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"Sky's The Limit" Southern Collard Greens With Smoked Turkey Recipe

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Fresh Southern collard greens simmered slowly in smoked turkey-based broth with onions, garlic, red pepper flakes, and vinegar leaving the most delectable pot likker ever.

These collard greens are New Year's day or Sunday dinner ready. The tips and techniques detailed in the post will help you elevate your collard greens game and make you a star amongst your family.

Greens are the ultimate soul food. There are a million recipes for southern collard greens, but not everyone makes the best greens or even good for that matter. Sometimes it's because they're gritty from poor cleaning or too leafy from poor cutting, but more often than not it's a flavor issue, or better yet a lack of flavor.

Greens are actually an easy dish to make. It's just simple ingredients cooked slow in a large dutch oven. But in the world of black folks collard greens recipes, specifically quality, are a sensitive subject. Every aspect gets critiqued from texture and flavor of the greens, their color, and the potlikker flavor. Not sure if you can relate, but hopefully you're not dealing with the shenanigans lol.

collard greens with smoked turkey in a bowl

Beats and Eats (music pairing with greens cooked the Southern way)

There is both art and science to making collard greens. Once you nail the simple techniques the art side means the sky’s the limit like that Notorious Big song. 

My favorite collard greens are those that strike a great balance between smokiness, vinegar, and savory (onions, garlic, salt, pepper). The latter is all about that broth that when simmered long with collards renders a ridiculous pot likker or pot liquor depending on where you hail from.

Sky's the limit with your greens if you start with a great stock. It is through a wholesome and flavorful stock that you can deliver delicious greens that maintain that good for you status that true soul food provides as discussed in my earlier post on the"other soul food."

Southern Greens Ingredients

For the Greens

  • Fresh Collards
  • White Onions
  • Homemade Chicken Broth or store bought chicken stock
  • Smoked Sweet Paprika
  • Red Pepper Flakes
  • Apple Cider Vinegar (breaks up the fattiness from the smoked meat)
  • Molasses (sweetener to counter-balance the bitter greens) 

For the Chicken Stock

  • Smoked turkey parts (wings, leg, or tails)
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Fresh Thyme
  • Bay Leaves
  • Garlic Cloves (if you don't have fresh garlic on hand, substitute a high quality garlic powder)
  • Corn Cob
  • White Onion
  • Kosher Salt
  • Black Pepper

Instructions For Cooking Southern Collard Greens

Char the Onion

Half the onion and peel it.

Turn the cooktop burner to its highest settings. Place onion halved side down and burn to a char. Flip and char the other side. Set aside.

charred onion on cooktop

For the Homemade Chicken Stock

If not using store-bought chicken stock here are the key steps to making your own flavorful stock. Add 7-8 cups of water to a large pot or stock-pot.

Add smoked turkey pieces, corn, carrots, celery, bay leaf, garlic cloves, salt, pepper, and charred onion to the pot. Bring everything to a boil then reduce to a simmer for at least two hours.

If you have the time or patience, simmer a full day or two or three; it’s the soul food way! If going multiple days, the stock will reduce some a lot. This is good, as it means the flavor will be more concentrated. You can continue to add more liquid and refresh the ingredients which will net you a really dynamic and complex broth. I'm crazy about flavor like that so feel free to ignore me and go with standard 2 hours.

Let the stock cool, then strain into a large bowl or your big pot. Pull the meat off the smoked turkey bones and reserve for later use. Use the stock immediately or let it sit overnight in the fridge a day or two until ready to use.

stock ingredients in pot of water
Use a pasta insert for convenient cooking, removal, and disposal of the stock ingredients

Make the Greens

Clean the greens first by rinsing them a few times to ensure all the dirt and grit are completely rinsed from all the leaves.

Peel and slice the onions. Pre-heat your big pot on medium-high. Add olive oil then saute the onions 3-4 minutes. Season the onions with a teaspoon of paprika after 2 minutes of cooking. Onions should be fairly tender.

onions sauteing in pot

Add about 4 cups or so of the broth plus a pinch of red pepper flakes, molasses, and turkey pieces then mix well.

onions and stock in pot

Add collards to the pot. Stuff as much as you can into the pot. Don't worry, as the collard greens cook they will reduce down quite a bit after a few minutes. Once this happens, give them a good stir.

chopped greens in pot
collard greens cooking in a pot

After about 30 minutes add in the vinegar and another teaspoon of paprika. Cook another 30 minutes or so to desired texture. Two hours should be enough for these to be tender and full-flavored.

The stock should be all you need for flavor, but feel free to season to your preference as you go with black pepper, paprika, and salt. I recommend tasting a few times before adding salt to determine if you really need it. Again this is a preference thing so use my words more as guidance.

collard greens with smoked turkey in a bowl

COOKING CONSIDERATIONS AND TIPS

Southern collard greens are all about the Pot likker, which is the leftover broth liquid remaining after the greens have been eaten. There is as much joy in making use of the pot likker as there is eating the actual greens. 

All those wonderful nutrients that have been cooked out of the collard greens can be found here. In my house growing up, the elders called it pot likker slang for pot liquor.

My grandmother would often reserve it, and I'd recall my grandfather drinking a few shots every now and then, which I adopted. He also would reduce it concentrating its flavors and maybe add pepper sauce or Worcestershire sauce to it and use to dip veggies into it, sop with cornbread, or use as a sauce/gravy for grilled fish.

Sopping with my grandmother's hot water cornbread was big. Serve with a side of butter beans and along with braised pork neck bones as the main dish.

I like to eat my collard greens with a simple homemade pepper sauce, but feel free to use your favorite hot sauce. I find that vinegar-based hot sauces work best.

I personally like to use the potlikker as broth for rice or grits.

collard greens and cornbread in a white bowl

I personally like to use the potlikker as broth for rice or grits.

shrimp and grits on a white plate

What are the keys cooking tips for southern collard greens?

  • Clean collard greens are a must, so first and foremost spend the time to clean them. Unless you're buying pre-packaged collards, thoroughly wash the greens. Check that! Even give the bagged version a rinse. Greens typically have all kinds of dirt on them, so take the time and wash them in your sink to ensure of the sandy, earthy grittiness is removed. You'll thank me later otherwise you'll get sand in your teeth and that's not a good look
  • Chop the collards in some measure of uniformity. Roughly chopped is fine, you just want to avoid having really big leaves as once they absorb the liquid you'll end up with mounds or globs of greens which can be a chore to chew.
  • I used molasses to balance against the bitterness of the greens, but other sweeteners can be substituted. Brown sugar or maple syrup are always good choices.
  • Be sure to remove those tough stems. Fewer thick stems mean better chewing and eating experience. I much prefer my collards on the all leafy side.
  • Make your own homemade broth. Commercial broths are either too salty or bland. Making your own allows you greater control.
  • 95% of your effort should be spent on the broth. My greens don't touch the broth until after about 2 days of broth refinement. Refinement for me includes building the broth slowly letting it simmer for hours, tweaking the seasonings, and allowing for rest to allow the flavors to come together.
  • Smoked turkey (wings, necks, backs) are just as flavorful as smoked pork, but have less fat and generally more healthy overall.
  • Resist the urge to boil the collard greens; instead let them cook slowly wilting as they cook.
  • For a version of these that can be made with convenience and ease try this instant pot greens recipe.
  • Greens are most often the side dish in Southern cooking, but for me, I'm such a big fan I'll make them the main dish enjoying them in a large bowl with big chunks of the smoked turkey.
forkful of southern collard greens with smoked turkey

Flavor Tips for making an amazing homemade stock?

  • The best collard greens have a balanced complex flavor provided by a great stock.
  • Time is your best friend. Simmer, simmer, simmer, rest, rest, rest to get rid of the bitter taste in favor of that pure deliciousness.
  • Char an entire onion to take your broth from ashy to classy! I literally turn my stovetop burner on high and sit a raw onion directly on the flame until its ashy black, then drop this in my stock. Gas grill or fireplace can be used also.
  • Corn on the cob has great umami flavor. Add an ear of corn (husk removed) to your stock base.
  • Vinegar is your friend. White, apple cider, or even left-over pickle juice all work great but have slightly different taste profiles as you'd imagine. But at the end of the day, you need some acidity to counter the fat from the smoked meat as well as help with the bitterness in the greens.
  • I like to add a combination of sweet and heat. The latter (red pepper flakes) is pretty universal in greens recipes but adding sweetness can incite a fight in some circles. I add some maple on occasion, but always later in the cooking process. Maple has a bit more complexity and compliments the smokiness really well in the same way this plays out in barbecue.
  • I prefer to cook the stock either uncovered or partially covered. I find that covered leads to condensation that makes its way back into the stock thus diluting the flavor.

Frequently Asked Questions About Collard Greens

Do I Have To Use Fresh Collard Greens?

Out of convenience you see more and more collard green recipes that feature pre-cleaned, packaged collard greens. I’ve certainly used them in a few different collard green recipes. However, for the big show, impressed the guests and/or family greens recipes, I only use fresh collard greens. I prefer fresh taste, and they tend to be a lot more flavorful.

What are smoked meat options for cooking collard greens?

Southern recipes are gonna have some smoked meat! That smoky flavor is just the nature of Southern food. For this recipe I used smoked turkey wings, but other turkey parts work just as well. Turkey tails are my favorite actually, but I’ve seen legs get used often as well. Most common, however is that soul food staple smoked ham hock (pork). Ham hocks are easy like Sunday morning. My mother is partial to pork neck bones. Hog jowl and/or salt pork are other familiar options in Southern-style collard greens

Can you make southern collard greens without meat?

Yes, most definitely. There is no reason why you can't make great vegan southern collard greens. I do highly recommend you make an enhanced vegetable stock to get the complexity and depth from a flavor standpoint. To replicate the smokiness of smoked ham hocks or turkey wings I use dried smoked chilies like a chipotle, Morita, or a combination of the two.

Dropping a few dried chilies in a simmering stock will infuse a more than adequate level of smokiness. But please be mindful of how long you leave the chilies in the stock. At some point, they will breakdown and release the fiery seeds into your greens and overpower everything! You want the smoke not the heat in this case.

Are Collard Greens Healthy?

Collard greens inherently are as nutritious or more as other leafy green vegetables. People’s negative stereotypes around soul food give them a bad rap. Despite their low calorie count, collard greens contain many important nutrients including calcium, fiber, and Vitamin A to name a few. How you cook them will determine if the finished cooked dish is healthy. Turkey is leaner and lower in cholesterol than ham hocks per se.

Can I cook Southern collard greens in a crockpot or slow cooker?

Yes you can, but I don’t recommend it. There is too much condensation that leaks into the greens during cooking that it dilutes the flavor. If you want a more convenient way to cook collard greens, use an instant pot. Try these brisket collard greens recipe or pressure cooker greens for instant pot options.

Can I Substitute Other Greens for Collards?

Indeed but stick to either mustard greens or turnip greens or a combination of the two. Please, absolutely do not try to make this recipe with kale! I love kale, but it doesn’t belong in this classic soul food dish.

How Long Do You Cook Southern Style Collard Greens For?

I actually invest more time in the stock than I do actually cooking the greens. Great (not good, but great) greens come from flavorful stock. My approach was influenced by Chinese master stock recipes. 

This technique involves repeatedly reducing the stock, and each time adding more liquid and fresher ingredients. After a few times of this you get this intensely flavored stock from repetitive concentration created by the reductions.

Sorry, that’s a long-winded way of saying at least an hour about no more than two should suffice assuming you have a good stock. Time can vary depending on how large or small you cut your collard greens as well as how tender you prefer them.

Do You Put Sugar In Your Collard Greens?

This question comes up in soul food circles a lot. It’s almost as serious and contentious as the sugar in grits debate. My answer is YES! It doesn’t have to be sugar per se, but you’ll definitely want to add some type of sweetener. 

I prefer molasses as my collard greens recipe sweetener of choice. It’s not overly sweet, but gets the job done and it has a more complex flavor relative to other sweeteners. 

Grandmamas and their grandmamas have been sweetening greens for decades. They understood that a lil sweetness helped balance the flavor against bitter greens flavor.

What should I serve with collard greens?

I prefer old-school classics with my greens. Macaroni and cheeseSouthern pinto beans, or black-eyed peas. For a protein or main dish prepare with grilled lamb or air fryer cooked mahi mahi.

How Long Can You Keep Your Leftover Collard Greens?

I keep my leftover pot of greens in an airtight container for up to four days. If I have any left beyond that point I throw them out. However, I can't remember leftovers lasting that long in my house. For best results, I slowly simmer them on the stovetop vs. nuking them in the microwave.

For similar recipes like this, try these:

Instant Pot Collard Greens with Brisket

Vegan Collard Greens

Collard Greens Salad

Braised Collard Greens

Curried Collard Greens

Brazilian Collard Greens

Okra and Collards Salad

Andouille Sausage Dog w/ Collard Greens Relish

Collard Greens Salsa Verde

Collard Greens Slaw

Blackeyed Peas and Collards

Collard Greens 101

MAKE THIS COLLARD GREENS RECIPE

If you make these delicious smoky Southern collard greens, don't forget to save the best part, the pot liquor. Also, please come back and leave me a comment below with your feedback. Definitely take a photo of the dish and be sure to tag #foodfidelity so that I can see them.

You can also keep up with my food exploits as well as original recipes! You can find me on InstagramFacebookTwitter, and Pinterest. If you like any of the music you find on the site, visit me at Spotify to find curated monthly playlists.

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collard greens with smoked turkey in a bowl

Southern Collard Greens w/ Smoked Turkey

Southern collard greens with smoked turkey simmered slowly with onions, garlic, red pepper, & vinegar leaving a delicious pot liquor
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 3 hours
Total Time: 3 hours 5 minutes
Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: Soul Food
Servings: 8 people
Calories: 130kcal
Author: Marwin Brown

Ingredients

For the Greens

  • 2 bunch of collard greens de-stemmed, chopped and cleaned
  • ½ onion sliced
  • 2 teaspoon smoked sweet paprika
  • 4-5 cups of homemade broth or low-sodium chicken stock
  • 1 /2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • ½ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon molasses

For the charred onion

  • 1 large white onion halved

For the Homemade Stock

  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2-3 sprigs fresh herbs
  • ½ large onion charred
  • 3 garlic cloves diced
  • 1 whole ear of corn husks removed
  • 2 large carrots halved
  • 2 celery stems halved
  • 2-3 fully cooked smoked turkey wings or 1 smoked turkey leg
  • ½ tablespoon kosher salt
  • ½ tablespoon black pepper

Instructions

For the onion

  • Turn cooktop burner to highest settings. Place onion halved side down and burn to a char. Flip and char the other side

For the Homemade Stock

  • Add 7-8 cups of water to a large stock pot.
  • Add smoked turkey, charred onion, corn, carrots, celery, bay leaf, garlic, salt, and pepper, bring to a boil, then simmer for at least 2 hours. I simmer mine from anywhere between 12-24 hours.
  • Let the stock cool. Strain the stock into a large bowl. Pull the smoked turkey meat off the bones and reserve for later. Let stock sit overnight in the fridge.

Make the greens

  • In a large pot, add a tablespoon of olive oil and the sliced onions. Season with half the paprika. Saute until tender.
  • Add in the broth, red pepper flakes, greens, molasses, vinegar, and smoked turkey meat pieces. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer for about an hour. Halfway through add the remaining paprika.
  • Season to your preference with more paprika, salt, pepper if you feel the need, but the flavor from the stock should be enough.

Video

YouTube video

Notes

 
  • First and foremost spend the time to clean the greens. Unless you're buying pre-packaged collards, thoroughly wash the greens. Check that! Even give the bagged version a rinse. Greens typically have all kinds of dirt on them, so take the time and wash them in your sink to ensure of the sandy, earthy grittiness is removed. You'll thank me later otherwise you'll get sand in your teeth and that's not a good look
  • Chop the collards in some measure of uniformity. Roughly chopped is fine, you just want to avoid having really big leaves as once they absorb the liquid you'll end up with mounds or globs of greens which can be a chore to chew
  • Make your own homemade broth. Commercial broths are either too salty or bland. Making your own allows you greater control.
  • 95% of your effort should be spent on the broth. My greens don't touch the broth until after about 2 days of broth refinement. Refinement for me includes building the broth slowly letting it simmer for hours, tweaking the seasonings, and allowing for rest to allow the flavors to come together.
  • Smoked turkey (wings, necks, backs) are just as flavorful as smoked pork, but have less fat and generally more healthy overall.
  • Resist the urge to boil the collard greens; instead let them cook slowly wilting as they cook.
  • For a version of these that can be made with convenience and ease try this instant pot greens recipe.

Nutrition

Calories: 130kcal | Carbohydrates: 9g | Protein: 9g | Fat: 5g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 30mg | Sodium: 488mg | Potassium: 326mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 4g | Vitamin A: 2835IU | Vitamin C: 5.6mg | Calcium: 38mg | Iron: 0.9mg
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