Garlicky Sautéed Collard Greens

night landscapeAs the miles stretched on and fields of soybeans and corn clipped by the roadside, we looked for ways to pass the time.  The radio was offering options of country tunes or spirituals.  We weren’t feeling up for 20 Questions.  But it was still hours before we’d return from our road trip to Kansas City with our friends, Melissa and Ray.  As the darkness descended on the horizon and leftover fireworks from the Fourth dotted the skies, the topic turned to veganism.

Melissa and Ray went vegan about three years ago.  This month marks my 6 year veganniversary, and David is not far off of that.  We talked about how much our diets have changed as the years have passed, and it seemed like the perfect fodder for a new car game.

making collard greens“Let’s all name foods that we’d never eaten before we went vegan,” I suggested.

“Wow,” said Melissa, “that’s practically everything.”

We all started chiming in.

“Dates!”

“Jackfruit!”

“Coconut butter!”

“Swiss chard!”

“Any Ethiopian food!”

“Tempeh, seitan, red lentils!”

“Leeks and fennel!”

“Millet and amaranth!”

“Oyster mushrooms and turnips!”

“I thought kale was just the thing that decorated the buffet line.”

Garlicky Collard GreensBefore I went vegan, I’d never cooked beans from scratch.  In fact, when we started dating almost ten years ago, David hated all beans.  He flat out wouldn’t eat them.  Now chickpeas and black beans are two of his favorite foods.

While I had tried tofu at Chinese restaurants, it was far from something that I craved.  And even after I went vegetarian (and then vegan), it took a long time before I cracked the code on preparing it.

I’d never made seitan from scratch or split pea soup that didn’t come from a can.  I wasn’t familiar with chipotle peppers in adobo sauce.  I didn’t know that French lentils du Puy were the Cadillac of lentils or that cashews were the magicians of nuts.

“Collard greens,” said Melissa.

“Yep, me too,” David announced.

I’d had collard greens before I went vegan at soul food restaurants and made by friends who grew up with that cuisine, but I’d never attempted to prepare them.  And the first time I tried to make kale or collards, I don’t remember it being a wild success.  They were bitter.  Too strong.  It took time for not only my palate to adjust but also for me to figure out ways to prepare dark greens in a way that fit my preferences.  Now I love raw collard leaf wraps or tacos, adding them to a tofu scramble or Asian stir-fry, but it wasn’t always that way.

Sauteed garlicky collard greensAs I’ve marveled in the past, it really is amazing that going vegan expands variety for so many people.  Leaving out chickens, cows, pigs, sheep, goats, and sea life seems like it would make one’s meals become less varied.  But going vegan is not only expansive in a spiritual sense, it’s expansive in a practical sense as well.  Choosing to do something different gave me license to explore more.  The real estate on my plate where animal products had been was now available for business.  Every farmers market, every season, every cookbook continues to offer a new discovery.

And it seems to be endless.  I am constantly trying something new, something I’d never tried before.  Ironically, often these foods have long histories like millet or amaranth.  They’re not new foods, and yet somehow I’d never noticed them in the grocery store before.

There are over 20,000 species of edible plants in the world.  I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise that replacing the six or seven animals I used to eat regularly with plant foods instead wouldn’t be that big of a deal.  But with the heavy focus that animals and their secretions take up in many cultures, including my own, it certainly seemed like it would be a tough adjustment.

As we trailed off, driving into the thoughts of our own minds, I traveled to where I was six years ago – a vegetarian wondering if I could live without brie.   At that point I couldn’t imagine my en croute going kaput.  But my regrets from those days aren’t that I didn’t take one last bite of cheddar or feta.  They’re that I didn’t go vegan sooner.  In my last few days as a vegetarian, I was well aware of what I would be giving up, but I had no idea of what I was missing.

Garlicky collard greensGarlicky Sautéed Collard Greens

Serves 2-4

This is my go-to recipe for collard greens.  Whether I’m eating them with Latin Baked Tofu, plantains, and oyster mushrooms as pictured above, in a bowl with beans and grains, or on their own, these simple greens have a richness about them and a melt-in-your-mouth quality.  Feel free to add dashes of hot sauce, a bit of liquid smoke, or use smoked salt instead of sea salt.

  • 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 5-6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 bunch collard greens, leaves removed from tough center rib and roughly chopped in medium-sized pieces
  • ½ cup vegetable broth (Or 1/2 cup water + ¼ of a vegan vegetable bouillon cube)
  • Salt, to taste

In a medium-sized pot or skillet with lid, bring extra virgin olive oil to a medium heat.  Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about five minutes.  Add the chopped collard greens and vegetable broth (or water plus bouillon cube section).  Add a pinch of salt if desired, keeping in mind that your broth or bouillon cube may already have salt in it.  Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally.

Once it is simmering, turn the heat to medium low and cover.  Remove lid to stir and check occasionally, making sure there is still enough liquid on the bottom that the collards aren’t sticking.  If they start to stick, lower the heat and add a tablespoon or two of water, as necessary.  Cover and continue cooking for 20-25 minutes, until the collard greens have become soft to the bite.

24 thoughts on “Garlicky Sautéed Collard Greens

  1. what a fantastic, thought provoking post. i’m pretty sure the majority of the foods in my diet now were not even something i was aware of before going vegan! this fall will mark my 8 year veganversary. it is difficult to even remember pre-vegan days now. but almond butter, quinoa, hemp seeds, flaxseed, cacao, almond milk, lentils, and a million more things i just never ate or knew about. it truly is amazing that outsiders automatically assume when you’re vegan, your diet is limited. but in reality, it sets you free!

    • 8 years! That’s wonderful! I’d had lentils before I went vegan, but everything else on your list was eaten after veganism for me too. (Although, to my knowledge I still haven’t had cacao!)

      You’re so right about veganism setting you free. It is a seemingly endless string of discoveries.

  2. I love this: “I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise that replacing the six or seven animals I used to eat regularly with plant foods instead wouldn’t be that big of a deal.” I never thought of it that way before! Thanks for sharing your collard greens recipe; I have only seen them prepared really unhealthily. I’ll keep an eye out for them!

  3. I’ve only been vegan for about a year, but I was a vegetarian for about a decade before that. Your post brings up an interesting point, and one you’ve covered in the past about how it’s not “Vegan food,” it’s just “food.” But I found I had to be a bit more creative when replacing things like eggs and my Greek yogurt, which got me adding in more things I might have been eating before, but now I eat more frequently (chickpea flour “tofu” b/c I can’t have soy, more hummus, Daiya on occasion, etc.)

    I guess without the “crutch” of those past foods it’s been a good chance to be a bit more creative with staples I already had. And seriously, who doesn’t want more hummus?

  4. You couldn’t have said it better! People always ask me why I don’t miss meat or how I keep from getting bored with “less food options.” And I tell them, I have discovered a WORLD of food that I didn’t even know existed before going vegan (tempeh, tahini, amaranth, quinoa, kale, almond butter, the list goes on). Thanks for this! I’m gonna share on Facebook!

    • Thanks, Bianca! I’m so glad it resonated with you! I suppose on the one hand it makes sense that people think there are less options, because in your average cafe or diner, vegan options often dwindle down to an iceberg lettuce salad and baked potato. People may think we eat like that all the time! However, if only they came back with us to our kitchens or followed us down the grocery aisles, they would see the variety that exists there!

  5. And so say all of us! People occasionally pass comment on how restricted my diet is, and I can’t help but laugh. I feel like saying ‘let’s compare kitchens, then let me know if you think my diet’s restricted!’

  6. I love collards! I have actually never made them myself though believe it or not. And I love the car game. Neal and I do stuff like that all the time. We have this one game where one person names a fruit or veggie, like “potato” and the next person has to come up with a fruit or veggie that starts with the letter that the last word ended with so like “orange”. I like it because it reminds me of how much freaking food is out there that is vegan!

    • That’s such a fun version of that game! We play a similar game, but we go straight through the alphabet. (A is avocado, B is banana, C is chickpea…) But your version sounds a lot more entertaining, and it isn’t necessarily done in 26 turns!

  7. It’s so true that vegans eat so many more foods than the average omnivore — we’re so lucky! I remember back when I had a big garden, after a particularly successful collard growing season, I could barely stand looking at collards for a long time. Thank goodness I can eat them again!

    • I know what you mean about overdoing it on a particular food. I’ve been there; although, usually for me it’s because I fall in love with something and then can’t stop eating it for weeks on end. I’m glad collards are back in your good graces!

  8. I love this post – it’s so true about the diversity within the diets of most vegans. I could have rattled off quite a few in your game and there are still plenty of vegetables I want to try that I probably wouldn’t have heard of a few years back.

    Collard greens aren’t sold in our grocery stores and I haven’t seen them in farmers markets either so I was planning on trying to grow some in my garden this summer. I’m bookmarking your deliciously sounding garlicky recipe to try.

    • If you take another lengthy road trip anytime soon, maybe you can give this car game a try! :)

      Good luck growing collard greens! It seems to be a crop that people have an easier time growing. I did it one summer, and the growing went well. However, the deer and raccoons got to eat it before I ever got an opportunity!

  9. My meals are so much more interesting than they were when I wasn’t vegan. And I’m more interested in my food now- I used to find it boring but now every meal is an event.

    I’d had collards prior to going vegan, as well as chard and kale, but I’d never purchased any greens (other than spinach or lettuce) and prepared them myself before. The first time I sautéed some with some other vegetables, I was astounded at how good simple greens could be. :-)

  10. Hi Cadry! I bought a bunch of collard greens for the first time yesterday to use in pesto, and I have a whole lot of it left, so I was trying to think of what to do with it, when I randomly stumbled on this post! My silly question for you is how big is a “bunch” to you? I couldn’t believe how huge the leaves are, and I have quite a bit of it left. It seems like the amount that is pictured in the pot that you have in this post is not as much as I have left. Do you have any sort of estimated guess on how many really big leaves you’d call a bunch? Thanks!

    • Hi, Mae! When I say “a bunch,” I’m referring to the way that the collard greens are bundled together at the grocery store. One bundle is one bunch. The amount of actual greens that you get from a bunch, though, can vary it seems, depending on how big of leaves you have. I just counted the amount of leaves in the bunch currently in my refrigerator, and there are eight very large leaves.

      This recipe is really forgiving. Just get rid of the center rib of the collards, chop the leaves, and sauté whatever amount of garlic you’d like in extra virgin olive oil in a pot. Then add the leaves and enough broth (or water & bouillon cube) to cover the bottom of the pot, but not so much that it completely covers the greens themselves. (You want to kind of steam the greens, not boil them.) Follow the directions as directed above, and if the greens start to stick, add more water.

      Good luck! :)

  11. I’ve been vegan since 2006. Happy 6-year “veganniversary”! My partner is a lacto-vegetarian, but he leads a 100% vegan diet with me. We’ve been together nearly 7 years, so basically about 7 years of vegan food together ;) Interesting list of foods! I haven’t tried Ethiopian food yet, but have tried the rest last year. I used to hate beans just like David before I became a vegan, but I love them now, in a variety of colors including slow-cooked beans for nachos. What’s funny is that I made something with collard greens for the first time this year…it’s amazing how we are starting to learn more about new foods when we start eating vegan. It is definitely expansive in a practical sense. There are so many ingredients out there that will bring beautiful flavors to the dish. Btw, love the garlicky sautéed collard greens, I had them with corn grits and toasted garlic slices (from cookbook author Bryant Terry).

  12. Pingback: Eat Drink Better | Healthy recipes, good food: sustainable eats for a healthy lifestyle!

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