Southern-style collard greens reminiscent of how Grandma used to make 'em.
When Joy was about four years old she had her grandmother's collard greens for the very first time and thought it was possibly the best food ever invented. Her grandma convinced her that if she was able to cook collard greens she'd be able to keep a man happy for the rest of his life. Sadly, Joy's grandmother passed away before teaching her the magical secret of the slow-cooked, southern-style collard green and she's been in search of how-to ever since.
There are plenty of collard greens recipes online and most of them, purporting to be 'authentic, southern-style,' talk about adding some type of meat - usually ham - to give the greens that particular, smoky and savory taste. Since allergies prevented Joy from cooking her greens in just such a way she thought she was destined to never discover that particular taste of collard, just like Grandma used to make it.
However, a few years ago she stumbled across a couple of recipes, one in particular by Monique of Divas Can Cook, that gave alternative vegetarian options to the traditional collard green recipe, and Joy realized she'd found what she was looking for. All along what was missing was smoked salt and smoked paprika!
Two months ago Joy introduced Maria to the wonderful world of collard greens, a world where collards are the best thing ever (you know, after love, chocolate and baby giggles).
We love pairing our collard greens with Savory Drop Biscuits and Sunny Mac N Cheez (post coming soon!) but you can also serve them with rice and beans, roasted sweet potato or Three Herb Noodles. Joy's grandma actually served them with spaghetti noodles in tomato sauce, which may seem a little odd but we guarantee you it is one of the best combos imaginable. It may be why both of those dishes are still in Joy's top ten favorites today.
This dish is actually considered a main dish in traditional southern cuisine, so the serving sizes are larger than you might expect from a greens dish. You can even eat this dish like it's a soup, with just a biscuit or two for accompaniment to sop up the extra liquid.
New to collard greens? Here are some things you should know:
Collard greens are not only a southern classic but also rich in vitamins and nutrients that help lower cholesterol, promote bone health, fight off cancer and infections, and improve digestion, among other things. They are chock full of Vitamins A, B complex, C, K, fiber and minerals iron, calcium, manganese, and zinc - you know, just to name a few. If you'd like a more detailed list, try this link.
Collards are at their freshest and ripest when they are a deep green and the leaves are thick, with no spotting or yellowing. They keep fresh, uncooked in the fridge in a plastic bag for 4 to 5 days max (but we suggest cooking them within 3 days of purchasing to capitalize on their freshness - afterwards some of the leaves may have to be discarded).
To cut down on overall time you can rinse leaves and leave them to soak overnight in a large pot or bowl or a plugged sink with cool water and salt. Some southern grandmas actually say the only way to make collard greens is to soak them in salt water overnight.
When cooking southern-style collards it's important to know that you want the leaves to be a dark green and soft-ish when they are done cooking. If they are cooked too long (more than 2 hours) they will be brown and have an almost-burnt flavor, and if they aren't cooked long enough (an hour or less) they will look a brighter green, be more chewy and have less of the pot likker flavor to them. If you cook them on too high heat you'll get an unappetizing combination of both - too green and undercooked and yet also burnt on the edges. Rushing only hurts you in this recipe.
Pot likker, or liquor, is the extra liquid in the pot besides the collards. In southern tradition you eat this along with your greens, almost like a curry or soup, sopping up the likker with biscuits or bread (or rice, if you're serving that). The belief behind the tradition is that any of the nutrients that were cooked out of the ingredients are held in the liquid, therefore you should consume that too. Don't worry - it's delicious.
The idea behind adding the greens after making the sauce it will cook in is that the sauce, or pot likker, is pretty much what the greens will taste like. So you make sure that you're satisfied with the taste of the liquid before you add the greens to it because after that it'll be more challenging to change the flavors.
Browning the onions is essential to this recipe. The caramelized onions are sweet and savory, adding that deep flavor reminiscent of molasses, that is necessary for the overall taste of the greens. If you rush through this part of the recipe, your greens won't have the full flavor complement of southern-style collards that you're looking for.
Why two onions? Once onions are caramelized they cook down considerably and since we adore onions, and totally love the deep flavor they add when caramelized, we say the more onions the better. Only have one onion? That's okay, you're collards will survive. Need to use a third onion before it goes bad? Go for it! Once, Joy made this recipe with FOUR onions just because she's a little crazy for caramelized onions. It was delicious of course.
The reason we call for fresh bunches of leaves rather than a prepared bag of greens from the store is that bags of fresh prepared collards tend to have an overabundance of stems. It takes just as much work to take out the stems from a prepared bag of collard greens as it does to buy a fresh bunch and do the work from start to finish yourself. The stems from the collard greens are edible however they take a considerable amount of time to cook down, much longer than the leaves, and some remain hard even after hours of cooking, which is why we suggest just removing the stems completely.
As far as frozen bags of collards go, they are already pre-cooked which means if you use them in this recipe they will take less time but they will also taste less like the pot likker because they won't have been cooked from start to finish in the seasoned water. You will also get less of the cooked down nutrition from the pot likker since it will have cooked out in some other discarded water before being frozen.
The reason we suggest adding ingredients when we do is that some take longer to cook than others and if they are added all at one time the flavors won't meld together quite so well. Toasted garlic tastes better than boiled or half-raw garlic. Toasted seasonings melt better into the pot likker than if they're added directly to the liquid with the greens.
Prefer to have less kick to your greens? Cut out the crushed red pepper and cayenne when cooking.
Like more kick to your greens? Add hot sauce either while cooking or/and when ready to eat.
You don't have to use carrots, they're mostly just added for color - you can also add a bell pepper or two (we suggest red) for additional color and flavorfulness.
You can also roast your carrots and/or bell pepper(s) and add them to the greens when everything is done cooking, instead of adding them to the greens as they cook.
You can use coconut oil instead of avocado oil, and if you use unrefined coconut oil you can get a hint of extra sweetness as well as an almost coconuty flavor (it won't be very strong at all when cooked for that length of time, especially because of all of the other ingredients, it will just be a low undertone of tropic taste).
The smoked salt and smoked paprika in this recipe mimic the flavors that sausage or ham hock would provide in a traditional southern-style collard greens recipe. If you don't have either of these, or if you'd like to add an additional smoky flavor, try about a tablespoon or so of liquid smoke.
Don't have vegetable broth? You can use 4 cups of water and 1-2 vegetable bouillon cubes too. If you don't have bouillon either, just use water and increase the other spices about a quarter more.
Prefer to have less pot likker? Cut out a half cup of broth and a quarter cup of water. It might look like you don't have enough liquid to start but once the greens cook down there will be just enough pot likker to enjoy. Make sure to adjust your seasonings to slightly less when using less liquid or else you might end up with extra strong-tasting greens.
Don't have red wine vinegar? You can substitute with distilled white vinegar, white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar in a pinch. DO NOT use balsamic vinegar or you will drastically alter the taste of your greens.
For an additional deeper flavor, try adding some dry red wine to your pot likker before adding the greens.
Recipe: Smack Yo Lips Collard Greens
Course: Main Dish
Cuisine: American South
Skill Level: Intermediate
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Soak Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour and 30 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes
Serves: 4 generously
4 large bunches of fresh collard greens
2 large red onions
2-3 large carrots
10 cloves of garlic, or 2 Tbsp minced
1/2 tsp smoked salt
1/2 tsp crushed black pepper
1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 Tbsp smoked paprika
2 Tbsp avocado oil
2 cups of vegetable broth
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1/2 cup water
Rinse the collard leaves thoroughly with cool water, making sure to get rid of any grit, dirt or sand from leaves. Leave them to soak in cool water and salt (about 1 1/2 Tbsp of regular table salt) in a bowl, pot or sink basin for 30 minutes. You can prepare the other ingredients while they are soaking.
Peel and chop onions.
Heat avocado oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Once oil sizzles when water or piece of onion dropped into it, add the chopped onions, toss to coat with the oil, and then let them caramelize. Onions take at least 20 minutes to caramelize, and only need to be mixed about every 5 minutes, to evenly caramelize all onions. Caramelizing onions will be translucent and browning.
While the onions are caramelizing, peel the carrots, then cut them in half and slice them into half-inch pieces.
Mince the garlic (or thoroughly dice).
In a small bowl mix the smoked salt, crushed black pepper, cayenne pepper, crushed red pepper, smoked paprika and bay leaf.
Once the onions are caramelized, add the carrots and garlic for about 2 minutes.
Add the spice mixture to the pot, toss to coat, and toast for another 2 minutes.
Add the vegetable broth to the pot, mix thoroughly, cover with a lid and lower the heat to simmer at about medium-low. Allow the flavors to meld together for approximately 20 minutes while preparing the greens.
Take one leaf at a time out of soaking salt water, pat dry with a towel, and slice leaf along the stem. You can also try folding the leaf in half and ripping from the stem. For an idea of what that would look like try this link (prep for kale, actually, but the same principle applies).
Rip, slice or cut with scissors the leaves into bite-sized pieces and put into a large bowl.
Once collards are rinsed, soaked, cut and chopped, check on pot likker. Add the vinegar and water, stir the liquid, and then taste the broth. If it needs more salt or pepper or paprika, now is the time to add the flavoring. Also, if you find that you'd like a stronger taste of garlic or onion, you can add a 1/4 tsp of garlic powder or/and onion powder to the pot likker.
Once the seasoning is satisfactory to you, add the collard greens to the pot, mixing every so often as you add them to make sure they are thoroughly coated in the pot likker.
Raise the heat to medium high until the likker is boiling, then reduce to simmer and let the greens cook for about 20 minutes with the lid on. Don't worry if at this point it looks as if there are more greens than liquid, or even if it looks like they don't fit in your large pot, the greens will shrink as they cook.
After 20 minutes the greens should be cooked down some and more easily mixed into the pot likker. After mixing thoroughly, return lid to pot and cook for another 40 minutes.
After greens have been cooking for at least an hour, you can taste the greens to see if they are cooked to a deep, dark green and flavorful or if they are still in need of a little more time. Usually we find another 20 minutes or so will do it. If you're unsure, another 30 minutes won't hurt - just don't cook them longer than two hours.
After an hour and a half, turn the heat off and let the greens sit for about 10 minutes off of the heat before serving. They'll be pretty hot so sitting longer is fine and that way you won't burn your tongue.
Greens can be eaten right away, or cooked in advance and reheated (with enough pot likker you won't need to add any liquid when reheating). Greens can be refrigerated for about 8 days or frozen for several months.
Excited to find a collard greens recipe without meat but with all the awesome smoky flavors? Let us know how your greens turned out. What else did you think to add besides what we suggested? Leave your comments and suggestions in the section below!