Southern Style Collard Greens are a classic side dish you can enjoy in your own home. Pair them with fried chicken, cornbread, and macaroni and cheese for a real Southern treat!
One of the perks of living in a really diverse neighborhood is being introduced to new foods. Prior to living here, I had lived 20 years without once eating black eyed peas, grits, or cracklins. I don’t even think the word “collard” was in my vocabulary. These soul foods are a big deal around here, and it didn’t take me long to figure out why. They’re not only delicious, they also remind people of home, of history, of a culture and community nourished by recipes passed down through generations.
While I was working as a community organizer I had the privilege of getting to know my dear friend Alexis. Alexis faithfully volunteered to cook for our community dinners every month, which meant she was in charge of feeding anywhere from thirty to one hundred people. I learned so much simply from sharing a kitchen with her. Alexis knows how to cook, and she knows how to do it with a limited budget and a whole lot of mouths to feed.
Every year, we did a special Black History Month meal which included all of the classics– fried chicken, black eyed peas, cornbread, and greens. It was my first introduction to many of these foods, and I spent most of the afternoon watching in awe as Alexis chopped onions in seconds, managed several giant bubbling pots, and still kept up a lively conversation with me.
Alexis never uses a recipe, but instead relies on years of experience, tradition, and a chef’s intuition. She tastes and seasons as she goes, sprinkling here and there until everything is just right. She learned to cook by her mother’s side, as I’m sure her mother did before her. I knew I’d never be lucky enough to get her recipes written down, so I did the next best thing: I invited myself over to her house so I could study her ways.
We spent the afternoon making greens, and this recipe is the result. Greens are not a quick process. While not difficult, they require the low and slow approach. It starts by making a rich savory broth with onions, garlic, and some kind of smoked meat. I’ve used both smoked ham hocks and smoked turkey tails, and both work well. Once the broth is made, the greens are added it to the pot and cooked down for a few hours until they’re silky, soft, and flavorful.
While collards are traditional, Alexis uses any greens she can get her hands on for this dish–including kale, mustard, turnip, or even spinach greens. The collards tend to be the most bitter, so if you use all collards, you’ll likely want to stir in a bit of apple cider vinegar and brown sugar at the end of cooking.
If you’ve never had traditional Southern style greens before, I’d encourage you to give these a try. Add them to your Easter menu, and you may have a new tradition of your own.
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil
- 1 yellow onion
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- Pinch red pepper flakes
- 2 smoked turkey tails or smoked ham hocks
- Water to cover
- 12 cups chopped and cleaned greens (Collards, Turnip, Mustard, Kale, or a mix)
- 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
- 2 teaspoons brown sugar, or to taste
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Heat the oil in a large pot or dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until starting to soften. Add the garlic and pepper flakes and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the smoked turkey tails. Fill the pot with water to just barely cover the turkey tails. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour.
- Taste the broth and season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the chopped greens, stir, cover and cook an additional 1-2 hours, or until greens are cooked down and tender.
- Stir in the apple cider vinegar and brown sugar. Taste. Add salt, pepper, and additional brown sugar to taste. Remove the turkey tails from the pot, and take any meat off the bone and add it back to the pot. Serve hot.