ANDI says: Eat your Collard Greens
Last week, I ran into ANDI while shopping at Whole Foods.
ANDI–which stands for Aggregate Nutrient Density Index–is a food-rating system developed by Dr. Joel Fuhrman that assigns a score of 1-1000 to all foods based on their “nutrient density.” The more nutrients a food has per calorie, the higher the score. Like one might expect from a food rating system that has to account for foods from a wide variety of groups (nuts, oils, fruits and vegetables alike), the ANDI score system is admittedly imperfect. (Dr. Fuhrman makes it clear that some essential and healthy foods will, by design, have a low ANDI score–think peanut butter and olive oil). To be sure, there are plenty of foods with low to moderate ANDI scores that are very worth eating (oatmeal, salmon, almonds, eggs), which is why for me, the ANDI score is most useful not as the basis for all food selection, but rather to remind me of all the nutritious foods that I’m not already eating but totally should be. For this purpose, I looked to the top of the ANDI list. And that’s how I discovered that Collard Greens scored a perfect 1000. And so, I decided it was time to put some collards in my grocery cart and learn how to cook them as well as experience had showed me they could be cooked.
ANDI’s pick in the Produce Aisle? Collard Greens.
The first time I had bona-fide, Southern collards was on a business trip to Savannah, Georgia back in 2005. My colleagues and I wound up at Mrs. Wilke’s Dining Room, a venerable institution of down-home, Southern cooking. As a pretty dogmatic vegetarian at the time, I was delighted to see such a wide selection of veggies on the menu! We ordered up a whole bunch of them–Collards included– and shared them, family-style. I enjoyed them so much, in fact, that I bought the Mrs. Wilke’s Boardinghouse cookbook on my way out. Which, of course, was how I discovered that all of the vegetables I had just devoured were prepared with generous amounts of bacon drippings and salt pork. Oops.
Indeed, authentic southern Collards are generally prepared with pork fatback, bacon, ham hocks or other undoubtedly flavorful fats of porcine origin. But they needn’t always be, and can be delicious in their own way when cooked with flavorful, vegetarian ingredients.
Generally, you’ll find collard greens prepared by braising: a method of cooking in both dry heat and liquid used to soften tough foods. With heavy-leafed greens like collards and kale, cutting the out the thickest, toughest ribs and then chopping the greens into small pieces (or even better, chiffonading them) will help tame the texture of the cooked product to one quite similar to that of spinach. But unlike spinach, whose raw leaves cook down to absolutely nothing (not the most cost-effective greens to cook), braised collards maintain some real substance even when cooked down to a softer version of themselves.
No doubt this was the thought behind Rick Bayless’ unexpectedly delicious recipe for Braised Greens Tacos (pictured), which I used as the inspiration for my first collards experiment this week. You can follow his recipe to
the letter, or you can tweak it (as I did) to fit the ingredients on hand in your pantry. (In his cookbook, he also suggests adding flaked tuna, hot smoked salmon or smoked tofu cubes to the taco to make these a heartier meal). Personally, I added some canned black beans on my taco before piling on the greens (for protein), and used shredded yellow cheese instead of crumbled white cheese. And instead of a red salsa, I used some homemade salsa verde we had leftover from a recent enchilada-making escapade. The result was a fast, easy and surprisingly substantial dinner. I’m more than a little bit embarrassed that I waited so long to jump on the Collards train!
If you’d like to enjoy collards in a vegetarian-version of the traditional manner– as a cooked vegetable side dish– one way to approximate the smoky flavor of pork-infused collards is to use chipotle (powder or sauce) or smoked paprika to season them. For a super-simple, vegetarian smoked paprika version, try this recipe for Smoky Collard Greens from Maggie at Dog Hill Kitchen. If chipotle is how you roll, I’ll refer you to this simple and beautiful recipe for Shredded Collards with Chipotle and Garlic from Nanette at Cooking in Color, who, incidentally, also grows her own collards. Impressive!
Collards: Nutritional Summary
Collard greens are closely related to kale, and as such, are members of the calcium-rich, cancer-preventing cabbage family (whose other members include ANDI-chart-topping mustard greens, turnip greens, watercress, bok choy, broccoli rabe, brussels sprouts and arugula). They’re almost too nutritious to be true: a modest 1 cup serving of boiled collards contains almost 900% of the daily value for bone-building and blood clot-enabling Vitamin K; 120% of the daily value for immunity-enhancing and vision-enabling Vitamin A; 60% of your daily Vitamin C needs, 45% of your daily folate needs and ~20% of your daily calcium needs. And thanks to their 5g of fiber, all of this nutrition will only cost you about 50 calories, which makes Collards an exceptional bang for your buck.Did you like this? If so, please bookmark it, RSS feed.