This Southern Collard Greens recipe features lots of flavor and easy-to-understand instructions on how to accomplish this Southern side dish.
When folks think of the South, I imagine they’d think of Southern food – things like okra, cornbread, grits, sweet tea, and southern collard greens! Those are all things that a true Southern cook should know how to prepare. Oddly enough though, I’ve found that many folks are scared of greens. Not only in preparing them, but eating them too.
For me, southern collard greens are just about my favorite vegetable. I’ve been told that when I was little, I would turn down a bowl of ice cream for a bowl of collards and some cornbread. It’s funny too because at the end of the season, my grandfather would harvest the remaining leaves and pull up the collard plants, and I would take the plants and go plant them in the backyard only for them to grow more.
It’s true, I might have an obsession with the leafy green. In fact, I grew my own this year and was able to cook my first mess just this past weekend. Now for me, collards are not southern collard greens unless they are cooked with a smoked ham hock, bacon just won’t do it. And I don’t care a lick about collards that have sugar in them. Just not my thing.
Here is a SUPER easy way to make some of the best southern collard greens you’ve ever had. In the words of my great-grandmother, they might even make your tongue slap your brains out, so beware.
What are collard greens?
Collard greens are a leafy green vegetable that is closely related to kale, and cabbage. They are a staple vegetable in Southern cuisine and are often cooked with ham hocks, smoked turkey, bacon, or other smoked meats by way of sautéing, braising, and/or steaming.
Collard greens have long, sturdy stems, which are often removed before eating, and dark green leaves that render a slightly bitter taste. When cooked, the collard greens typically shrink down and become tender with a bit of a sweet flavor.
There are many health benefits to collard greens. Now I won’t go into all that because, simply put, I am not a health professional and this is by no means a health-conscious food blog. However, a quick Google search will render a staggering list of health benefits. Go check it out!
How do you prepare collard greens before cooking?
You can certainly buy a bunch of collards at the farmers market or grocery store (and I urge everyone to do it at least one time) and cut and wash them yourself. You can also take the convenient way out and buy a 2-pound bag of the pre-cut, pre-washed kind. It’s a HUGE time saver and is so much easier.
If you decide to not go the time-saver route, here are a few steps you need to take in order to properly prepare your collard greens before cooking:
- Wash – To wash collard greens, fill a large bowl or sink with cold water. Add the greens and swish them around to remove any dirt or debris. You can also use a salad spinner to clean the greens.
- Destem – You can remove the stems of your collards by simply cutting the stems off or pulling the leaves away from the stems. Either method is fine and totally up to you.
- Cut – Cut the leaves into ribbons by stacking them on top of each other and cut them crosswise into strips of your desired width.
How to get the bitter taste out of collard greens?
Often times, older collard greens will develop a bitter flavor. There are many methods to removing that bitter taste out of greens. For the purpose of this recipe in which we will be boiling/braising the collards, I recommend the following methods:
- Adding baking soda: Adding baking soda to the water when cooking collard greens will help to remove some of the bitterness. To do this, add 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda to a pot of boiling water.
- Cooking with acidic ingredients: Adding acidic ingredients, such as vinegar or lemon juice to collard greens will help to balance out the bitterness.
- Cooking for a long time: Cooking collard greens for a long time will also help to remove some of the bitterness and is probably the most foolproof method.
I, for one, use a combination of the last two methods to cook out the bitterness in this recipe. But, by all means, you can add in the step of baking soda if you want to be extra careful to not have any bitterness in your greens.
How to store collard greens:
- Raw, Uncooked collard greens: Uncooked collard greens may be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days and should be unwashed and placed in an airtight container with wilted leaves removed.
- Cooked collard greens: Cooked collard greens can be stored in the refrigerator or freezer. If you are storing them in the refrigerator, place them in a covered container for up to 3 days. They may also be stored in the freezer for up to 6 months when placed in a freezer-safe bag or container with as much air pressed out as possible.
Classic Southern Collard Greens
- 2 pounds washed and chopped collard greens
- 3 quarts water
- 1 smoked ham hock
- 3 chicken bouillon cubes
- 2 tablespoons salt
- 1 clove garlic
- 1/2 yellow onion coarsely chopped
- 1 tablespoon white vinegar
- Combine water, ham hock, bullion cubes, salt, garlic, and onion in a large pot and bring to a boil.*
- Carefully add collards allowing them to cook down a minute or two to allow the rest to fit into the pot.
- Cover and cook for 1.5 to 2 hours, stirring every now and then, or until the collards are tender. When ready to serve, stir in the vinegar. If you’d like, remove the ham hock and shred the meat. Return the meat to the greens and serve.
* If nutritional values are provided, they are an estimate and will vary depending on the brands used. The values do not include optional ingredients or when ingredients are added to taste. If calorie count and other nutritional values are important to you, I recommend grabbing your favorite brands and plugging those ingredients into an online nutritional calculator.