There’s a new wrap in town
Diet fads and gimmicks generally don’t interest me. I’m immediately suspicious of any diet that suggests removal of an entire food group, and I tend to steer clear of low-fat or reduced-calorie versions of foods that are inherently rich and delicious. I made a personal decision long ago that a life without bread, pasta, cheese and wine was simply not a life in which I was interested. The tricky part of this decision is that many of these wonderful foods are made up mostly of simple carbohydrates and packed with energy, more energy than I often need, even after a busy day and a trip to the gym. Carbs are often the first thing to go when we want to deal with the extra “energy” that’s made its way to our waistline.
I’ve been searching for a nutrient-dense, make-ahead lunch option that is as appealing as a sandwich but with fewer calories. I don’t care for cold tortillas, and the “low-carb” versions taste like cardboard (which is not far from what they are – many high fiber/ low-carb bread products list cellulose, aka wood pulp, on their ingredient list). Indeed, most bread and tortilla products in the grocery store spout a laundry list of ingredients that have a negative impact on health – like hydrogenated cottonseed oil, dough stabilizers and preservatives.
Enter the collard wrap. Collard greens are a member of the cabbage family, with large, dark green leaves. This soul food staple is often braised with ham until meltingly tender, and served with cornbread to sop up the precious “pot liquor.” The leaves are flexible and slightly tough, hence the traditional low and slow preparation. These characteristics are also what make the collard green a perfect vehicle for a wrap. The wrap holds is shape and the leaves don’t even need to be blanched. Unlike softer greens like Swiss chard, they don’t tear easily or get soggy, and their large rounded shape is just right for rolling up some lunchtime goodness.
First, trim the thick stem so it is flush with the base of the leaf and let the leaves soak for 5 minutes in a mild solution of warm water and white vinegar. This ensures they are thoroughly clean and helps to soften them for rolling. Rinse in cold water, then pat dry with a towel. Next, using a paring knife or vegetable peeler, shave down the stem lengthwise so it is almost the same thickness as the leaf. You want it to be flexible and bend without breaking. At this point the washed and prepped leaves can be wrapped in a paper towel and stored in a zip top bag for up to a week.
Now you’re ready to roll. Put down two leaves stalk to end and slightly overlapping. Place your fillings in the center of the leaves, and resist the urge to overstuff your wrap. Just as you would a burrito, fold up both sides, then roll upwards, continually tucking in the bottom and sides as you go. Voila!
The filling possibilities are practically endless, though I do find it works well to have something creamy like hummus or pâté as a base to hold the whole thing together. Hummus, cucumbers, olives, tomatoes and feta make a delicious combination, as do rare roast beef, caramelized onions, herbed cheese and horseradish.
I was impressed the first time I made collard wraps by how quick and simple they were to prepare. What I wasn’t prepared for was how unreasonably good they were. Not simply a sad stand-in for bread, these wraps are delicious in their own right. The flavor of the collard is barely noticeable, perhaps slightly bitter, but the texture is what makes the wrap so delicious. Almost like the snap of biting into an old-fashioned hot dog, the substantial greens have a satisfying crunch and the wrap holds together to the end.
Not only do they make for a delicious and nutritious meal, collards are incredibly cost-effective. A $1.29 bunch of greens was enough for at least six wraps, and is an incredible source of vitamins B6, C, E and calcium, folate and beta-carotene. At 11 calories for a cup of chopped greens, they’re basically calorie-free. Bread and tortillas are usually about 100 calories per slice, so by opting for a collard wrap instead of a sandwich you can really cut down the calorie count of your meal. Or you can trade in those extra calories for something really worthwhile, like a piece of dark chocolate or a little something crunchy to go with your wrap.
Contact Ashley Meyer at Ashley@realcuisine.net.