When Kevin and I were living in California, collard greens were among our favourite vegetables. We’d buy them from the farmers’ market in big bunches. As we ate them, we’d dream of the day when we could grow them in our own garden.
In the USA, collards are quite widely known and eaten. People there told me that they are a traditional food of the Southern states, brought to the USA by African slaves. Like many New Zealanders, I’d never even heard of collards, far less eaten them, until I went to the USA. Coming back to New Zealand, I wondered whether collard seed would even be available for gardeners in this country.
When I asked about collard greens at Koanga Gardens, I was met with blank looks. Nobody had heard of them. “What kind of greens?” they asked. I described them: “A brassica, like a loose-leaf cabbage. . .” The lights went on. Collard greens are sold through the Koanga Institute as “Dalmatian Cabbage.” Interestingly, Dalmatian Cabbage is the only brassica rapa in the Koanga collection that is an Heirloom from our local bio-region. Pretty silly that I had to go all the way to the United States to develop a taste for it!
Why is it called “Dalmatian Cabbage”? Because it is named after the Yugoslavs who came to New Zealand to work in the gum fields. They brought with them some wonderful vegetables, a few of which still survive as heirlooms — We are also growing Dalmatian Peas and Dalmatian Beans in our garden this year.
Collards are hardy and easy to grow. Since they can be picked leaf by leaf as we need them, we can always eat them very fresh. They are packed with nutrients, and, best of all, they are delicious. We’ve been picking our Dalmatian Cabbage for a couple of weeks, now. This is our favourite way to prepare it:
Ribbon-cut a bunch of Dalmatian Cabbage very finely.
Toss the greens into a pot of boiling water and boil until bright green and tender (a few minutes).
Drain the greens, then mix in a clove of crushed garlic while they are still very hot.
Season to taste with olive oil, and a little salt and lemon juice.
Mix well, and serve.
(Optional: add a handful of sprouted sesame seeds at the same time as the garlic.)