stew - try these easy soy braised chicken thighs or these steamed fish parcels.
Use as a simple and versatile make-ahead component for:
- Simple pasta dishes like carbonara, cacio e pepe, pasta al limone or shrimp scampi.
- Simple egg dishes like frittatas or omelettes.
- Soups and curries: like this chicken curry with eggplant or this Finnish salmon soup.
- Grain bowls or rice dishes like this crispy rice bowl with fried eggs.
Flavor Variations & Substitutions
To adapt this recipe to fit the ingredients you have on hand or to work as a side for a wider variety of meals try:
- Using whatever hardy greens you have on hand, or mix two together. Kale, swiss chard or beet greens will all work pretty much interchangeably, though kale may be a bit more bitter and require more cleaning.
- Using add-ins that complement the other components of your meal: try nuts, raisins or cheese. Pine nuts and raisins are great for Sicilian style greens to accompany Italian meals, as is shaved parmesan.
- For Asian-inspired meals, add some ginger in with the scallions, omit the salt and finish instead with a bit of soy or fish sauce.
- For Indian flavored greens, toast a few spices in the pan - like cumin and mustard seeds or add a homemade store-bought masala mix along with (or instead of) red chili flakes - before adding the greens.
- When making these collards as a side, I tend to just make as much as will be eaten that night and perhaps the next day as leftovers. Since they are so quick to make, it’s not necessary to make them ahead.
- However, if you plan to use these collards as an add-in for something like a pasta or rice bowl or for part of your weekly meal prep, they can be made up to a week ahead and stored in the refrigerator until ready to use.
- If you have the time or are harvesting collards from your garden, it’s ideal to harvest, chop and clean them as early as you can in the day. Early in the morning is the best time to harvest greens to prevent them from wilting and this way they are ready to go and fully dry when you are ready to cook dinner.
Storage and Freezing Tips
To harvest collards from the garden: the best times to harvest greens are early in the morning or later in the evening. If you need to harvest when it is hot and sunny, or you have harvested them and found that they have wilted, pop them into a large bowl of cool water until you are ready to cook and they should perk back up.
To harvest, begin with the larger outer leaves of the plant and cut each stalk as low to the ground as possible with a pair of pruners or kitchen shears. Collard greens work well as a cut-and-come-again crop. Alternatively, you can cut or twist the entire plant at the base.
Store raw greens unwashed until the day you plan to cook with them. Either stand them upright in a jar of water (as if they were a bouquet) on the counter or store them in a plastic or paper bag lined with a few sheets of paper towel placed in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator. (You can cut the bottoms of the stalks off the leaves to make more room before storing them).
Store cooked greens in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week (though, ideally 3-5 days). Freeze if you’d like to keep them for longer.
These collards are so quick and easy to make, it’s not really a time saver to make a lot at once and freeze the leftovers. It’s probably best to make as much as you will eat in a day or two.
However, if you really want to freeze some collards, or you have a ton of collards from your garden to process, I’d recommend blanching and freezing them - without the other ingredients. After freezing, they won’t have the ideal texture for eating as a side, but they will be great as a make-ahead component cooked into other meals, where texture won’t matter as much - like pasta bakes or soups and curries.
To freeze collards: shred them as described in the recipe, wash them, and then blanch in batches for 3 minutes each and transfer to an ice bath. Drain the ice bath and then either spread the greens out on a baking sheet to freeze flat and then break apart and transfer frozen chunks to a freezer bag - OR transfer to a muffin tin or and freeze in serving sized chunks (between ⅓ and ½ cup of greens). Freeze for 6-8 months.
Quick and Easy Sautéed Collard Greens Recipe
Serves 2-3 as a side (easily doubles)
- 1 bunch (about ¾ pound or 6 cups) collard greens
- 3 tablespoons olive (or other neutral) oil
- 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced crosswise
- 1 shallot, sliced crosswise into thin rings
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
- ¼ teaspoon table salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Clean & prepare collard greens: fold each leaf in half along the thick central rib and cut the rib out. Discard the ribs. Working in batches, layer the leaves on top of one another and slice into thin strips crosswise. Turn the strips and cut them into 1-2 inch lengths. Transfer to a large bowl or salad spinner and wash. Spread the greens over a sheet pan lined with paper towels or a clean dish towel and set aside to dry while you prepare the other components of your meal.
- Cook the aromatics: heat a cast iron skillet or saute pan over medium heat. Add the olive oil. After 30 seconds, add the garlic and shallots. Toss to coat and sauté until the shallots are translucent and the garlic just begins to brown along the edges, about 3-4 minutes. Add the red pepper flakes and continue cooking for another 30 seconds.
- Cook the collards: add ½ of the greens and season with the salt and pepper. Toss the greens to coat with the oil and mix through the garlic slices. Sautee, tossing regularly, until the greens are dark and glossy and have lost some volume, about 2-3 minutes. Add the other ½ of the greens and mix through. Sautee, tossing regularly, until all the greens are dark and glossy, have lost volume, but still have some bite, about 10-15 minutes.
- Remove from heat, squeeze lemon over, toss, taste and add more salt and pepper, if necessary, to taste. Serve.