Tradition is in the soil collard greens grow in; making them an inherently social dish. In the South, collard greens also represent folded dollar bills and bring good fortune in the New Year. My Smoked Turkey Collard Greens are an anticipated dish at our annual New Year’s Day brunch party. The exception to any collard green joy is my NJ carnivore husband who has never and will never eat cooked greens, no matter how much heat or meat I add.
The first time I made collard greens was less than a decade ago when our young family was new to Atlanta. To give our children the gift of empathy, we often offered to make dinner for 60 at the transitional couple’s shelter on the grounds of our synagogue. The menu I always made reflected my goal to serve Southern homey food and included chicken and biscuits, collard greens, cheesy grits, fresh cantaloupe, and banana pudding. The residents told our family they welcomed the familiarity of the meal as a break from the casserole surprises they (gratefully) ate most nights. The collard greens in particular seemed to evoke an emotional reaction. I was honored my version of the collard greens was able to stir memories of home and family for folks working so hard to right their lives.
I am fussy about using whole leaves for this recipe. Destemming then cutting whole collard leaves is the best way to enjoy the greens without the unpleasant and jarring tough or stringy pieces often found in the bagged greens. In a pinch, if bagged leaves are used, pick out the bigger stems before cooking. There are gadgets to destem greens, but running a knife along both sides of the stem is the easiest way to do this.
Smoked turkey wings are a popular alternative to ham hocks which typically flavor collard greens. This week I queued up at the meat counter to buy the smoked turkey and noticed everyone’s buggy had a variation of black-eyed peas, collards, grits, and bubbly drinks in them.
For additional flavor, I add a few not-so traditional ingredients like pomegranate molasses to my collard greens. Smoked paprika gets added to pretty much all my smoky dishes for the peppery sweetness it brings. My tendency for giving food a sweet and sour spin is highlighted with the apple cider vinegar, molasses, brown sugar, and the tart pomegranate molasses. Red pepper flakes add a little zing. The ultimate heat level is individualized by serving collard greens with Tabasco; another Southern thing to do.
The flavorful collard cooking broth is much beloved and is called potlikker (aka pot likker or pot liquor). To maximize flavor, served the collard greens and potlikkker with creamy stone ground grits or cornbread for an authentically Southern way to bring happiness and wealth in the New Year!
Southern Smoked Turkey Collard Greens
Collard greens (10 cups – leaves cleaned, stems removed and roughly chopped into 2” pieces)
2 Tbs olive or grapeseed oil
1 large onion (~1 cup) cut into small dice
2 Tbs minced garlic
2 tsp salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp smoked paprika
pinch red pepper flakes
2 tsp Worcestershire Sauce
2 tsp pomegranate molasses (optional if it is difficult to find where you live)
1/3 cup molasses
1 Tbs dark brown sugar
¾ cup apple cider vinegar
1 lb smoked turkey wings – chopped into 3-4” pieces (the folks at the meat counter will typically do this for you if asked)
3 cups chicken stock (plus 1/2 cup to have on hand if needed)
Tabasco to taste
- In a heavy pan over medium heat sauté onions in oil until soft and translucent – about 5 minutes
- Add garlic and sauté 1 minute more until fragrant but not brown
- Add salt, black pepper, smoked paprika, red pepper flakes, Worcestershire Sauce, pomegranate molasses, molasses, brown sugar and apple cider vinegar. Bring to a boil and add collard greens a handful at a time until they all fit in pot. Reduce heat to a low.
- When collard greens are all wilted add smoked turkey pieces and stir.
- Cook 1 ½ hours, stirring occasionally until collard greens are tender but not yet soft and mushy. Add more chicken stock if needed to keep collard greens saucy. Remove turkey pieces and cool. Discard bone and skin and return turkey meat to collard greens. Mix.
- Served with Tabasco, salt and pepper.
Vegetarian Collard Green Variation: Make recipe as directed and omit turkey wings and chicken stock. Use vegetable broth or water to cook the collard greens. Increase smoked paprika to 1 1/2 tsp and add 1/2 tsp pure liquid smoke.