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Smoky Southern-style Slow Cooker Vegan Collard Greens Recipe

Today I’m sharing my slow cooker vegan collard greens recipe that’s quickly become one of the most popular recipes here on the blog. These healthy meatless collard greens are gluten free, dairy free (no butter), and suitable both for vegan and vegetarian diets.

Smoky Southern style slow cooker collard greens - meatless, vegan, vegetarian, dairy free, gluten free

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.

Since I’m a Russian who’s only lived in the US for the past few 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.

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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.

Smoky Southern style vegan slow cooker collard greens recipe - dairy free, gluten free

Collard 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.

How to Prep and Cook Vegan Slow Cooker Collard Greens

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.

Washing collard greens to make vegan slow cooker collard greens recipe

I 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 cut collard greens to make slow cooker collard greens

The 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.

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 (this is my go-to liquid smoke brand of choice).

How to make meatless vegetarian collard greens in a slow cooker

Alternatively, 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!

Not 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.

By the way, if you don’t want to wait till your slow cooker leafy greens are done and would rather have something quick, check out my recipe for easy sauteed kale and onions with balsamic reduction – it’s made on the stovetop in no time!

Vegetarian collard greens recipe in a slow cooker - meat free, dairy free, gluten free side dish recipe

What Can I Serve with Vegan Slow Cooker Collard Greens?

These vegan collard greens make a delicious side dish for baked BBQ tofu, homemade BBQ seitan or BBQ chickpeas. If you’re putting together the whole Southern style New Year’s Day feast, try them with my easy Instant Pot black eyed peas!

It also pairs well with other vegan side dishes like my easy vegan mashed potatoes, chipotle coleslaw or poppyseed coleslaw, roasted butternut squash, or smoky roasted Brussels sprouts for a delicious fall-inspired comfort food feast.

If you’re making this recipe for your Thanksgiving dinner, don’t forget my creamy dairy-free vegan green bean casserole!

UPDATE July 2015: This recipe has been approved by Dr. Michael Greger of Nutrition to be a part of his healthy plant-based recipe directory!

Yield: 6 servings

Slow Cooker Vegan Collard Greens Recipe

Classic vegan slow cooker collard greens recipe

This easy slow cooker vegan collard greens recipe yields delicious, smoky Southern-style collard greens without the need for meat or oil. A little bit of liquid smoke and smoked paprika goes a long way. Serve with classic vegan comfort food staples like baked beans, vegan mac n cheese, cornbread, etc.

Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 4 hours
Total Time 4 hours 20 minutes


  • 10 cups chopped collard greens (about one large bunch)
  • 2 Tbsp white vinegar - to clean the collard leaves only!
  • 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

Finishing ingredients:

  • 1/2 tsp liquid smoke
  • Low sodium soy sauce, to taste
  • Black pepper, to taste



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.How to wash collard greens
  2. Once the leaves are clean, take them out and remove the thick central stem: stack a few leaves on top of each other with stems aligned, then cut it out with a sharp knife.Cutting collards before cooking them in a slow cooker
  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 cut them smaller.

Setting up the crock pot:

  1. 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.How to make Classic Southern collard greens recipe in a slow cooker
  2. 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.
  3. About 10 minutes before the end, add the finishing ingredients, adjusting the flavors to taste.

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Nutrition Information:



Serving Size:


Amount Per Serving: Calories: 127Total Fat: 3gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 174mgCarbohydrates: 22gFiber: 14gSugar: 2gProtein: 10g

Please note that the provided nutritional information data is approximate.

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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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Thursday 23rd of December 2021

Hi! I was never a "greens" girl as I lived up north and really never grew up with them. Since moving south, and finding the "vegan" route, I try to incorporate greens as much as I can. It took awhile,but I don't hate them anymore, the more I tried them, the easier it got, especially since I found your recipe. Even my grandson says not bad. Thank you for allllllll you do.

Alina Zavatsky - Vegan Runner Eats

Wednesday 29th of December 2021

Thank you Joan, glad you liked this recipe!

Kayla Thompson

Monday 11th of November 2019

I found this recipe years ago and never looked back. I still use this literally every other week, it is the best! My husband had never had greens before and looves it, thank you for sharing this!

Alina Zavatsky - Vegan Runner Eats

Monday 11th of November 2019

Love hearing that, Kayla, thank you for letting me know!


Saturday 29th of December 2018

I have made this recipe twice and it has been a big hit with my family. The second time, the collards were more bitter, so I added a Tbsp of maple syrup and a tsp of turbinado sugar. It really helped. Thanks for the great recipe, Nikita!

Alina Zavatsky - Vegan Runner Eats

Sunday 30th of December 2018

Glad to hear that, Paige!


Tuesday 24th of October 2017

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!!!


Monday 14th of September 2020

Nothing like the original recipe. Why even comment when your recipe is nothing like the recipe posted?

Alina Zavatsky - Vegan Runner Eats

Tuesday 24th of October 2017

Wow, sounds delicious, Nikita!


Friday 11th of December 2015

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


Wednesday 14th of July 2021

You can try toning down the vinegar and blanching instead.


Monday 14th of December 2015

Sorry to hear that, Patricia! Maybe there was too much vinegar?

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