These smoky sweet vegan collard greens are the perfect side dish for barbecue or dairy-free mac and cheese.
Liquid smoke provides the smokiness. Dried cranberries offer subtle sweetness for balance. Vegan & gluten-free.
I’m a big fan of collards in all of its forms.
I devour it piled on top of injera as gomen.
And I can’t refuse it when it’s used as the packaging of a raw taco.
But the first way that I came to know and love collards was slow-cooked at soul food restaurants in Los Angeles.
Steaming piles of smoky greens would accompany barbecue or mac and cheese.
After I went vegan, I started making collard greens of my own.
They’re a delicious side dish. And they’re also a welcome addition at holiday dinners like Thanksgiving.
I love how the tender, slow cooked leaves fall apart in your mouth. And they are bold enough to stand up to big flavors.
Inspiration for the dish
Speaking of big flavors, today’s unique collard greens recipe was inspired by a visit to Bean Vegan Cuisine in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Their Southern-style greens are smoky, slightly sweet, and mouthwateringly good.
The vague sweetness of the greens was interesting to me, as it was unlike any other greens I’d had.
While we were there, the chef told me his secret ingredient – dried cranberries!
He said that when he opened Bean, he wanted to have collard greens on the menu.
But he wanted them without the animal products that are often included (for obvious reasons since Bean is a vegan restaurant).
He decided to add dried cranberries to the greens to give them a subtle sweetness that didn’t overwhelm.
I looked closer at my greens and saw that dried cranberries were breaking apart in them.
As soon as I got home, I had to try it for myself.
The end result was smoky sweet perfection.
They have a bold flavor, fall apart in the mouth, and still hold onto that wonderful edge of tinniness that I love in collard greens.
Oftentimes Southern-style greens are smoky by way of animal products.
People will include smoked turkey or a portion of a pig, specifically the joint where the pig’s foot was attached to his leg (called a ham hock).
Keep in mind, of course, that the only reason they have a smoky flavor is because they were cooked in a smoker.
So instead of smoking someone’s leg and then using it to flavor something else, I cut out the middle pig and use liquid smoke. Both the pig and I prefer it that way.
Liquid smoke is an ingredient that makes some people apprehensive.
They imagine it’s some fake concoction when in fact, liquid smoke is literally condensed and liquefied smoke.
It’s made by placing hickory, applewood, or mesquite wood in large chambers and then applying intense heat. That causes the wood to smolder and release smoke.
The gasses are then cooled in condensers, which liquefies the smoke.
The droplets are collected and the impurities are filtered and removed.
Here are the ingredients you will need for this vegan collard greens recipe.
Oil: Any neutral-flavored oil will work here.
Fresh garlic: Cloves vary in size. So choose the amount by your own affinity for garlic, and the size of the specific cloves.
Collard greens: Look for large leaves that are bright green & not wilting or shriveled.
Water: I like to use water & bouillon for their pantry-friendly ease. But if you’d rather, you can use vegetable broth instead.
Bouillon: Vegetable bouillon cubes or Better Than Bouillon no chicken base works well here.
Liquid smoke: I like to use Wright’s, because of the short ingredient list.
You can find it in most grocery stores next to the barbecue sauces or grilling accoutrement for just a couple of bucks.
Remember, the flavor of liquid smoke is intense. A little goes a long way.
Salt: A pinch of salt amplifies the flavors. If your bouillon is super salty, you can use less or omit it altogether.
Dried cranberries: Look for dried cranberries next to the other dried fruit (like raisins) in the grocery store.
They balance the smoky flavor & reduce any bitterness from the greens.
Step by step instructions
Here’s how to make the recipe at a glance. For complete ingredient amounts & directions, keep scrolling to the recipe card below.
Bring a soup pot to a medium heat with oil.
Add minced garlic & saute until fragrant.
Then add the following:
- Chopped collard greens (with center ribs removed)
- Liquid smoke
- Dried cranberries
Stir to combine. Bring to a simmer.
Then turn the heat to low & cover.
Cook for 20 to 30 minutes, stopping occasionally to stir. Add more water, if necessary.
(Want them even more tender? Cook longer! Just keep an eye that all of the water or broth doesn’t cook off.)
Make it your own
Make this recipe your own by varying the ingredients or amounts.
- Add more or less minced garlic.
- For more savory flavor, add chopped onions with the garlic.
- Instead of using all collard greens, replace half the amount with curly kale or mustard greens.
- Replace water + bouillon with vegetable broth.
- Add more or less liquid smoke, depending on your preferences & the intensity of liquid smoke you’re using.
- Instead of liquid smoke, use smoked salt or smoked paprika for smoky flavor.
- Add a few dashes of hot sauce for a spicy kick.
(Want a recipe for collards without liquid smoke? Try garlicky greens instead!)
Meatless collard greens pair well with any of these dishes:
Store cooked collard greens in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
They will keep for 3 to 4 days.
Reheat in a pot on the stove or warm in the microwave.
Smoky sweet vegan collard greens
- 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil or your preferred oil
- 6 to 8 cloves of garlic minced
- 2 bunches collard greens removed from ribs and roughly chopped in medium pieces
- Up to 1 cup water*
- ½ teaspoon Better Than Bouillon, no chicken base or half of a vegetable bouillon cube
- ½ teaspoon liquid smoke
- Pinch of salt
- ¼ cup dried cranberries
- Bring a soup pot to a medium heat and add oil. Depending on your garlic preferences and garlic clove size, add 6 to 8 minced garlic cloves to the pot. Saute garlic in oil a few minutes, until fragrant.
- Add collard greens to pot along with ½ cup water, Better Than Bouillon or half of a vegetable bouillon cube, liquid smoke, pinch of salt, and dried cranberries. Stir collard greens to fully combine and turn up heat slightly. Bring greens to a simmer, and then turn heat to low. Top with a lid.
- Cook for 20 minutes, stopping occasionally to stir. If the water is getting too low and it looks like the greens might burn, add more water, up to ½ cup.
- After 20 minutes have passed, taste the collard greens to see if they have your preferred amount of softness. If you'd like them to be softer, cook an additional 10 minutes or more, being careful to watch that the greens don't run out of liquid on the bottom of the pot.
Content, photos, and recipe updated October 19, 2022. Originally posted June 7, 2016.