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  • Bettina Applewhite

Southern Style Collard Greens

Collard Greens and Pot likker. Pot likker is the broth, gravy, or magic elixir if that's what you want to call it that is made when you cook collard greens in water over a long period of time. This liquid is full on vitamins and nutrients and has deep flavors of smoked meat and well-seasoned collards. Many believe that this liquid will cure many ailments. You'll find die-hard pot likker fans dipping cornbread into the broth to soak up the juices.

southern style collard greens with smoked turkey and a history of soul food and collard greens

The technique of using a starch to soak up juices and gravies is a part of many cultures, including some African cultures. In Ethiopia injeria (fermented bread) is used to eat gomen wat (Ethiopian spiced collard greens). In Nigeria fufu (made from pounded cassava and plantains) is used with stewed meats. In Kenya and Tanzania, ugali (made from cornmeal) is dipped into stewed vegetables and greens. As you can see, lots of people know about the benefits of pot likker.

fresh collard greens. Are collard greens healthy? Benefits of collard greens

When I think of soul food, I often think of collard greens or some style or combination of slow cooked, green leafy vegetables. In his book Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time, Adrian E. Miller talks about the differences between traditional soul foods and Southern food. Soul food has origins of the deep South and specific dishes that make up soul food. The staples of soul food are beans, greens, and cornmeal. Southern food encompasses soul food but is much broader in genre. The term soul food was coined in 1964 according to Webster's but the origins date back to the time of African American slavery. During those time the slaves were typically rationed about 5 pounds of a starch, a couple of pounds of smoked meats, and a jug of molasses once a week. In order to make that food stretch, slaves were allowed to grow and harvest some of their own vegetables like collard and kale greens. The smoked meats were used as a seasoning instead of as a main dish. This style of eating was mostly plant based. Meats were rationed throughout the week or only when there was excess or cheap cuts to be given by the masters.

Soul Food often gets a bad name because of the idea of foods being fried and seasoned with fat, salt, and sugar. However, it's the updates of processing foods and making it easily accessible that makes consuming these foods more often detrimental to our health. When it had to take hours to make fried chicken, that wouldn't be something you would not have often, but now you do not even have leave your car and can get a buck of fried chicken for a relatively cheap cost. Traditional soul food is mostly vegetable based foods. Meats and labor intensive foods were a luxury. In 40s and 50s, soul food dinners were reserved for special occasions and church dinners. When you can repeat heavy meals of fried meats and foods seasoned with salt, fat, and sugar throughout the week, it becomes excessive and unhealthy.

southern style collard greens with smoked turkey and a history of soul food and collard greens

Many persons are looking to lighten and find healthier versions of the traditional soul foods. Using smoked turkey meats instead of smoked fat back and ham hocks are one of the most common ways to reduce saturated fat and salt without losing any flavor. Collards greens are just as good without the use of smoked meats so you can have a vegan version of your favorite side dish. Flavoring your greens with garlic, spicy peppers, and onions are what you need for intense yummy flavors.

There's a preference some have for adding vinegar like apple cider vinegar or white vinegar to greens for a tangy taste. I prefer my greens straight, no chaser. In the South, you will find a host of condiments on the table which mostly includes different kinds of hot sauce. There are your traditional Crystal cayenne pepper hot sauce or a Tabasco to a green pepper hot sauce where the peppers are on display and are soaked in salt and vinegar (like shown below). I'll dabble in dressing my greens on the table but let me be in charge of that and don't cook my greens in vinegar.

All this talk of soul food and its origins have me hungry. Here's a list from Thrillist of the best soul food restaurants around the country. Now I need to get in the car and take a drive. You know. To make sure the list is complete. Research purposes.

Collards are part of the cabbage family. They have a strong bitter taste and a distinct smell while cooking. Since they are part of the green leafy vegetable family, collard greens have lots of health benefits that are a great addition to your diet.

Health Benefits of Collard Greens

  • One of the Best non-dairy sources of Calcium

  • Vitamin K

  • Vitamin C

  • Vitamin E

  • Beta-Carotene

  • Soluble & Insoluble Fiber

  • Folate

  • Potassium

  • Low Glycemic Index

fresh collard greens

How to Prepare Your Collards for Cooking

It's important to properly prepare your greens for cooking. The stems are tough and must be removed before cooking. Simply tear or cut the leaves away from the stems. Discard the stems. This is process is referred to as "picking greens".

how to pick fresh collard greens for cooking

Collard greens must be thoroughly washed to remove any sand or debris. Fill a clean sink or large bowl with water. Soak your greens and wash by agitating the water and your greens. Drain the water and repeat at least 3 times. I've known people to wash their greens up to 7 times.

freshly prepared collard greens ready to cook

You can roll the leaves into tight cylinders and slice them into small strips or tear them organically into 1 inch pieces. Growing up I was a tearing girl. Now I guess I'm more fancy and slice them into cylinders. Actually I think it's just faster this way. Maybe my parents had me tearing them to keep me occupied? Who knows.

After your greens have been picked, washed, and cut into smaller pieces, they are ready to cook.

southern style collard greens with smoked turkey and a history of soul food and collard greens

Collard greens are like spinach and other green leafy vegetables. They wilt down to small amounts during the cooking process. You may start with an overflowing pot of greens but by the end, it will be a manageable amount of greens.

southern style collard greens with smoked turkey and a history of soul food and collard greens

Make sure you have enough broth in your pot to get enough pot likker to serve with every portion. If you're not feeling well, you can scoop some of this magic elixir in a cup and sip.

southern style collard greens with smoked turkey and a history of soul food and collard greens

Southern Style Collard Greens

Serves 6


1/2 lb Smoked Turkey necks

1 Onion, cut into chunks

10 - 12 stems Fresh thyme

6 - 8 cloves Garlic

2 Bunches of Collard Greens, picked, washed, & sliced (see details above)

1 tsp Garlic powder

1 Tbsp Salt-free Garlic and Herb Seasoning

1 Tbsp Low-Sodium All Purpose Seasoning

Salt and Pepper, to taste


  1. Place turkey necks in a stockpot with just enough water to cover. Add in garlic cloves, thyme, and onion. Cover with just enough water to cover the turkey necks. Simmer on low for 1 hour. This makes a broth for the greens to cook in.

  2. Add in picked greens and cover. Stir occasionally. Greens will wilt down to a manageable size in about 30 minutes. Add in the rest of your seasonings, garlic powder, all-purpose seasoning, and salt-free seasoning. Stir into thoroughly combined.

  3. Continue to cook until green are tender, about and additional 1 hour. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Shred turkey meat into greens and discard the bones. Serve greens with pot likker in a bowl.

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