Collard greens take spotlight

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By Suzanne Montgomery
Opelika Observer

I guess it must have happened when I wasn’t looking. But it came to my attention just the other night when friends and I went out to eat at one of Auburn/Opelika’s finer eating establishments.
I had to read the menu twice to make sure I was seeing what was before me. Collards. They were  right on the menu, along with some very fancy chicken dish and on the very same plate. Could it be true? Had the humble green that grows so easily in the Deep South and is served nearly every week with cornbread and peas, be on the menu in this better dining establishment?  Had this rustic food arrived and risen through acceptable social ranks to be taking its place alongside such delicacies as steak, chicken and chops?
Out of curiosity, and not because I was in love with the tea brine-soaked chicken, and because I was intrigued as to how the collard greens would be presented, I ordered the dish.
Voila! The plate came with a beautifully-prepared chicken dish and an artfully displayed bowl of collard greens. Upon further inspection and a first bite, I noticed immediately that the greens were not prepared like those of my childhood.  They were cooked tenderly and deliciously with what appeared to be simple olive oil, salt and a bit of pepper.  A white paper napkin under the bowl, folded carefully with a crisp white line, supported their importance on the plate. I was intrigued with the collards’ elegant presentation.
I am personally thrilled to see this, although a tad amused. We are, after all, supposed to eat greens and black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day, if one adheres to such “good luck” activity.
However, luck may have nothing to do with health.  Greens of all kinds are making a real noise on the stage of healthy living these days.  Collards, turnip greens, kale, chard and spinach are all included on the roster of super foods. So, if the side dish of white potatoes has been unseated to the lowly collard, then we are all the better for it.
I plan to grow and eat more greens this coming year. It’s on my list of New Year’s resolutions and one I will try my best keep. Full of micro nutrients and loaded with natural fiber, collards and other greens should be on everyone’s plate every day in some form or another.
My favorite way to prepare greens is not with the heart stopping,  boiled bacon fat of my youth, but with olive oil, a little salt and even a bit of garlic and onion. Greens can be wilted in a skillet, whirred into a morning smoothie along with a banana, blueberries, yogurt and almond milk or added to a simple soup. Yum!
I’m ecstatic to see the arrival of the farm-to-table restaurants. I’m even happier to see the array of vegetables offered on the plates with no shame or disdain for the lowly greens and root vegetables that in the past graced the plates of local farm families and those who primarily lived from the backyard garden.
Suzanne Montgomery is a Master Gardener and an avid urban gardener. She practices what she preaches at her home in downtown Opelika. She will address your gardening or lawn questions in this monthly Observer column. Send your questions or comments to editor@opelikaobserverllc.com – Attention: Suzanne.

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