Quick Collard Greens

By Ann Fulton

Slow cooked collards may be traditional, but this speedy method yields tender greens with a hint of crispness around the edges. The mild flavor and natural sweetness of leeks balance the bitter greens for a wholesome match made in heaven
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Slow cooked collards may be traditional, but this speedy method yields tender greens with a hint of crispness around the edges. The mild flavor and natural sweetness of leeks balance the bitter greens for a wholesome match made in heaven. Serve as a versatile veggie side dish or in place of a green salad. 



Over time, I’ve given this recipe to friends and family and the feedback is consistently the same: “This was amazing!”

The funny part is that the response is always shocked amazement, like “How could collard greens taste so good?” Or for established collard fans, “I can’t believe how good these were considering how quickly they cooked!”

My family has long enjoyed this vibrantly green side dish as we would any green vegetable–it’s versatile that way. I thoroughly enjoy quick collards with fish and love it in place of a salad with spaghetti and other pasta dishes.

So what is the trick to tender, flavorful collards that are cooked quickly?

Following is a short video as well as a photo overview of the easy process. The short answer to that question, however, centers on how the leaves are chopped. 

Collard Greens can be quick, easy, and delicious!

Bunches of collard greens tend to be quite large, but they cook down quite a bit.



How do you prepare collard greens?

Collard Green Tips

After washing and drying the leaves, you’ll want to remove and discard the tough stems. There are two ways to do this. First, you can slice a narrow V-shape. Or, you can fold the leaf in half and make one cut along the back side of the stem. Because collard leaves are large, this is a quick and easy task–there isn’t an endless number of them. When finished, stack the leaves in a pile and roll them into a tight “cigar.”

Tips on stacking and rolling: I stack eight or so leaves at a time and repeat as necessary. This amount, give or take, allows me to create a tight roll, which makes it easier to very thinly slice later. Don’t worry if the top of the roll seems loose; the larger ends naturally splay out and never roll quite as snugly. 

Easiest way to thinly slice collards for quick cooking.

Starting at one end of the tight roll, make slices that are no wider than ⅛ – ¼ inch wide. Slicing the leaves into thin slivers helps to tenderize the collard greens and allows them to cook quickly. 

Easiest way to thinly slice collards for quick cooking.

Once the whole cigar is sliced, I make two or three chops across the pile to shorten any really long pieces. 

How do you prepare leeks? 

Leeks add mild but memorable flavor and are easy to work with.

Recipes typically call for “the white and light green” parts of a leek. They are more tender than the darker green portions. So, start by chopping off and discarding the root end and the dark green end. Then slice the remaining cylinder in half, lengthwise.

At this point, check to see if there’s any dirt hiding between the layers of the leek. You’ll often notice a little near the outer edges. In this case, rinse while gently peeling back the layers of the leek, taking care to keep the layers intact for easier chopping later. If your leeks are particularly dirty, you may soak the pieces in cold water, squishing to dislodge the debris.

Leeks add lovely, mild onion flavor.

Once clean, shake off excess water and pat dry before chopping as desired. I prefer to chop into half-moons. To do so, I line up both halves and slice into pieces that are roughly ¼-inch thick.

A word about leeks: So often, I reach for a yellow onion as a starting point for soups and stews. Leeks, however, offer a lighter, sweeter flavor that really shines without overpowering. You could absolutely use an onion or several shallots in this recipe–I’ve used them and the dish is still delicious–but I encourage you to try the more nuanced flavor of leeks.

Advance prep tips: Both the collards and leeks can be chopped earlier in the day and refrigerated in a bag or large bowl.

Leeks add lovely, mild onion flavor.

The leeks are sautéed first–just long enough to soften and turn golden in spots.

Collards cook quickly - and are delicious! - when prepared this way.

Remember that the key to a texture that is tender—almost velvety—once cooked, is to slice the leaves very finely. When adding to the pan, it will seem like a lot, but they will cook down.

Allowing the collards to sear for 30 seconds or so at a time before stirring allows them to crisp a bit.

Letting the greens sit and sear for 30 seconds or so, and then stirring and repeating, is the key to tender leaves that have a hint of crispiness too. You may squeeze a lemon wedge overtop at this point–just a teaspoon or two–and/or serve with lemon wedges. 

What to serve with Quick Collard Greens?
Quick collards are a flavorful side dish for fish, like Simple Salmon in Foil, Prosciutto Wrapped Pan Seared Halibut, or Crispy Parmesan Flounder.
Serve in place of a salad with spaghetti or Baked Spaghetti Casserole (coming soon!)
With any traditional Southern dishes, like grits, or polenta–a side of cornbread is always welcome.
Mixed with rice and beans for a meatless main dish. 
 Simply adding white beans to the cooked collards adds filling protein for a lovely meatless meal. I like bigger butter beans, but cannellini and chickpeas work well too. For a little extra flavor, first give the beans a sear in olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

Can I vary this recipe?
I have made the collards with a yellow onion and mushrooms in place of the leeks. In this case, I cook the onion and mushrooms until the mushrooms have released their moisture and both are nicely golden. I then remove most to a plate to make more room for the collards, stirring them back in to warm once the collards are cooked. 

You could add garlic to the mix, but you don’t need to. Similarly, bacon or pancetta would be a lovely addition, but again, the collards offer wonderful flavor without it.

The ingredients are truly simple. A final squeeze of fresh lemon provides brightness. If you find yourself without, you could add a teaspoon or two of white wine vinegar, to taste.

Slow cooked collards may be traditional, but this speedy method yields tender greens with a hint of crispness around the edges. The mild flavor and natural sweetness of leeks balance the bitter greens for a wholesome match made in heaven

Quick Collard Greens
Prep Time: 8 minutes
Cook Time: 7 minutes
Total Time: 15 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
Slow cooked collards may be traditional, but this speedy method yields tender greens with a hint of crispness around the edges. The mild flavor and natural sweetness of leeks balance the bitter greens for a wholesome match made in heaven.

• 1 large or 2 small leeks, white and light green parts thinly sliced*
• 1 bunch (1 – 1¼ lbs) collard greens
• 1½ tablespoons (22ml) extra virgin olive oil
• ½ teaspoon each kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper**
For serving: lemon wedges


1. To prepare the leeks: Slice off the root end and the tough dark green end. Slice the remaining white and light green part in half lengthwise (rinsing well if there is any lingering dirt), and then thinly slice into half moons.
2. To prepare the collards: Cut out the thick center rib out of each leaf, and then stack the greens and roll them into a tight “cigar.” Slice the cigar as thinly as possible—aim for ⅛″ to ¼″ slivers. You can then chop a couple of times in the other direction to shorten any really long strands.
3. Heat the olive oil in a large cast iron or other heavy-bottomed skillet (12-inch diameter works well) over medium-high heat. When hot, add the leeks and sauté until softened and golden in spots, about 3 minutes. Add the collard greens, followed by the salt and pepper.
4. Stir until the greens are lightly coated in oil and mixed in with the leeks. Then cook, undisturbed, in 30 seconds increments, give or take, before stirring again. Continue cooking this way—spreading into an even layer, letting the mixture sear briefly, and then stirring—until the greens are wilted, dark green, and beginning to brown and crisp on the edges. This will take roughly 4 to 5 minutes.
5. Remove the pan from the heat, check for seasoning, and serve the greens with a small wedge of lemon for squeezing.


*Leeks supply a delightfully mild onion flavor and their subtle sweetness pairs well with bitter greens. I don’t worry about cup measurements here, feeling that more of the delicate leeks is not a bad thing! If you don’t have them, several shallots (it’s hard to use too many of these either, as they really cook down) or a sweet yellow onion may be used. An onion will require an additional minute or two to cook down and become lightly golden in spots.
**In place of (or in addition to) the black pepper, you could use a pinch or two of cayenne pepper, Aleppo pepper, or red pepper flakes.

Don’t have a lemon? The acidic note of a light, final squeeze of lemon offers a lovely brightness and rounds out the flavor. If you don’t have one, a teaspoon or two of white wine vinegar could be used.

Have a really big bunch of collards? Some bunches of collards weigh closer to two pounds. If you want to use them all, simply increase the oil and seasonings proportionately and use the widest skillet you have.

Have leftovers? Cover and store in the refrigerator where they will keep for up to 5 days. Gently reheat before serving–although I think they taste great cold too!

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Recipe adapted from Cookie+Kate

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