Recipe: Our Very Best Vegetarian Collard Greens

Recipe: Our Very Best Vegetarian Collard Greens

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Chadwick Boyd
Feb 24, 2017
(Image credit: Guy Ambrosino )

My mama has been a vegetarian for the last couple decades, so cooking greens in pork will not fly at my family functions. That doesn't mean, however, that greens have to be devoid of flavor. Vegetarians can enjoy a pot of collards as much as their swine-loving kin.

These peppery vegetarian collard greens will satisfy anyone with a taste for Southern greens, but are tailored to delight all "vegivores," including those who prefer to leave out the meat.

(Image credit: Guy Ambrosino)

No Pork? No Problem: Cooking Collards Without Meat

Just like ham-flavored versions, these greens are cooked down in a cast iron skillet to wilt and meld with soft, sweet onion, garlic, and stock.

It's the finish, though, that sets these greens distinctly apart. Rather than a splash of pepper vinegar, which graces almost every Southern table, the pepper vinegar is turned into a vinaigrette with chopped bits of the peppers, golden honey, and black pepper. It's got a nice, spicy kick that keeps you coming back for bite after bite! For a little crunch and salt, peanuts are sprinkled on top for a perfect Southern finish.

A Peppery Vinaigrette

These vegetarian greens are packed with flavor, thanks to a simple, clever vinaigrette made with the peppers and vinegar from pepper sauce, which graces the table of nearly every kitchen and restaurant in the American South. I like Texas Pete brand, mostly because I am fascinated by the tiny green Tabasco peppers in the jar, but also because of how they infuse the tart vinegar with fiery flavor, which makes bitter greens rock.

Find it: Texas Pete Pepper Sauce at Amazon

Golden honey, black pepper, ultra-sweet Vidalia onions, and salted peanuts – all commonly found in a Southern pantry – are used in this recipe, too, adding balance, depth, and texture to these hearty, satisfying greens.

(Image credit: Guy Ambrosino)

Great Collard Greens Deserve Cornbread

Collards are not complete without cornbread to sop up the salty, rich liquid lingering on the bottom of the cast iron pan or swirling in your bowl. I like to whip up my grandmother Clara's cornbread recipe and pop it in the oven just before cooking these collards so it is golden and ready to be cut into wedges as soon as the greens are done.

This cornbread recipe is foolproof and is of the more traditional "no sugar" kind — a palatable and pleasant accomplice to these luscious, spicy greens.

(Image credit: Guy Ambrosino)

Salty-Sweet Vegetarian Collard Greens with Cornbread

Serves 4 to 6

For the cornbread:
Cooking spray, bacon fat, or butter
1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
1 cup yellow cornmeal
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1 cup whole milk
2 large eggs
1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted

For the collard greens:
2 bunches collard greens (about 3 pounds total)
1/4 cup canola oil
1 large sweet or yellow onion, very thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons pepper vinegar, such as Texas Pete
3/4 tablespoon peppers from the vinegar, chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped roasted, salted peanuts

Make the cornbread: Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 425°F. Coat a 10-inch cast iron skillet or 8x8-inch baking pan with cooking spray, or grease with bacon fat or butter.

Whisk the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl.

Whisk the milk, eggs, and butter in a medium bowl until well-blended. Pour into the dry ingredients. Mix with a wooden spoon until all the ingredients just come together (do not overmix). Pour into the skillet or baking pan and spread into an even layer.

Bake until the top is golden-brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Meanwhile, make the collards. When the cornbread is ready, place the pan on a wire cooling rack.

Make the collards: Trim the stem ends of the collard greens. Stack the leaves on top of each other, one bunch at a time, and cut crosswise into 1-inch-wide strips; set aside.

Heat a large 12-inch skillet, preferably cast iron, over medium-high heat. Add the oil and heat for 1 minute. Add the onion and garlic and sauté, seasoning with 3/4 teaspoon of the salt and 1/2 teaspoon of the pepper halfway through cooking, until soft and slightly brown, 7 to 10 minutes total.

Add the collards in handfuls, tossing to wilt, for 2 to 3 minutes. Stir the onions and collards until fully combined. Add the broth and cook, stirring occasionally, until the greens are soft and the liquid has mostly evaporated, 15 to 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk the honey, pepper vinegar, chopped peppers, remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper together in a small bowl. Pour the dressing over the greens when they are ready. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. Top with the peanuts and serve with the cornbread.

Recipe Notes

  • Make ahead: Clean and chop the greens, then wrap them in a damp paper towel inside a large, resealable plastic bag. Refrigerate until ready to cook. Make the pepper sauce dressing a couple hours or a few days in advance. Store it in a glass jar with a lid and then shake just before pouring over the greens.
  • Storage: Leftover collards can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Leftover cornbread can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days.
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