If you wanna learn how to season and cook Southern greens like a true Southerner, look no further!
Here you'll find the seasonings and cooking methods Southern cooks use for making delicious rich greens - collard, mustard, turnip or kale- apply these techniques to any green and enjoy with a slice of cornbread!
How to buy, store and cut greens, when to buy fresh greens, making greens for a crowd and more!
Why this works
This method and seasonings works for just about any type of green!
No bitterness - Most greens (collard, mustard, turnip) are inherently bitter. The savory and meaty broth (pot liquor) and a smidgen of sugar override this bitter flavor, resulting in a savory and flavorful green.
Tender - but not over cooked; the addition of a little white vinegar and pepper vinegar increases the acidity of the water which helps tenderize the greens as they cook
Seasonings - simple, yet versatile! Add onions, garlic powder, red pepper flakes, pepper sauce to your liking!
Healthy - collard greens, in particular, are one of the more nutrient dense foods on the planet (kale is #1)! They're considered a "superfood" and are high in fiber, as well as vitamins A, C and B and they're off the charts with vitamin K.
Vitamin K is instrumental in maintaining healthy blood and bone levels, so this is a get your daily intake of this vitamin.
Tender cooked greens are a staple on Southern tables and are considered both "comfort food" and "soul food."
What's the difference between Soul Food and Southern Food?
These terms are often used interchangeably across the southern United States, however, there is a difference. Not all Southern food is "soul food" but all "soul food" is Southern. Slow cooked greens are considered "Soul Food."
The term "soul food" refers to ethnic recipes developed and prepared by African Americans in the Southern United States and dates back to the 60's. Some common soul food recipes are collard greens, cornbread, chitlins, black eyed, peas, candied yams and more.
As a native Texan, I personally refer to common Southern dishes as both, as these recipes are rich in heritage and culture.
Here's what you'll need
Greens - collard, mustard, turnip or kale; use pre-washed packaged or fresh; you can use mixed greens, too!
Water - start with 3-4 cups of water per pound of greens; if you need to add more, do so; you may have to add more seasonings if you add more water
Protein - smoked ham hock, smoked turkey leg, fat back or bacon
Seasonings - onion or onion powder (optional), garlic powder, white vinegar, salt, pepper, pepper vinegar, crushed red pepper (optional)
The ingredients for making a good pot of greens are actually pretty simple. Start with a piece of meat, usually a smoked ham hock, smoked turkey leg, fatback or bacon and cook it in water until tender along with seasonings.
This creates a deep rich broth, also known as Pot Liquor or "Pot Likker."
What is Pot Liquor (Pot Likker)?
There's no "liquor" involved here. This is an old term used for the juice of the cooked greens!
Pot liquor is non -alc0holic. It is the juice you get from braising a salty meat in liquid that develops when you cook cook the greens slowly.
This savory, meaty broth gives collard greens (well, all greens) their rich flavor. It is essential to making true Southern greens and is loaded with flavor. It's what makes Southern greens so delicious!
The smoky and salty flavor that develops in the braising liquid helps to overcome any bitterness from the collard or mustard greens.
Collard greens and mustard greens are inherently bitter, so this is the first step to take when making Southern style greens.
By the way, collard greens are the official vegetable of South Carolina!
How to season Southern greens
Most greens are bitter and tough. Southerner's typically use a "fatty protein" like ham, smoked ham hocks, smoked turkey legs to season their greens.
The fat from the cooked protein is released into the bitter greens and that causes them to taste more savory than bitter.
To season greens, you need a rich pot liquor with a cooked salty pork : smoked ham hock, smoked turkey leg or bacon (and it's grease), and and either chicken broth or water, onion or onion powder, garlic powder, and a smidgen of vinegar and sugar.
How to buy fresh greens
Nowdays, you can buy pre-washed cut greens in a bag! What a great convenience and time saver.
However, if you want to buy fresh greens look for small bunches with smaller leaves. These are more tender than the larger ones.
Look for deep, dark green leaves and avoid any light green or yellow leaves or leaves with holes in them. Avoid leafy greens with dark black spots, too.
How to store fresh greens
If you buy a few bunches of fresh greens and don't plan on cooking them immediately, place UNWASHED greens in a sealed storage bag in the vegetable or crisper bin for up to 3-5 days.
When are fresh greens in season?
Most leafy greens are cool weather vegetables and grow during the cooler months. In the South, they are usually harvested in the fall, winter or early spring as they do not tolerate heat well.
Thankfully, the grocery stores now sell the pre-washed, pre-packaged greens so you can enjoy them year round.
How much does one pound of raw collard greens yield?
Greens, like onions tend to really cook down when they cook! Keep this general rule of thumb in mind when buying greens:
Greens cook down to about ½ - ¼ of their original volume, depending upon how long you cook them. I get about 4 cups of cooked out of one pound of pre-washed, chopped collard greens.
Making greens for a crowd
If you're cooking for a crowd, I recommend cooking the greens in one huge stockpot or use a few 5-quart stockpots.
In the image above is a 5-quart stockpot with one pound of raw greens. After it cooks down, you get about 4 cups of cooked greens per 5 quart stockpot.
A typical serving size is about ½ cup per person, so one pound of raw collard greens yields about 8 half-cup servings.
If you need to make Southern greens in advance, I recommend cooking them no more than 3 days in advance and, cook them twice.
Make the pot liquor first then add the greens and seasonings. Cook the greens only halfway at this point - don't cook them all the way. Store greens and liquid in the refrigerator until you're ready to serve.
On the day your serving the southern greens, pour them and the liquid back into a large stockpot and resume cooking. This ensures your greens won't get soggy or overdone.
How to clean greens
The wrinkled leaves of greens harbor dirt so it is necessary to wash greens at least three times to ensure all the debris is removed.
Place whole green leaves in a large bowl and fill with cold water. Manually swish the water to loosen any dirt. Remove greens from bowl, pour out the water and repeat this process at least three times.
Believe it or not, you can get sick from consuming greens that aren't truly free of debris.
How to cut greens
Once you've cleaned the greens, you can remove the thick stalk and chop or tear the leaves. Collard greens are tough so use a sharp knife. First, remove the stem and place the leaves on top of one another.
Cut lengthwise first, then go back and cut horizontally until they're cut to bite size.
Another way is to just tear the leaves into small pieces - my Grandmother just tore 'em, but it's really your call!
Do I remove the stems?
The stalky stems in collard, mustard and turnip greens are full of nutrients and vitamins, but they also take a long time to soften.
This extra time often results in over cooking the leafy green which results in mushy greens, as well as a less nutritious side dish.
I recommend removing the stems, but it's up to you.
The easiest way to remove the stem is to fold the green in half and slide the tip of a sharp knife down the stem membrane.
Then, stack the greens on top of one another and cut into bite sized cubes.
How long do I cook Southern greens?
Some cooks cook their collard, mustard and turnip greens for a long time (like hours), just like their Mother and Grandmother did.
The actual greens themselves don't take that long to cook, it's the broth or pot liquor that takes the most time to develop.
Cook the protein and seasonings for one hour. Add greens and cook on low for about 1 hour, until the greens are tender and the pot liquor is flavorful.
Cook covered or uncovered?
Collard greens are in the cruciferous vegetable group, along with cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower which means they emit a sulfurous odor when cooked. To minimize this odor, start with the lid off.
Cook the pot liquor (water, protein, seasonings) covered; once you add the raw greens, leave the lid off for about 5-8 minutes wile stirring the greens into the broth.
This initial phase of cooking the greens uncovered allows the natural gases in the vegetable to escape. Once all the greens have soaked in the broth for a few minutes, place the lid on the stockpot and cook on low.
Can I freeze them?
Store cooked greens and their pot liquor in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months. Be sure to leave a little air space in the storage container.
Reheat refrigerated greens on the stovetop or in the microwave. If reheating frozen greens, allow them to thaw first, then reheat on the stove or microwave.
Once you learn how to season and cook Southern greens, you'll be happy to serve them with any of these Southern favorites, but cornbread is a must!
- How to Season and Cook Black Eyed or Purple Hull Peas
- How to Prevent Cauliflower from Turning Brown
- Southern Skillet Cornbread
- Chicken Fried Steak
- Meatloaf with Tomato Sauce
- Fried Catfish
- Macaroni and Cheese
- Turnip Green Cornbread Casserole
- Beef Tenderloin
- Smothered Okra and Tomatoes
- Homemade Cream Style Corn
- Southern Cornbread Dressing
- Sauteed Yellow Squash and Onions
- Salmon Croquettes
- Potato Patties
If you make this recipe, please scroll down and leave a comment and rating! I love to hear from you!
Southern Greens (Collard, Mustard, Turnip) Recipe
- 1 lbs greens , mixed, turnip, collard -See Recipe Notes
- 1 smoked ham hock 1 large smoked ham hock, smoked turkey leg or bacon strips (6) See Recipe Notes
- water start with 3-4 cups water per pound of raw greens; See Recipe Notes ;
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon onion powder , or ½ cup chopped onion
- 1 tablespoon white vinegar
- pepper sauce , white pepper vinegar; to taste
- salt and pepper ,to taste
- Wash greens thoroughly. At least 3 times (disregard if using pre-washed greens)1 lbs greens
- Cut away core stalk; chop or tear into small bite size pieces
- In a large stockpot, add protein, (and chopped onion - optional), water and seasonings to pot; cover and allow to simmer for 1 hour; See Recipe Notes1 smoked ham hock, water, 1 tablespoon onion powder, 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- Add greens and white vinegar; stir well; allow to cook 5-8 minutes with the lid off1 lbs greens, 1 tablespoon white vinegar
- Place lid on stockpot and allow to simmer until greens are tender
- Add salt, pepper and pepper vinegar to tastesalt and pepper, pepper sauce