If you’re a vegan and should find yourself in the American Deep South, a word of warning: collard greens are almost NEVER vegan. Nevertheless, many southerners will insist that you can eat them. “What’s in them?” you might ask. “It’s just collards, you’re gonna love them,” might come a response. “But what’s that in the pot there?” “That? You mean that big hunk of pork? That’s just there for flavoring.” Even though I’m a born and bred Yankee, I’ve spent a disproportionate amount of time in the south lately, and I’ve had this encounter so many times I’ve lost count. There’s no harm intended. Rather, a big hunk of pork is just how vegetables are often flavored in the south. But that doesn’t mean collards can’t be good without the animal products. To prove it, this recipe brings out a ton of plant-based umami, smoky goodness to create an intensely flavored version that—at least this Yankee thinks—stands up to the original.
The key to this one is the addition of smoked and slow roasted tomatoes. The one two punch of hickory smokiness and the sweet, umami-amplifying caramelization you get from the oven completely takes over this dish. But in a good way. Collards are a fairly neutral green, not overly bitter, so they need a little nudge in the flavor department. Onion, garlic, paprika and cider vinegar all help round things out with a bit more sweetness, smoke and acidity. This recipes, as with all collard green recipes, takes a bit of time to make, but I’ve always found it to be a hit with vegans and meat-eaters alike.
Serves 4-6 as a side
-½ lb. Campari or cherry tomatoes
-2 lbs. collard greens, stemmed & cut in 1-inch strips
-1 sweet onion, sliced thin
-3 cloves garlic, sliced thin
-2 cups veggie stock
-3 tbsp olive oil
-2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
-½ tsp smoked paprika
-⅛ tsp cayenne pepper
1. Preheat oven to 350-degrees.
2. Place a sheet of aluminum foil in your stovetop smoker*. Slice the tomatoes in half and place on the foil cut side up. Drizzle tomatoes with 1 tbsp of the olive oil and a good pinch of salt. Using hickory wood, get your smoker going over a high flame. When it starts to actively smoke lower the heat and continue smoking for 10 minutes.
3. Remove the lid from smoker and place it into your preheated oven. Alternatively, you can transfer tomatoes halves to a sheet pan, if you’re not smoking them. Roast tomatoes for 1 hour or until they start to shrivel and just begin to brown around the edges. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
4. While your tomatoes are roasting, begin with the collards. Put a Dutch oven or large pot over medium heat. Add the remaining 2 tbsp olive oil and then the sliced onions and a pinch of salt. Sauté for about 5 minutes or until the onions are soft and translucent but not yet browned. Add the garlic slices and cook another minute. Add the paprika and cayenne pepper and stir for 30 seconds. Add the collards and actively stir or toss with kitchen tongs, sautéing the greens for about 2 minutes. Pour in the veggie stock and add another pinch of salt. When the stock comes to a boil, lower the heat to a gentle simmer, cover the pot and allow to cook for 45 minutes.
5. Carefully uncover your pot and add the roasted tomato halves and cider vinegar. Give it a good stir, cover the pot and allow to cook another 15 minutes. At which point, give the collards a taste. They should be well cooked but not too mushy. If you like your collards mushy, and I know you people are out there, continue simmering until your desired consistency. Adjust salt to taste and serve. Also, they’re really fantastic reheated after a night in the fridge.
*If you don’t have a stovetop smoker simply omit step 2 and instead move on to step 3, placing tomato halves directly in the oven to roast. Additionally, you can add a dash or two of liquid smoke at step 5 to boost the smokiness.