For the Love of Leafy Greens

The next time you see someone eating something delicious—think truffles or mom’s apple pie—take note of their face. See how the more they eat the happier they become? That’s me when I eat wonderfully prepared leafy greens. Despite often falling short of the USDA’s recommended three cups of dark green leafy vegetables weekly, I adore them. The great nutrition they offer is simply a bonus.

These days, I find myself searching for recipes including these amazing vegetables. I have discovered how much I love raw kale salads with sunflower seeds and dried papaya, tossed with a simple oil-and-lemon-juice dressing, and topped with goat cheese.

Another new favorite go-to recipe is grilled pizza topped with fresh greens and seasonal vegetables. Just last week, I tried beet greens for the first time. The richly flavored greens, enhanced by a touch of vinegar, were such a surprise they were my favorite part of the entire meal!

My childhood memories of eating greens are iceberg lettuce wedges covered in thousand island dressing. The occasional caesars salad was exotic. My mother loved to experiment with new recipes, but our experience with leafy greens never went beyond a block of frozen spinach added to lasagna.

After graduating from college, my husband and I left Florida and moved to North Carolina. In the Tar Heel State, greens seemed to be a part of every buffet and a constant restaurant side order choice. I tried them cautiously, but was soon won over. Soft, soupy pinto beans eaten with slightly sweet cornbread became my new favorite comfort foods—it was love at first bite.

At work I later became good friends with a born-and-bred North Carolinian. Since then, we have spent many holidays together, and she and her husband have fostered my love of Southern collards. I treasure the times we’ve gotten together, opened a bottle of wine, and remarked about how beautiful the collard leaves look are as we wash and prepare them. After they have cooked and we chop and season them, I am the official taste tester. I always close my eyes in utter delight that one food can make me so happy. The amazing, smoky rich taste of collards is a comfort beyond expectation.

After leaving North Carolina, we moved to Charlottesville, Virginia—it’s still the South so I can find greens in the grocery store, restaurants as well as my work cafeteria.

As an oncology dietitian a large part of what I do includes educating people on the health benefits of a plant based diet. I have been fortunate to work alongside chefs from time to time and learn about new ways to eat and enjoy disease-fighting foods. This has enabled me to empower others to discover healthy, protective foods they didn’t even know they liked!

This year at Thanksgiving we made an extra large batch of collard greens so I could freeze some for the next time I am missing that healthful flavor of friendship and comfort that collards represent for me.

I think that next time will be today.

Southern Collards

Recipe by Carole Havrila, RD, CSO

2 to 3 bunches of collards, or 1 large bag of pre-cut collards
½ head of cabbage
1 ham hock or shank (find one that is “nitrate-free” and “minimally processed”)
Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Place ham hock or shank in 3 to 4 inches of water and bring to boil. Cook until meat is tender and a broth develops.
  2. Cut stems out of collard leaves and wash thoroughly. Add collards to broth and cook until tender.
  3. Add cabbage and continue to cook until cabbage is tender.
  4. Remove collards and cabbage. Drain, chop well, and season with salt and pepper.
Carole Havrila on Twitter
Carole Havrila
Carole Havrila, RD, CSO, is an oncology nutrition specialist at the University of Virginia's Emily Couric Cancer Center. Follow her on Twitter.