I’m going to give it to you straight- I, honestly, have no idea what makes these greens “Country Style”. Most of my childhood was set in suburban/inner-city areas. But, when I think of “Country Style” food I think of food that is slow-cooked, wholesome, and tastes of love. As such, I think my slow cooker Country Style Collard Greens have earned their moniker.
Country Style Means Love
You can taste when someone has prepared a dish with love. Usually, food that is made by a person who wanted to make it tastes amazing. Food made begrudgingly tastes, well, not so amazing. These greens are slow cooked with minimal babysitting, which means you’re not fussing over them in irritation. That also means they taste of your love.
I have loads of people who come to Thanksgiving dinner- no exaggeration. Although my husband is on leave preparing for retirement, his former Soldiers (as well as we) have become accustomed to our annual Thanksgiving dinner. These Soldiers can’t always go home for the holidays, so we make our home theirs. That means I need to prepare ample amounts of food, with limited space, for people who like to eat. Part of how I accomplish my mission is by preparing and freezing dishes that taste better as they sit- these greens. I also use my slow cooker to make foods that require long periods of cooking- again, these greens. This frees up my stove and ovens for other dishes.
A spice blend (seasoned salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper), sugar, fresh garlic and chopped onions, smoked turkey wings, and collard greens are all you need. Oh! You’ll also need slow cooker.
Culture and Food
If you haven’t heard, I’m bi-racial. My father is African-American from New Jersey, my mother was Puerto Rican by way of Brooklyn, NY. Because I didn’t have much contact with the black side of my family, I had to educate myself on my black culture on my own. Growing up in a very diverse neighborhood afforded me what my home did not- exposure to traditionally black dishes. Collard greens made by a black grandmother are untouchable. After doing research, it was easy to see that the slaves of our Southern states- as cooks- influenced a lot of what we have come to know as “Southern/Soul Food”. In fact, they were its creator.
In spite of my ancestor’s migration from South Carolina to New Jersey, they still managed to hold fast to those foods they grew up eating. As the descendants of slaves and share-croppers, food like these collard greens kept them close to their roots. Unfortunately, I wasn’t handed down the recipe. So, I did what I always do and figured it out on my own.
Collard greens (as with most broad, leafy greens) are tough if they’re not cooked low and slow. You may not think so to look at the thin leaf, but take one bite of a hastily stewed collard, and you’ll know. Anywhere from six to eight hours is the optimal time for slow-cooking a batch of collard greens.
The plant grows from the ground in the same way cabbage or lettuce does. Leaves can grow a couple of feet high, year round, but their season is late autumn and winter. This is when they’ll taste best. They have bitter flavor, which I offset with the addition of sugar. Look for dark green leaves with minimal yellowing and insect bites. You want leaves that are firm, not wilted, or velvety soft. The stem, when broken, should snap and not bend, or feel rubbery.
Prepping the Greens
If you really want to make country style greens, scrub your sink with dish soap and very hot water. Make sure to scrub well in the crevices where the drain is. Rinse the sink of all suds, then fill your kitchen sink with bleach water. Allow this solution to sterilize the sink for a minute or two. Drain the bleach water, and rinse the sink out again with warm water. Make sure to rinse the sink out thoroughly to eliminate any residual bleach. The sink is the most common way great- and grandmothers washed their greens. It provides lots of space for the dirt to be washed away and settle at the bottom of the sink. You can also pull out the largest bowl you own, and fill it with water, instead.
Use your hands to tear off the ends of the collard green stems. This is a quick way to separate the leaves.
I grab the sides of the broad leaf and bend them away from the stem (see image).
Pinching the leaf together close to the underside of the stem, I use my opposite hand to pull the stem up and away from the leaf. This may take some practice to get the stem off cleanly, but the goal is just to separate the stem from the leaf.
Once I have de-stemmed the leaves, I tear them into one to one-and-a-half inch pieces. Tiny leaves will have tender stems, in the case of those, I just tear the leaves with the stems. The stems aren’t good for much except composting, or for using (in small quantities) in a vegetable broth. You can save them for those purposes, or just discard them.
Cleaning Greens is a MUST
I know of people who don’t feel the need to clean their produce. Since I’m not put on this earth to judge, I won’t. I will, however, say I don’t trust people enough not to wash my produce before cooking or eating it. Not only do I need to remove any pesticides sprayed on these greens, I need to rid them of grit and dirt. Collards grow well in loose, sandy types of soil, which is collected along with the leaves when the greens are harvested. There’s nothing worse than getting a mouthful of grit when you’re eating greens. Like, a root canal doesn’t even compare. And don’t let them taste good!! You’ll be madder than a three-legged dog trying to bury a turd on an icy pond. No, sir. Not me. Wash ’em.
To ensure your greens won’t piss anyone off, submerge them in your sink (or bowlful) of cold water and agitate the water to shake loose that grit. I like to pretend that I’m “shampooing” the leaves by gently rubbing them between my hands. Not too roughly, but enough to rub off the dirt.
This is my water following the first wash. YECH, right?!?!? I repeat the washing process two more times. If you’re not feeling the triple-wash deal, just buy the collards bagged. Usually, bagged collards are triple-washed. If you choose the bagged variety, just skip this washing step.
Flavoring the Greens
I’m a huuuge fan of flavor. Flavorless food annoys the crap out of me, to be quite honest. Don’t talk to me ’bout no, “Add one clove of garlic to your dish,” because I’m going to read that as I need to add three. Don’t play with me. To inject flavor into my greens, I use smoked turkey wings (legs also work). Smoked ham hocks are what I used to use, but because I have such a variety of people attending Thanksgiving dinner, I now make them pork-free. If you don’t need to worry about that, feel free to substitute pork for the turkey. The smoked meats transfers its flavor to the greens and adds an additional layer of flavor. If you have a vegan, or vegetarian, coming to dinner, omit the smoked meat and substitute vegetable broth for the chicken broth, instead.
Because I want that flavor to permeate the entire batch of greens, I layer the wings and the greens in my slow cooker. Make a bed using half the greens and place the half of the wings on top.
Add your chopped onions, garlic, and the chicken stock. Don’t use too much liquid because you want the greens to simmer. If they stew, they’ll become water-logged and soupy.
Season with the sugar, spice blend, and the white vinegar.
Top with the rest of the greens and the wings you may have left.
Begin Cooking the Greens
Cover the greens. Don’t worry if the greens are barely fitting into the slow cooker, they’ll wilt down a crazy amount within an hour, so you’ll be fine. Set your slow cooker’s timer to six hours on low or medium-low and go about your life. Check in every once in awhile, and give the greens a stir. This ensures the top layer of greens is getting as much love as the bottom.
The greens won’t be cooked in six hours, but that six hour mark is the baseline for checking in on the greens more frequently. After you’ve reached that six hour point, taste-test every hour (up to a max cooking time of nine hours) to see if the greens are tender. A tender green doesn’t offer resistance when you bite into it (like a bagel does), but is tender like a wilted spinach leaf.
Serve Directly from the Slow Cooker, or Freeze for Later
Once the greens are fully cooked, remove the turkey (or pork) from the greens and allow the meat to cool slightly. Once you can handle them, remove the meat from the bones and stir the meat back into the greens.
Here’s what I love about this Country Style Collard Greens recipe- you can either transfer it to a fancy-schmancy serving dish (as pictured), serve it directly from the slow cooker (it is country style, after all), or bag it to freeze for later. These greens are like lasagna or stew, in that the longer they sit, the better they taste. If I plan to serve them for Thanksgiving, I bag and freeze them lying flat; then I store them upright when they’ve frozen solid. On Turkey Day, I pull them out of the freezer the night before and allow them to thaw in the fridge. Since they’re fully cooked, they only need to be warm through- which I can do after the the turkey and pernil have been pulled out of the ovens. Just give them a stir during their warming period to make sure it’s completely hot throughout.
Pin, and Enjoy
This Country Style Collard Greens recipe is a must for Thanksgiving Day. A must, I say! (dropping dope beats, what what?!?!) Pin this recipe to add to your holiday meal plan.
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Country Style Collard Greens
- 5 pounds fresh collard greens, or 4 pounds pre-washed bagged greens
- 3 pounds smoked turkey wings or drumsticks
- 1 large white onion, peeled and chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
- 1/2 cup chicken stock
- 1 tablespoon seasoned salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons white vinegar
Prep and Wash the Greens
- If you choose the bagged variety, just skip to the "Assembling the Greens" step .
- Fill your cleaned kitchen sink, or a very large bowl, with cold water.
- Separate the stems from the collard's leaves, then discard the stems. Tear the into 1-1 1/2" pieces, and submerge them in your sink (or bowlful) of cold water.
- Agitate the water to shake loose any grit from the leaves. Repeat this washing process two more times. Drain the greens in a strainer.
Assemble the Greens for Cooking
- In a large (7-10 qt) slow cooker, create a bed using half the greens, and place half of the wings on top (if you have multiple wings). If you only have two wings in your package, place them both in now.
- Add the onions, garlic, and the chicken stock. Season with the sugar, seasoned salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes, and the white vinegar.
- Cover with the remaining greens and the any wings you may have left.
Cook the Greens
- Place the lid on the slow cooker, pressing down if the greens are higher than the top of the slow cooker's insert. They'll wilt down within an hour of cooking, so this is okay.
- Cook the greens for 6 hours on low or medium-low. Check in after a couple of hours and give the greens a stir.
- After the greens have cooked for 6 hours, stir and continue cooking, until the greens are tender- no more than 9 hours of total cook time. Stir the greens every hour and check for tenderness. ( A tender green doesn't offer resistance when you bite into it (like a bagel does), but is tender like a wilted spinach leaf.)
- Once the greens are fully cooked, remove the turkey from the greens and allow the meat to cool slightly. Once you can handle them, remove the meat from the bones and stir the meat back into the greens.
- Serve while hot directly from the slow cooker, or transfer to a serving dish.
- For vegan or vegetarian greens, omit the smoked turkey and use vegetable stock instead of chicken.
- If you plan to serve them at a later date, bag them (hot or cold) in a heavy duty, freezer food storage bag. Squeeze out as much air as possible, and freeze them lying flat. Once they have frozen solid, store them upright to take up less space.
- When you're ready to serve the greens, pull them out of the freezer 24 hours in advance and allow them to thaw in the fridge.
- Since the greens fully cooked, they only need to be warm through, stirring occasionally during their warming period to make sure they're completely hot throughout.
- The greens may be held for safe consumption, on warm, for up to three hours.
Serve these Country Style Collard Greens alongside some other great accompaniments: