These southern collard greens are braised low and slow in broth with tons of spices, liquid smoke and brown sugar!
Growing up in the South, greens were something we ate all the time. The top three varieties were collards, mustard, and turnip greens. Southern preparation of greens is unique and a lot of pride and care go into the process. You almost always see some sort of smoked meat added to Southern-style greens - however, in these Vegetarian Southern Collard Greens, we omit the meat but none of the flavor!
If you prefer to add smoked meat to your greens please go right ahead! I recommend boiling a meaty smoked ham hock, turkey wing, or turkey leg in water or broth for 30-45 mins before adding your greens and braising them along with the meat. If you are using smoked meat, there is no need to add liquid smoke to the greens.
Preparing Collard Greens for Cooking
Washing collard greens thoroughly is VERY IMPORTANT as they will be extremely dirty and gritty when you buy them. There is nothing worse than taking a bite of collards and tasting sand and grit!
For this recipe, we are using 6 small bunches of collard greens which comes out to about 6 servings. First, tear and remove your greens from the stem. This step is optional, but I prefer to remove the thick stems as they can be very tough. To do this, hold each leaf upside down by the stem and pull the leaf down and away from the stem.
Next, transfer collard leaves to a large, deep sink and cover them with water. Some people add a couple of drops of vinegar to the water but I just use plain water. Using both hands, rub and swish greens around in a water-filled sink to remove dirt and grit. Drain water and repeat the process 3-5 times until greens are clean and no dirt is evident in the water.
Next, give your greens a rough chop by rolling bunches of leaves and cutting with a sharp knife. You will need to do this in batches. Now your greens are ready to cook!
Cooking Vegetarian Southern Collard Greens
Heat a tablespoon of olive oil and a tablespoon of butter in a large stockpot or dutch oven over medium-high heat. Once the pot is hot and butter is melted, add chopped onion and saute for 2-3 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant.
Next, add greens to the pot in three batches, stirring after each addition to wilt greens. Once all greens have been added to the pot, pour in one quart or 4 cups of vegetable stock. Stir to incorporate all ingredients and allow greens to come to a boil.
Once greens come to a boil, reduce heat to medium and add salt, black pepper, garlic powder, paprika, crushed red pepper, ground mustard, brown sugar, liquid smoke, balsamic vinegar, and apple cider vinegar. Stir to incorporate all ingredients. Cover pot and allow greens to simmer for 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Check consistency and flavor of greens after about 30-45 minutes of cooking. Add more seasoning to taste at this point. Cover pot and allow greens to simmer for another 30-45 minutes, depending on the desired level of tenderness.
Once greens are done, transfer them to a serving bowl with some of the cooking liquid - better known as Pot Liquor or Pot Likker - and finish off with a little bit of hot sauce on top!
Let's Talk About Pot Liquor
I shared the process of making this batch of greens on my Instagram Stories and took a poll to see how many of my followers had heard of pot liquor. I was surprised to see that it ended up being about half and half.
Pot liquor (also sometimes spelled pot likker) is the cooking liquid left over from braising greens. In the South, we typically make buttermilk cornbread (recipe coming soon) when we cook greens and we dip the cornbread into the cooking liquid, or pot liquor.
I also save the liquid to add to the greens when warming leftovers. The liquid also can be added to other veggies (green beans, lima beans, black-eyed peas, etc.) while cooking to add some extra flavor!
What to Serve with Vegetarian Collard Greens
The short answer here is "whatever the heck you want"! These greens are a wonderful accompaniment to just about anything. I served this batch of greens with a Cajun Shrimp and Rice Skillet dish (click here for the recipe) and it was AMAZING!
Vegetarian Southern Collard Greens would be perfect alongside baked, fried, or pan-seared chicken or fish. You can also serve these greens with braised pork chops or short ribs. As I mentioned earlier, serving buttermilk cornbread with collard greens is true Southern fashion and the cornbread is the perfect vehicle for "sopping up" that delicious pot liquor!
To round out your Southern meal, add some black-eyed peas and Southern Mac and Cheese!
Vegetarian Southern Collard Greens
- 6 small bunches collard greens
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil extra virgin
- 1 medium onion chopped
- 6 cloves garlic minced
- 1 32 oz container of vegetable stock four cups
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1-2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1-2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon ground mustard
- ½ - 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
- 1-2 tablespoon liquid smoke
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- hot sauce like Franks, for serving
- Pull leafy greens away from tough stems and transfer greens to a large sink, discarding stems.
- Cover greens with water and with both hands, rub and toss greens in water to remove dirt and grit. Drain water and repeat process 3-5 times until greens are clean and no dirt is evident in water. Roughly chop cleaned greens by rolling bunches of leaves up and slicing with a sharp knife.
- Heat butter and oil in a large stock pot or dutch oven over medium high heat. Add onion and saute for 2-3 minutes. Add garlic and saute until fragrant.
- Add greens in three batches, stirring with a wooden spoon after each addition to wilt greens. After all greens have been added, pour in stock and stir to incorporate. Bring greens to a boil.
- Once greens come to a boil, reduce heat to medium and add spices, brown sugar, liquid smoke and vinegars. Stir to incorporate all ingredients. Cover pot and simmer for 30 - 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Check flavor and consistency of greens after about 30-45 minutes of cooking. Add more seasoning to taste. Replace lid and continue cooking for another 30-45 minutes, depending on desired level of tenderness.
- Once greens have reached your preferred level of tenderness, transfer them to a serving bowl with some of the cooking liquid. Top with a few dashes of hot sauce before serving if desired.