How to Cook the Best Simple Southern-Style Collard Greens

Updated on January 6, 2018
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Jan has been cooking and writing about food for over twenty years and has cooked on multiple television stations, including Food Network.

Rich and luscious, simple collard greens are simmered in broth with onions, garlic and apple cider vinegar for amazing results. A favorite comfort food in the South, they're also good luck when eaten on New Year's Day!
Rich and luscious, simple collard greens are simmered in broth with onions, garlic and apple cider vinegar for amazing results. A favorite comfort food in the South, they're also good luck when eaten on New Year's Day!

Southerners love their greens, and collard greens top the list of everyone's favorite. Once braised, they have an incredible depth of flavor and are the perfect pairing with cornbread and pork dishes of all kinds.

In the most traditional recipes, collard greens are almost always paired with pork of some kind. Typically ham hocks are used, simmering in the dish and then being shredded, with the meat added back to the greens once cooked through and tender. However, Southern cooks are versatile, and all kinds of flavorings are used, depending on what is available. A little bacon, or diced ham, or hog jowls can also be used. You'll see variations on all of these - they all were written based on what the cook had on hand, and they're all delicious.

The same versatility applies to the cooking liquid - that also was whatever the cook had available. My favorite is to use ham broth if I have it. That's almost always near a holiday since I make ham broth with leftover ham bones after holiday meals. So near Thanksgiving, Christmas or Easter, I'll have ham broth. But the rest of the year I'll use other types of broth.

I almost always make smoked turkey broth after smoking birds, and using the broth for cooking leafy greens is perfect. But you can use chicken or beef as well. In a pinch, you can even use plain water. Generations of cooks throughout the rural south used only water, and the results were still amazing. So use whatever you have - even boxed or store-bought broth is fine.

The hallmark of this dish - other than the amazing flavor - was how inexpensive it was. Collard greens grow just about anywhere and the plants are incredibly productive, so they were available. They were cooked with minimal meat, but that meat had been smoked, so there was tons of flavor.

One final note - Southerners have long believed that eating greens on New Year's day is lucky. The greens are said to resemble the green of folding money, so greens like collards at New Year's is thought to bring wealth in the year to come. They certainly are one of the healthiest things you can eat, so the more the better! Check out how simple it really is.


Have You Tried This Recipe?

5 stars from 1 rating of Simple Southern-Style Collard Greens

Cook Time

Prep time: 15 min
Cook time: 45 min
Ready in: 1 hour
Yields: 8 Servings

Ingredients

  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 pounds fresh collard greens, washed and trimmed
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 1/2 quarts chicken, ham or beef broth
  • 2 cups diced ham

Instructions

  1. Wash and trim collard greens. Remove any large ribs and discard.
  2. Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Saute the onions and garlic for about 5-10 minutes, or until fragrant and translucent.
  3. Add kosher salt, bay leaf and red pepper flakes, and stir.
  4. Add trimmed collard greens to onions and garlic. You may have to add them in stages, since they are so large when raw. If needed, add a few, and stir. Wait a minute and stir again. They'll quickly wilt and loose volume and you can add more. Repeat until they're all in the pot.
  5. Add apple cider vinegar, broth and diced ham. Stir. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Stir well, and simmer for about 45 minutes, uncovered. Give it a stir every once in a while, otherwise, that's all there is to it!

Start the Aromatics

Start by dicing one large onion. I use yellow or white onions. The long cooking time leaves them mellow and sweet. Sweet onions like Vidalias or Walla Walla onions don't have enough 'punch' for long cooking times.
Start by dicing one large onion. I use yellow or white onions. The long cooking time leaves them mellow and sweet. Sweet onions like Vidalias or Walla Walla onions don't have enough 'punch' for long cooking times.

Finely Minced Garlic

We love garlic and this dish simmers for long enough to ensure the garlic is mellow, so I use a lot. I think the recipe calls for 4 clove, but I think I actually use more like 6. Use as much - or as little - as you like!
We love garlic and this dish simmers for long enough to ensure the garlic is mellow, so I use a lot. I think the recipe calls for 4 clove, but I think I actually use more like 6. Use as much - or as little - as you like!

Heat the Olive Oil

It only takes a little olive oil for this dish - I use just barely enough to cover the bottom of the pot. Choose a large saucepan or soup pot - the greens have a huge volume at first, so you'll need the room.
It only takes a little olive oil for this dish - I use just barely enough to cover the bottom of the pot. Choose a large saucepan or soup pot - the greens have a huge volume at first, so you'll need the room.

Saute the Onion and Garlic

Saute the onion and garlic in the olive oil for about 10 minutes, or until they are softened and fragrant.
Saute the onion and garlic in the olive oil for about 10 minutes, or until they are softened and fragrant.

Fresh Collard Greens

Wash and trim two pounds of collard greens - about two large bunches. Remove the stems if they are very large - they can be really tough and fibrous. The smaller stems will break down and soften, so leave those.
Wash and trim two pounds of collard greens - about two large bunches. Remove the stems if they are very large - they can be really tough and fibrous. The smaller stems will break down and soften, so leave those.

Add Greens in Stages

Because leafy greens can start out with such a large volume, you may need to add the greens in stages. Add a pot full, stir, wait a minute, then add more. They break down and wilt very quickly.
Because leafy greens can start out with such a large volume, you may need to add the greens in stages. Add a pot full, stir, wait a minute, then add more. They break down and wilt very quickly.

Add The Vinegar

Add the vinegar - apple cider vinegar is traditional, but I actually will use whatever I have. Red wine vinegar is great, as is white wine vinegar. Plain old white vinegar will work in a pinch - since this dish does need a good hit of acid.
Add the vinegar - apple cider vinegar is traditional, but I actually will use whatever I have. Red wine vinegar is great, as is white wine vinegar. Plain old white vinegar will work in a pinch - since this dish does need a good hit of acid.

Add the Broth

Add broth. I love ham broth when I have it, although that's not often. You can use whatever you have - chicken, beef, vegetable or turkey broth all work just as well. And I won't judge if you buy broth in a box - use what works!
Add broth. I love ham broth when I have it, although that's not often. You can use whatever you have - chicken, beef, vegetable or turkey broth all work just as well. And I won't judge if you buy broth in a box - use what works!

Add Ham - or Ham Hocks or Jowls...

Ham hock is traditional, but sometimes hard to find, believe it or not. You can use any type of smoked meat, so jowls or rendered bacon is good, as is smoked turkey in a pinch. I often use plain old cubed leftover ham.
Ham hock is traditional, but sometimes hard to find, believe it or not. You can use any type of smoked meat, so jowls or rendered bacon is good, as is smoked turkey in a pinch. I often use plain old cubed leftover ham.

Stir and Simmer!

Bring the pot to a boil, reduce to a bare simmer, and simmer about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. I leave the pot uncovered, and just stick it on the back of the stove while I do other things.
Bring the pot to a boil, reduce to a bare simmer, and simmer about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. I leave the pot uncovered, and just stick it on the back of the stove while I do other things.

Ready to Eat!

After 45 minutes the collards are ready - the flavors mingle and marry and the results are just amazing.
After 45 minutes the collards are ready - the flavors mingle and marry and the results are just amazing.

Simple Southern-Style Collard Greens

Rich and delicious, southern style collard greens are loaded with nutrients and fiber. Serve with creamy grits or cast iron skillet cornbread for a perfect meal.
Rich and delicious, southern style collard greens are loaded with nutrients and fiber. Serve with creamy grits or cast iron skillet cornbread for a perfect meal.

Check out the Quick Tutorial!

How to Make Ham Broth or Ham Stock

© 2018 Jan Charles

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