Delicious and Versatile Recipes for Collard Greens
Enjoy the many ways to cook this Southern staple.
I learned about collard greens from two important women in my life, their lessons delivered decades apart. First was my paternal grandmother, who (with my grandfather) tended a 10-acre farm near Grenada, Mississippi. I realized by the time I was 5 that collards were my favorite. Unlike the pungent mustard greens and bitter turnip greens that unfurled in their garden this time of year, collards were milder and sweeter. I loved the chewiness of the cooked leaves and the heady-green fragrance that filled the kitchen as they simmered.
Grandmama cooked hers for hours with a little bit of salt pork, water, salt, and pepper. She didn't add sugar to the pot, nor vinegar, so the flavor I grew up on was pure goodness. If you wanted extra oomph, you could shake on some pepper vinegar—but I never did. Spooned over split and toasted cornbread (also made without sugar, thank you very much), the simple greens made a soul-warming meal.
Later, when I was in my twenties, my boyfriend's (now husband's) mother, Jeanie, treated me to her collards, and I loved them so much that I overcame my shyness to ask her how she made them. She happily shared her method: Cook some bacon in the pot, and remove the crispy bits for later. Then add your greens (torn into large pieces, with the stems still attached), and toss them around in the drippings with tongs until they're fully coated and slightly wilted. Add water, salt, and pepper; then cook for about an hour. Sprinkle the crisp bacon on top when serving.
Collards cooked this way have a wonderful texture, thanks to the stems (which offer more bite) and that initial toss in the smoky bacon fat (which makes the leaves silkier). One other thing Jeanie did that blew my mind: She simmered chunks of turnip root with her greens. I had never considered mixing "genres" like this, but the pairing was heaven.
I'm now in my early fifties and have discovered many more ways to enjoy those large, sultry leaves. I like them raw in salads, where they bestow a gentle peppery bite. And because their flavor is relatively mild, I use wilted collards instead of spinach or kale in casseroles, soups, pilafs, and more.
My love for this vegetable is rooted in the simplicity of my grandmother's approach combined with the savory innovations of my mother-in-law. Although neither woman is with us now, their lessons remain with me to this day.