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Originally published Friday, June 7, 2013 at 12:30 PM

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Collard greens: Just roll with 'em, Nancy Leson says

Nancy, once a disbeliever, is now a collard greens sandwich-wrap addict.

Seattle Times food writer

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What about using Kale as the wrapper? MORE
I think the only place I've had collard greens in Seattle was at a southern style BBQ... MORE
Thanks N !!! Even though I make collard greens that would make your momma cry (on the p... MORE

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WAX POETIC over collard greens and chances are you've got Southern roots. But here in the Pacific Northwest these broad, leafy greens are a hard sell.

"You've got to cook them to death with pork to make them worth eating," one friend insists. (Not true.) "They're too tough," said another. (Not so.) "Aren't they bitter?" asked a third. (So's arugula, radicchio and Belgium endive, and you eat that, right?)

Collards sure do get a bad rap — for greens that do double duty as one of the world's great sandwich wraps.

Don't look at me in that tone of voice. And don't knock it until you've tried it. Use one in place of a tortilla, and you'll see what I'm saying.

I, too, was once a disbeliever. Now I'm a collard greens sandwich-wrap addict.

For that, I thank the deli-counter gal at PCC Natural Markets who talked my husband into ponying up for sliced turkey and Caesar salad fixings stuffed into a big, raw collard leaf. Now we make them at home, stuffed with anything and everything:

Ham and cheese; canned tuna and tomatoes; leftover roast chicken with mayo and harissa; rice and beans, scrambled eggs and avocado (breakfast!) — or, stealing an idea from PCC's collard-wrap menu — hummus and fresh vegetables. Only we go theirs one better:

After washing the leaves and shaking them dry (ish), we zap that wrapper in the microwave for 10 seconds. It's the equivalent of quickly blanching the leaves in boiling water (that works, too), turns the collards a bright green and renders them tender, pliant and — yeah, yeah — less bitter.

Gluten-intolerant? Carb averse? Raw foods fan? Dieting? Stop pining for spinach tortillas, get over to the produce aisle and let's get rolling.

Collards, a member of the brassica family, are kin to both cabbage and kale and available year-round in bunches stocked alongside the Swiss chard and mustard greens. Buy organic if you can, check for holes and blemishes, and seek out the largest, freshest-looking bunch you can find. If you're the type who thinks ahead (take my advice, I don't use it) you can clean, zap and store them wrapped in paper towels in the fridge for up to a week, and grab a leaf as needed.

Nancy Leson is The Seattle Times' food writer. Reach her at nleson@seattletimes.com. Ken Lambert is a Times staff photographer.

Nancy's "Who Needs a Tortilla?" Vegetable Wrap

Serves 1

1 large, fresh collard leaf

1 generous dollop of prepared hummus

2 butter lettuce leaves (or a handful of mixed greens)

1/4 sweet red pepper, sliced into strips

1 Persian cucumber, sliced lengthwise

3 cooked asparagus spears

Salt and pepper to taste

1. Thoroughly rinse the leaf and gently shake dry. Slice off the tough lower stem and turn the collard face down. If it has a large, protruding center rib, use a sharp paring knife to shave it off, making the rib even with the rest of the leaf. Microwave on a dinner plate for 10 seconds.

2. Use a spoon to smear on the hummus, then layer with lettuce, sweet red pepper, cucumbers and asparagus. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Roll as you would a burrito, tucking in the top and bottom of the leaf as you get to the far end. Slice in half. Isn't it gorgeous?

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