Make a pot of Soul Food collard greens the old school way braised with smoked turkey and aromatics in a rich and flavorful potlikker! This one-pot recipe is a uniquely Black American dish that started as innovation and became tradition.
And if you enjoy this recipe, you'll love my Soul Food power bowls made with quick-cooked greens!
- Why are collard greens Soul Food?
- A Note on Potlikker
- Why You'll Love this Recipe
- What You'll Need for this Recipe
- Substitutions & Variations
- How to Make Collard Greens from Scratch
- Frequently Asked Questions
- How to Serve
- Are collard greens PCOS friendly?
- More Favorite Soul Food Recipes
- Soul Food Collard Greens with Smoked Turkey
Why are collard greens Soul Food?
Despite performing the forced labor that built the agricultural prosperity of the American South, enslaved African Americans were restricted to growing only a few select crops for themselves. The collard green was among these crops and likely resembled the West African greens they had experience cultivating and cooking.
Historically, greens have been cooked with preserved meat like ham hocks and/or bones to add flavor and heartiness. So the braised collard green dish represents making something from nothing, using ingredients previously regarded as scraps or less than, to create comfort in a bowl!
A Note on Potlikker
Also called pot likker, pot likka, or pot liquor, this rich and tasty liquid is the sum of the flavors and ingredients used to cook down greens, beans, and other southern foods. Whatever pot liquor doesn't get slurped up with these greens, can make a great soup or gravy base--just how you would use any broth.
Why You'll Love this Recipe
Simple Quality Ingredients - Everything in this collard greens recipe can be found at a typical American grocery store or farmers market. You probably have several items on hand!
Full of Fiber and Vitamins - Don't fall for the trope of the African American heritage diet being unhealthy. Traditional collard greens are made with whole food ingredients and each one serves a purpose because the dish was born out of invention.
Layers of Flavor - Since collard greens have a longer cook time, they get steeped in flavor and I have a couple flavor tricks to share that make these the best collards you'll taste.
We love Soul Food classics around here, like my seafood cornbread dressing representing the Third Coast or my Great Great Aunt Georgia's peach cobbler. And don't forget the candied sweet potatoes or baked mac & cheese!
What You'll Need for this Recipe
Collard Greens - Look for greens that are firm (not wilted) and medium to dark green. You can use pre-chopped greens for ease but either way I recommend cleaning them very well.
Smoked Turkey - Smoked and tougher cuts of meat take time to become tender just like collard greens so they work perfectly. You can use smoked turkey drums, turkey necks, turkey wings, turkey tails--whatever you can find.
Garlic and Onion as well as garlic powder and onion powder for an extra oomph of flavor in the pot liquor!
Apple Cider Vinegar and Brown Sugar add sweet and sour flavor notes that help counteract the inherent bitterness of greens. We're only adding a little so don't worry.
And save those bones to make leftover turkey bone broth at home!
Check out the recipe card below for full ingredients list, measurements, nutrition facts, and step-by-step instructions!
Substitutions & Variations
Stock or Broth - Any kind of poultry stock will do including turkey broth, chicken stock, or even a bone broth.
Brown Sugar - You can use a different kind of sweetener like coconut sugar, maple syrup or honey if you don't have brown sugar on hand.
Vegan - Make your vegan southern greens without meat by using vegetable broth and omitting the turkey. I recommend adding up to one teaspoon of liquid smoke to capture some of the smoky flavor the turkey would normally provide.
How to Make Collard Greens from Scratch
Step One: Wash your collard greens thoroughly then remove the stems, and chop them.
Step Two: Sauté onions, bell pepper, and garlic in spices and olive oil.
Pro Tip #1: To quickly de-stem collard greens, grasp the end of the stem firmly in one hand, then grip the base of the leaf with the other. You should be holding the green at an angle with the stem end angled upward and the leaf end angled downward. Pinch your fingers as you pull the leaf downward, ripping it from the stem. You might have to repeat this a few times to get all the leaf off but you'll get cleaner (and faster) results as you practice!
Pro Tip #2: Make quicker work of chopping collard greens by stacking the cleaned and stemmed leaves on top of each other and folding to chop several leaves at once.
Pro Tip #3: Cooking the aromatics in spices helps to deepen and infuse the flavor throughout the finished dish. This is also called "blooming" the spices.
Step Three: Add stock or broth and smoked turkey drums to pot, bring to a boil then reduce and simmer.
Step Four: Remove the turkey then add the greens, brown sugar, and apple cider vinegar to pot.
Pro Tip #4: Mix then greens in so that they get tossed in the pot liquor and start to wilt.
Step Five: Remove the turkey from the bones and cut or shred into desired size pieces.
Step Six: Return turkey to pot, cover, and braise for up to one hour.
Pro Tip #5: You can use a fork and knife or two forks to shred the turkey.
Frequently Asked Questions
You can prepare collard greens with smoked meat up to three days in advance, store in the refrigerator, and reheat when ready to serve.
Store cooked collards in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to seven days. Note that because of the collagen from the turkey, the pot likker will congeal and thicken when chilled. It will liquefy again once heated.
To freeze collard greens after cooking, allow them cool to room temperature then transfer the greens and pot likker to an airtight, freezer safe container. Store for up to six months.
How to Serve
Collard greens are a Soul Food staple often served at soulful Sunday dinners and holidays. And Black Americans typically enjoy greens as part of the traditional New Year's meal with black eyed peas and cornbread.
Greens represent prosperity and abundance. Southern black eyed peas are for good luck and the gold color of cornbread is supposed to represent wealth.
Whether you're enjoying them on a holiday or a regular day, it is just good manners to serve collard greens with hot sauce.
Are collard greens PCOS friendly?
Dark, leafy greens like collard greens are helpful for managing PCOS since they're high in fiber, which can slow digestion and helps to keep blood sugar balanced (CNet).
Collards are also a good source of antioxidants, and essential vitamins and minerals like folate that fight inflammation and support reproductive health (Medical News Today).
As a Black woman with PCOS, I love that many of my heritage foods are actually beneficial for my health, despite what stereotypes might imply. Check out my full collection of recipes for PCOS!
More Favorite Soul Food Recipes
I hope you'll enjoy southern collard greens with smoked turkey soon and very soon. And sharing is caring so be sure to pin this Black folks collard greens recipe for later and follow me over on Pinterest. Thanks for reading!
Soul Food Collard Greens with Smoked Turkey
- 1 knife
- 1 stock pot four quarts or larger
- 1 kitchen spoon
- 2 forks or a knife and fork
- 2 bunches collard greens
- 1 ½ tablespoon olive oil
- 1 bell pepper red, yellow or orange preferred
- ½ onion white or yellow
- 6 cloves garlic
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- Black pepper to taste
- Sea salt to taste
- 2 pounds smoked turkey drums, tails, wings, neck, etc.
- 3 cups chicken stock or broth
- 1 ½ tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 2 teaspoons brown sugar
- Hot sauce to taste
- Wash collard greens thoroughly then remove stems and chop the leaves. I recommend stacking the leaves on top of each others, cutting into four strips lengthwise, then cutting the strips into pieces.
- Add olive oil to pot over medium heat. Meanwhile, dice the bell pepper and onion and mince or crush the garlic.
- Add onion and bell pepper to heated oil, followed by onion powder, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, black pepper, and sea salt. Cook until mixture is fragrant and onions are just about translucent then add in garlic and cook for one more minute.
- Add smoked turkey and stock or broth to pot then bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer and bubble for about 20 minutes then remove turkey from the pot.
- Add collard greens, apple cider vinegar, and brown sugar to the pot and stir to cover with the liquid.
- Shred the meat from the turkey bones the stir into the pot. Collard greens should be starting to wilt at the point. Cover and reduce heat to medium low and simmer for up to one hour, depending on your desired texture.
- Serve with hot sauce.