How to Cook Collards (Happy New Year)

Collard_greens_2012If you grew up cooking in the South, you don’t need this post. You have already purchased your black-eyed peas, your pork, and your greens, and you’ll be eating them tomorrow to avoid certain doom in 2013. You know that you must eat black-eyed peas for luck and greens for money, and you put pork in them because your ancestors were so poor they used every scrap of the animal, including the fatty bits, which they threw into every vegetable imaginable.

You also aren’t searching on the Internet for a recipe. But those of you who are obviously need help, and I’m here to offer it.

These days there are all kinds of fancy ways to prepare collards. I’ve made a nice vegetarian version, put them in soups, and even added them to pasta. But for New Year’s, I like to return to the old-fashioned version–simmered in pork and onions, floating around in heavenly “pot likker” ready to be sopped with cornbread or just eaten with a spoon.

I got my collards this year at the DeKalb Farmer’s Market, along with a cheerful group of people from every race looking forward to a fat-filled New Year’s celebration. The greens were piled up nearly to the top of my head, and the bunches were so enormous they had to be put in bags as big as my torso (24″ x 16″, in case you’re wondering). You can get a sense of the size just from the stems:


Collards are pretty forgiving. Don’t worry about following any recipe to the letter, as you will end up making adjustments anyway to suit your taste. That said, here’s my version. A ham hock is more traditional, but as we all know bacon makes everything better.

Happy new year!

Collard Greens

8 qts. collards greens, washed, bottom stems cut off (In other words, use enough collards to fill an 8-qt. pot, loosely packed; their volume will reduce to about a quarter or the original size during cooking. There is no need to remove the large stem running down the center of the leaves unless you prefer–if you do that, however, check on the collards after a half hour for doneness.)

1-2 cups low or no salt chicken or turkey broth (ideally, you made broth from the scraps of your turkey, but if you didn’t, get the best you can)

6 slices bacon, each cut into 6 – 8 pieces

1 large onion, chopped

Several splashes of red wine vinegar

1 – 2 tbsp. white distilled vinegar (the cheap stuff, not white wine)

A few dashes of Tabasco sauce, or to taste

Salt to taste

Chop collards. My method is just to lay 4 – 5 leaves, depending on their thickness, on a cutting board and slice them at 2″ intervals. You can, however, chop them as fine or coarse as you like.

Cook the bacon in an 8 – qt. pot until crisp. Drain off all but about 3 tbsp. of fat. Saute onion on medium low heat until translucent, 5 – 10 minutes. Add broth and greens. Cover and turn heat to medium high. Cook for about 5 minutes or until greens cook down enough to be covered with water. Add remaining ingredients and stir. Reduce heat to a simmer; cover again and cook for about an hour or until greens are tender. Taste and add more Tabasco, vinegar, and salt as desired. Serve with black-eyed peas and cornbread for good luck in 2013!