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The gospel of greens

Photo by Michael Cornelison

My grandmother was always cooking up a “mess of greens” (and homemade chow chow to go with them), and while I greedily gobbled up pretty much everything else that came out of her kitchen, whenever I heard the word “collards,” I made myself scarce.

Everyone else in the house would be lined up at the stove, fingers impatiently tapping their plates as they waited to get their serving of greens. I was as uninterested as they were excited. As far as I was concerned, cooked collards looked (and smelled) like the slimy stuff floating around the edges of my granddad’s catfish ponds. No, thanks.

Today, correctly cooked collard greens are near the top of my list of favorite things to eat, and I’ll sing their praises to anyone who’ll listen and try my best to convert non-greens eaters. My evangelism includes rattling off the positives that outweigh the one negative even I can’t ignore: the pungent, not-so-appetizing aroma they release during cooking. I point to their place in Southern food culture; their unique mineral, earthy flavor; the rich, fatty goodness they absorb and deliver so well; and their softness that’s not mushy but instead almost meaty, still holding up to a good chew or two.

But they don’t start out this way. While they look like lettuce, collard greens are not for salads. When raw, the veins branching out into the leaves are tough and sinewy. And non-cooked collards taste like bitter dirt (at least to me).

They have their own distinct flavors, but the same can be said for other “braising greens” like kale, turnip and mustard greens too, and they all benefit from the same cooking techniques, accompaniments and condiments, namely a low and slow method; some sort of fat and salt; and a dash of heat, sweet and/or tart.

All braising greens share something else: more than their fair share of valuable vitamins. Greens are low in calories, but high in vitamins A and C. Turnip greens are loaded with vitamin K.

But the faithful greens cooker’s (and eater’s) ultimate reward is potlikker, a liquid version of heaven. In case you’ve somehow escaped knowing what this is, potlikker is the vitamin-rich broth left over after slow-cooking greens (usually collards or turnip greens). The odd name is Southern-speak for pot liquor. You’ll also see it spelled as two words: Pot likker.

The next time you cook greens, don’t throw out the potlikker; use it as the base for comforting Potlikker Soup. If you’ve got leftover greens in their broth, start there. If you’ve just got the broth, add some fresh greens. If you don’t have either, you can cheat and create the potlikker at the same time you’re making the soup. (See the instructions for this further down the page) Just remember to save the broth next time you make greens, and you can put the soup together a little faster. (You won’t have to cook it as long to achieve its hallmark flavor.)

– Jennifer Kornegay

“Getting greens from your local farmers market or roadside stand means they’ll be fresher, tastier, and might even be cheaper than what you’d find at the grocery store.”

Cook of the Month

Growing up with a mom who freely admitted she didn’t like cooking, Sandy didn’t really know her way around a kitchen until she was an adult. Being diagnosed with Celiac disease (an autoimmune disorder that causes the body to react to ingested gluten) forced her to remove all gluten from her diet and forced her hand on cooking. “I realized I had to learn and now I really enjoy it,” she said. She’s been making the winning recipe, her crustless quiche, for about four years, much to the delight of several family members. “My mom and my grandson love it,” she said. She modified a traditional spinach quiche recipe to suit her tastes and her health needs. “It’s crustless due to the gluten in flour, and I replaced the spinach in the original recipe one day when I had some leftover collards,” she said. “I figured I’d give them a try, and I liked the collards version better, so I’ve made it with greens ever since.”

Sandy Adams, Marshall-DeKalb EC

Photo by Michael Cornelison

Crustless Collard Greens Quiche

  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup half-and-half OR milk (unsweetened plain almond milk is a good non-dairy choice)**
  • ½ teaspoon salt (or to taste)*
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground oregano OR ½ teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped onion OR ¼ teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese, divided (vegan cheese may be used, as long as it will melt)
  • 2 cups chopped, cooked fresh or frozen collard greens, squeezed dry (great use for leftover collard greens)
  • ½ cup chopped fresh mushrooms OR 1 8-ounce can sliced mushrooms
  • ¼ cup chopped bell pepper (optional, but recommended; the jar variety is fine)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Oil a deep-dish pie plate or a large baking dish and set aside. (If using a glass dish, lower oven temperature to 325.) Squeeze as much of the liquid out of the collards as you can. If they’re in large pieces, rough-chop to bite size. In bottom of prepared dish, place greens, mushrooms, peppers and half of the cheese. In large bowl, lightly beat eggs, milk, salt, black pepper, cayenne, oregano and onion or onion powder. Pour egg mixture over greens mixture; sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake 40 to 50 minutes, or until a knife inserted near center comes clean. Let stand approximately 10 minutes before cutting. Serves 8.

Cook’s Note: * Optional: omit salt and cayenne; substitute ½ teaspoon Sriracha salt (or to taste). ** You can use half-and-half, cream, milk or a combination.

Beans and Greens Under Cornbread


  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 large onion, cut into thin wedges
  • 2 15.5-ounce cans great northern beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 10-ounce package frozen chopped turnip greens, kale or collards, thawed and drained (you can also use 1 can greens)
  • ½ cup chopped cooked country ham


  • 1 cup self-rising corn meal mix
  • ½ cup milk
  • ¼ cup oil
  • 1 egg, beaten

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Heat oil in a large (10-inch) cast iron skillet or ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add onion; cook 3-5 minutes or until onion is crisp tender, stirring occasionally. Add all remaining filling ingredients; mix well. Cook 2 to 3 minutes or until thoroughly heated, stirring occasionally. In medium bowl, combine all topping ingredients; stir until smooth. Spoon batter around edge of hot mixture in a baking dish. Bake at 425 for 25-30 minutes or until topping is golden brown. Yields 6 servings.

Cook’s note: This recipe brings together the best of Southern cooking – crispy cornbread, greens, white beans and ham. A friend of mine brought this to a church supper. It is always the first to go. My family prefers turnip greens, but collards are equally as tasty. This is so simple to make and is a complete meal in one dish.

Peggy Key, North Alabama EC

Grits and Greens

  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup stone ground grits
  • ½ to ¼ cup milk
  • 1 pound fresh greens, chopped
  • ¼ cup butter
  • 1 to 1 ½ cups Parmesan cheese
  • ½ to ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • Put whipping cream and 3 cups of chicken broth in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Gradually stir in grits and cover and simmer 25-30 minutes. Cook greens in 1 cup chicken broth until done. Put greens and all other ingredients into grits and continue to cook until blended.

Cole Sledge, Black Warrior EMC

Savory Kale

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 cups bell peppers, red and green, diced
  • 2 tablespoons garlic, minced
  • 4 Roma tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 pound kale greens, fresh, chopped (if frozen greens are used, adjust cooking time)
  • 1 ½ tablespoons chicken seasoning (McKay’s or your favorite)
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce

In a large pot over medium heat, sauté onions and garlic until slightly softened. Then add bell peppers and tomatoes and cook for 2 minutes. Add 3 cups of water. Add Kale greens. Cook until tender, stirring occasionally, for about 40 minutes. Add chicken seasoning and soy sauce. Cook for 5 minutes. Serve hot immediately, later as leftovers, or freeze for future use. Yields 6-8 servings.

DeAnna Holton, Cullman EC

Photo by Michael Cornelison
Photo by Michael Cornelison

Grandmama’s Collards

  • ½ pound smoked pork shank or a ½ pound piece of smoked slab bacon
  • Water
  • Large dishpan full of collards
  • Pinch of baking soda
  • 1 to 1 ½ tablespoons sugar
  • ½ to 1 teaspoon salt (to taste)

Place smoked pork shank or slab of smoked bacon in a large cast iron pot or Dutch oven with 2 quarts water. Bring to a boil and simmer uncovered while you prepare the greens. Wash the greens thoroughly, leaf by leaf. Strip out large ribs and discard; twist the greens into smaller pieces. Drop the greens into the boiling water and smoked pork. Keep punching down until all the greens are added. When they boil up well, add a pinch of baking soda about the size of a pea, and stir well. Add the sugar. Cook slowly, uncovered, at least an hour, stirring and tasting often. (Don’t end with too much water.)

After cooking an hour, and when greens are tender, add salt. Continue simmering and stirring, uncovered, a few more minutes until the taste is even throughout. (Adding salt too early may result in poorly flavored greens. You need time to see how much salt the smoked meat adds to the greens. The hard work of growing and cleaning the vegetable could be wasted, and what a disappointment that would be to hungry families!)

To serve, lift tender greens out of the pot liquor into a serving bowl. Slice through greens to chop evenly. Slice the boiled pork and place on top of the greens. Serve with fresh-baked cornbread and homemade pepper sauce on the side.

Patricia DuBose, Clarke-Washington EMC

Turnip Green Casserole

  • 10 ounces turnip greens, cooked and squeezed dry
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • 3 slices bacon, fried and crumbled
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • ½ sleeve Ritz crackers, crumbled

Combine first six ingredients and pour into casserole dish. Top with cracker crumbs. Bake at 350 degrees until bubbly and crumbs are lightly browned.

Caitlin Tebben, Cullman EC

Potlikker Soup

(serves 4)

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil
  • 1 sweet onion, chopped fine
  • 1 1Ž2 cups black-eyed peas or white beans
  • 1 cup chopped potatoes
  • 1 pound Conecuh sausage, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 4 cups potlikker
  • 2 cups chicken or veggie broth
  • 2 to 3 cups cooked greens or 6 cups fresh greens (torn or chopped roughly)

In a large Dutch oven, heat the oil and add the sausage and onions. Cook over medium-high heat until the sausage browns and the onions are softened. Add the potlikker, broth, greens and beans and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes. If you added fresh greens, cook an additional 35-45 minutes or so to make sure they cook down.

NOTE: If you don’t have any potlikker, but you want to make this soup, you can start from scratch. Cook greens as you normally would. (I highly recommend the Grandmama’s Collards recipe that one of our readers submitted this month.) When they’re done, use a separate pot to follow the directions above. You could just add the sausage and beans to your cooked greens, but I like the flavor I get from browning the sausage with the onions first.

How To: Clean and Prep Your Greens

      • Separate each leaf and stem from the root.
      • Give them all a good rinse individually to remove dirt and grit and pat dry.
      • Stack four or five similar-sized leaves on top of each other on a cutting board with the stems facing away from you. Cut all of the main stems out at once with a knife, cutting in a narrow “V” shape, with the point of the “V” being the top of stem in the leaf.
      • Roll the de-stemmed leaves in a tight roll and chop cross wise, each cut about ½ inch apart.
      • If you want the pieces smaller, pile them up and run your knife through them again in several directions.
      • If you’d like to learn more about the special place that collard greens occupy in Southern history and culture, check out the book Collards, A Southern Tradition from Seed to Table, published by the University of Alabama Press last spring. It’s an engrossing and entertaining look at what collards are, how they grow, why we love them and how we cook them all over the South. It includes recipes but is far more than a cookbook.

Shopping Tips

• Look for deep green color without yellow spots or brown edges.

• Make sure stems are sturdy and leaves aren’t wilting or have major tears.