Southern-style Slow Cooker Vegan Collard Greens Recipe

This time of the year in the United States, we are reminded from every direction about the Southern tradition of eating collard greens and black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day to bring in good luck and financial stability with us into the rest of the year. Today I’m sharing my slow cooker vegan collard greens recipe with you to help your new year start off right!

Classic Southern slow cooker vegan collard greens recipeSince I’m a Russian who’s only lived in the US for the past seven years, I still find new American traditions all the time. The flavor of classic Southern collard greens is especially dear to me because it reminds me of something that I used to eat in the kindergarten long, long time ago when the Soviet Union still existed.

My taste memory is very strong – I might not remember what exactly that kindergarten dish was (clearly it was some type of greens), but when I first tasted American collard greens a few years ago, the flavors brought me right back to my childhood.

Classic vegan Southern collard greens recipeCollard greens are closely related to cabbage and kale and are loaded with nutrition: they contain lots of vitamins A, C, K, as well as nutrients like calcium, iron, folates, etc. Soluble and insoluble fiber in collards helps clear out our arteries from LDL (bad) cholesterol and our intestines from all kinds of gunk. In addition to all this goodness, collard greens are rich in cancer-fighting phytonutrients that inhibit the growth and spreading of cancer cells.

Not long ago I got a hold of a huge bunch of collard greens from a local vegetable store, so I decided to experiment with cooking them in a slow cooker.

Prepping the large and thick collard leaves may seem like a labor-consuming feat, but in fact it doesn’t have to be. The tricky part is to wash off the lingering bits of dirt and sand. I found that the best way to achieve this is to give the leaves a quick cold water bath in a clean kitchen sink.

How to wash collard greensI also added 2 Tbsp of white vinegar to the water for a better clean, and gave the leaves a good stir with my hands (rubber gloves optional).

Once the leaves were clean, I took them out and shook the water off (the leaves don’t have to be completely dry at this step). I then stacked a few leaves on a cutting board, lining their central stems together, and cut the stems out. This step is optional but highly recommended to get a uniform texture in the cooked collard greens.

How to cook Southern collard greens in a slow cookerThe classic recipe for Southern collard greens calls for cooking them with bacon, a ham hock, or some other smoked animal part. This adds lots of unhealthy fats to a dish that can otherwise be very healthy, so naturally I decided to reinvent the recipe to make it healthier and vegan-friendly.

To make sure my collards still came out with a classic smoky flavor, I added a tiny bit of liquid smoke at the end (similar to this gourmet version from Amazon).

How to make Classic Southern collard greens recipe in a slow cookerAlternatively, you can sprinkle your collards with good smoked paprika (here’s a delicious Spanish smoked paprika brand), or use the liquid smoke and paprika together if you’re a big fan of smoky flavors!

Classic Southern collard greens in a slow cooker recipeNot a fan of collard greens because of their slightly bitter taste? A little tip: collards lose their bitterness and become sweeter after the first frost of the winter – the same goes for most greens in the cabbage family.

Still not a fan? Use other types of greens for this recipe – cabbage, kale, turnip greens (more bitter than collards though) all work for the Southern New Year’s good luck tradition!

Classic Southern collard greens recipe | vegan collard greensUPDATE July 2015: This recipe has been approved by Dr. Michael Greger of Nutrition to be a part of his healthy plant-based recipe directory!

Vegan Collard Greens in a Slow Cooker

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 3-4 hrs

Yield: 6 servings

Vegan Collard Greens in a Slow Cooker


  • 10 cups chopped collard greens (about one large bunch)
  • 1 large yellow onion, sliced
  • 5-6 garlic cloves, sliced or minced
  • 1 cup water/vegetable broth (plus more if needed)
  • 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp smoked paprika (mild or hot, to taste)
  • 1 Tbsp chili powder
  • 1/4 Tbsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 Tbsp white vinegar - to clean the collard leaves only!
  • Finishing ingredients:
  • 1/2 tsp liquid smoke
  • Low sodium soy sauce, to taste
  • Black pepper, to taste
  • Equipment:
  • 6-quart slow cooker (I use this classic Crock Pot slow cooker)


    Cleaning and chopping the collards:
  1. Fill up a clean sink halfway with cool water. Add 2 Tbsp of white vinegar. Put the whole collard leaves into the water, stir them for a couple minutes with your hands or a big spoon - this removes any of the sand or dirt that may have stuck to the leaves.
  2. Once the leaves are clean, take them out and remove the thick central stem.
  3. After the stems are removed, chop all of the leaves into 1-inch squares or strips. Collards will wilt quite a bit during cooking, so there's no need to chop them more finely.
  4. Setting up the crock pot:
  5. Spray the bowl of your slow cooker lightly with cooking spray, add all of the ingredients except the finishing ones, lightly mix and cover with a lid.
  6. Set the slow cooker on low for 3-4 hours. Ideally, you might need to stir the greens once or twice during this time, but if you can't, they will cook just fine without stirring.
  7. About 10 minutes before the end, add the finishing ingredients, adjusting the flavors to taste.


A classic Southern side dish, this version of collard greens is vegan, almost completely fat-free, and still has a nice smoky flavor! Serve with black-eyed peas on New Year's Day to bring in luck and financial stability into your home for the rest of the year!

As for black-eyed peas to complete the traditional Southern New Year’s Day feast, you can find lots of recipes online. Here are a couple from one of my favorite vegan blogs,

Creole Black-Eyed Peas (a Louisiana classic)

Black-Eyed Pea Masala (with an Indian twist)

Nigerian Savory Black-Eyed Pea Cakes

Spicy Collards and Black-Eyed Pea Soup

Question of the Day: Do you follow the Southern tradition of eating collard greens and black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day? Are there any other food traditions in the area where you live?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments! And happy New Year to you and your family!

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About Alina Zavatsky - Vegan Runner Eats

Alina first made a switch to a vegan diet in 2013 to optimize her athletic performance as a marathon runner. Being vegan eventually opened her eyes on the issues of animal welfare, environmental protection, human rights and feminism. Alina hopes that her blog will help its readers on their path to making this world a better place.

24 Responses to Southern-style Slow Cooker Vegan Collard Greens Recipe

  1. Melodie says:

    Wow, I just made this today, and it is awesome! I only had frozen mustard greens and spinach, so I assume it would only be more wonderful with fresh collards. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Andrea says:

    Thank you for sharing this recipe! I made this on new year’s day for vegetarian guests. The spices were right on (I didn’t miss the smoked ham hock at all). I did use an extra cup of vegetable broth instead and simmered on stove to cut down on time. Still the flavor was fantastic!

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  4. Mari says:

    Thanks for the recipe!
    Mine are cooking as we speak. I used some smoked salt too. I used coconut aminos instead of soy sauce. We shall see!

  5. Patricia says:

    My greens were so bitter and vinegary I had to throw the whole pot away! What did I do wrong?

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  19. nikita says:

    Thank you for the recipe (I had been looking for a vegan crock pot recipe because I had so many collards in my garden)!!! I just washed mine in water and omitted the vinegar in the cooking. I added some extra water, a green pepper from my garden and mushrooms. I also omitted the liquid smoke and soy sauce. Before we ate, I added aduki beans (you could add whatever beans you want) and some vegan sausage for protein!!! Yum, it was delicious!!!

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