How to Cook the Best Simple Southern-Style Collard Greens
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 as 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?
- 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
- Wash and trim collard greens. Remove any large ribs and discard.
- 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.
- Add kosher salt, bay leaf and red pepper flakes, and stir.
- 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 lose volume and you can add more. Repeat until they're all in the pot.
- 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
Finely Minced Garlic
Heat the Olive Oil
Saute the Onion and Garlic
Fresh Collard Greens
Add Greens in Stages
Add the Vinegar
Add the Broth
Add Ham—or Ham Hocks or Jowls
Stir and Simmer!
Ready to Eat!
Simple Southern-Style Collard Greens
Check out the Quick Tutorial!
How to Make Ham Broth or Ham Stock
© 2018 Jan Charles