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. I don’t know where this tradition originated, but I’ve sure seen huge piles of dried black-eyed peas on sale in every Southern Alabama grocery store I’ve stopped by in the past few days. Southern people make no secret of how much they love their traditions!
Since 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.
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. The process turned out to be easy: the only labor-intensive part was cleaning and chopping the collard leaves, which I described below.
The classic recipe for Southern collard greens calls for cooking them with bacon, a ham hock, or some other smoked meat. 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). 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!
UPDATE July 2015: This recipe has been approved by Dr. Michael Greger of Nutrition Facts.org to be a part of his healthy plant-based recipe directory!
- 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!
- 1/2 tsp liquid smoke
- Low sodium soy sauce, to taste
- Black pepper, to taste
- 6-quart slow cooker (I use this classic Crock Pot slow cooker)
- 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.
- Once the leaves are clean, take them out and remove the thick central stem. Your leaves will look like this:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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, FatFreeVegan.com:
Creole Black-Eyed Peas (a Louisiana classic)
Black-Eyed Pea Masala (with an Indian twist)
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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