14 Ways To Take Canned Collard Greens To The Next Level

bowl of cooked collard greens
bowl of cooked collard greens - Elena Veselova/Shutterstock

Canned collard greens are a convenient way to enjoy an iconic American food. They're almost synonymous with Southern food culture, with the bitter greens, closely related to kale, serving as the backbone for countless Southern classics. This vegetable is particularly important in African American food culture, with the greens traveling to the United States from Africa, and many dishes incorporating collard greens have become standby staples over hundreds of years.

Canned collard greens take a lot of the hassle out of preparing these tough, fibrous greens. If prepared poorly or not cooked for long enough, collard greens can be near-inedible, and with the canned version, there's no risk of this: All you have to do is open it up, heat your veggies, and you're good to go. The unfortunate truth, however, is that canned collard greens can be pretty boring without a little care. Although many brands pre-season their greens, they can still lack flavor and any textural variation, and can often have an insistent saltiness that comes at the expense of any layers of taste. However, whether your canned collard greens are preseasoned or not, there are tons of ways to jazz them up.

Read more: Canned Soups You Should And Shouldn't Buy

Combine Them With Bacon

sauteed collard greens with bacon
sauteed collard greens with bacon - Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

The combination of collard greens and bacon is heavenly, and by using canned collard greens, you cut out a lot of work. Bacon adds a deep, savory, salty flavor to the grassy collards, helping to heighten their sensory impact. They also make your can of greens go further, with the proteins and fats in the bacon helping to satisfy your hunger. Adding bacon to canned collard greens can also reduce their innate bitterness, which can be diffused even further by combining the two ingredients with additional accompaniments like hot sauce, onions, vinegar, and butter.

Combining canned collards with bacon couldn't be easier. You just fry up some bacon (and any extra ingredients like onions or peppers) in a pan, and then once everything's cooked through, add in your collard greens. Stir everything together, warming the greens up and mixing the flavors, before popping in a few squares of butter to finish things off. Serve these as a side dish with your favorite Southern recipes — we're big fans of serving them next to chicken fried steak along with some grits and cornbread. If you're hungry enough though, it can be tempting to just fork them straight from the pan into your mouth.

Throw In Some Smoked Turkey

smoked turkey legs on wooden board
smoked turkey legs on wooden board - Bhofack2/Getty Images

Canned collard greens, with their earthy, vegetal taste, go particularly well with smoked meats. These meats add a serious complexity to collard greens, playing into their grassy flavor notes and taking them from a simple leaf to a foodstuff that feels elevated and classy. While you can use pretty much any smoked meat you like with canned collard greens, we prefer smoked turkey. This protein has a balance of subtle poultry flavors and deep smokiness which imbues the collard greens with plenty of extra flavor without distracting from their distinctive taste. Plus, smoked turkey is an excellent choice for folks who don't eat pork, and stands as the perfect substitute for collard green recipes that use bacon or ham hock.

Bear in mind, though, that the taste of smoked turkey can overpower your collard greens if not balanced with other flavors. Using chicken broth with the turkey can help its taste spread through the collard greens easily, and give a base note of savoriness that stops the smokiness from being too much. Tying everything together with a squeeze of honey can also be a great idea, to add a touch of sweetness.

Include A Little Apple Cider Vinegar

apple cider vinegar with chopped apples
apple cider vinegar with chopped apples - Sinti Lu/Shutterstock

Apple cider vinegar might seem a strange thing to add to canned collard greens. We can understand why: Both of these ingredients have a bitterness to them, and some people worry that by adding vinegar to greens, you end up with something inedible. However, what we're looking for here is the tang factor. Apple cider vinegar gives a tanginess that gently develops the flavor of canned collard greens without overwhelming them, and a fruity apple base note that rounds out the vegetable's flavor nicely.

It's always good to add less instead of more, though. A splash or two of apple cider vinegar will be enough to add extra flavor without making your greens too acrid. It's also important to remember that you don't want to just add apple cider vinegar and nothing else. Combine it with savory, salty, and fatty flavors to allow it to work as a counterpoint, instead of letting it become the dominant flavor in your dish. A pinch of sugar can also help to offset the acidity of apple cider vinegar, particularly if you've used too much and need to salvage your dish's flavors.

Sprinkle In Some Brown Sugar

brown sugar with wooden scoop
brown sugar with wooden scoop - Floortje/Getty Images

Few things make canned collard greens pop like brown sugar does. This simple ingredient does far more work than you might think, and is particularly effective at reducing the greens' bitter notes (which are, incidentally, caused by chemicals called glucosinolates). While any sugar or sweetener can help to do this, brown sugar does so more subtly, imparting a deeper, caramelized, slightly smoky sweetness that doesn't feel too harsh, thereby giving your greens additional layers.

You'll always want to balance any sugar you're adding with some salt, so that your meal doesn't turn into a collard green dessert. If you're using preseasoned canned collard greens, though, adding extra salt may not be necessary. Some brands can be pretty salty, making the need for sugar even stronger. If you find that you've added too much brown sugar, try to get creative with ways to balance it out that don't just involve adding extra table salt. A few dashes of Worcestershire sauce, for example, will give it a boost of sodium, but also extra umami notes and tanginess. Dark and light soy sauce can both serve a similar function.

Stir Them Into Caldo Verde

bowl of caldo verde
bowl of caldo verde - Iggi_boo/Getty Images

Canned collard greens are the perfect addition to soups and stews, and there are few uses we like better than putting them in caldo verde. This Portuguese soup is a delicious blend of potatoes, chorizo, and greens, with aromatics like garlic, onions, and pepper helping to round out the flavor. The greens in caldo verde can be pretty much any you have to hand, but collard greens work especially well, thanks to their robust, earthy flavor and firm, yet tender bite. They also pair beautifully with the chorizo in the recipe, with the paprika and fatty pork melding with the greens, filling out their flavor profile.

As most caldo verde recipes call for raw collard greens, you'll need to adjust things slightly when using the canned version. Make sure to add them just before you finish cooking so that they don't soften too much and turn to mush in your pot. Try to find lightly seasoned or unseasoned canned greens, too. Oftentimes, canned collard greens can come with a punch of seasoning blends already added in, and while this can be useful for some recipes, with caldo verde they can end up being distracting.

Add Some Fatback

piece of pork fatback with spices
piece of pork fatback with spices - New Africa/Shutterstock

There's one thing that can quickly make canned collard greens taste delicious: Fat. Adding fat to these greens gives them instant lusciousness, and turns them from a fairly bland, unappetizing vegetable to one that's full of body. The fat you use, however, can make a big difference, and for maximum flavor, add fatback. This pig fat has a strong bacon flavor and a serious saltiness from its curing process that rounds out your greens' flavor instantly. Fatback also adds a seriously good mouthfeel to canned collard greens, taking away their slight grittiness and smoothing out their texture.

To cook canned collard greens with fatback, you first have to fry your fat. Place a few strips in a hot pan until it crackles and begins to go crispy, before throwing in your greens. Add some water and any other seasonings of your choice, before simmering everything together. The fatback's flavor will permeate your greens, making every bite salty and savory. While you can also add chicken broth here, it's worth remembering that fatback is pretty salty already, so you don't want to overdo it. Taste-test it before serving, and only add more salt if you need to.

Douse Them With Pepper Vinegar Sauce

chilli peppers on white background
chilli peppers on white background - Kozak Sergii/Shutterstock

Canned collard greens often need a bit of spicing up, and few things do that better than pepper vinegar sauce. Pepper vinegar sauce is a classic Southern condiment that's pretty much exactly what it sounds like: A sauce that combines the heat of Tabasco peppers with the sourness of white vinegar. A little sugar and salt are thrown in for good measure, which helps to intensify the sauce's flavors and tie the two competing elements together.

When added to canned collard greens, pepper vinegar sauce helps the vegetable sing. This sauce hits the greens with a wide range of tastes in one go, adding spice, salt, sweetness, and sourness. It's a great choice for folks who like their collard greens simple, but still full of flavor, and is an awesome way for folks who follow a plant-based diet to add instant impact to the greens. If you're not in the South but still craving this sauce for your greens, it's also super simple to make at home. Just boil a cup of vinegar with a tablespoon of sugar and salt, and then pour it into a bottle filled with Tabasco peppers, while still hot. Allow it to cool and steep for a day, and it's ready to go.

Make A Mainland Lu'au Stew

bowl of green soup
bowl of green soup - olepeshkina/Shutterstock

Canned collard greens serve as the perfect base for green stews, and a mainland lu'au stew has to be one of our favorites. This soup is a twist on the Hawaiian lu'au stew, a thick soup made by blending kalo leaves (also known as lu'au) with coconut milk, and frequently served with chicken or squid. Here, canned collard greens take the place of the kalo leaves, which can be trickier to find in the U.S. mainland — and as such, the mainland lu'au stew was born.

This dish smooths out the slightly bitter flavors of canned collards instantly, with the coconut cream, coconut milk, and coconut oil used giving them a luxurious, nutty flavor. Onion and garlic add some savory notes to the stew, with a touch of baking soda helping to temper any acidity or sour notes from the greens. As this stew is blended, you don't have to worry about your collard greens being too chewy or fibrous. When making this with canned collard greens instead of fresh ones, though, make sure you add them just before you blend, instead of cooking them for too long with the other ingredients. This can cause the greens to go grey, ruining the vibrant greenness that makes this stew so enticing.

Include A Pop Of Paprika

smoked red paprika in bowl
smoked red paprika in bowl - Bhofack2/Getty Images

Canned collard greens work especially well with savory and smoky notes, which is partly why it's so commonly paired with smoked or cured meats. What do you do, though, if you want all of that flavor depth without the animal products? You add in paprika. Paprika, made from ground red peppers, has a peppery, sweet flavor that gives collard greens an increased sense of richness. It also provides a pleasing reddish hue that can help elevate the canned version, which can often come out of the tin looking a little pallid and depressing.

For maximum impact, we'd recommend using smoked paprika. This variety of paprika is made by grilling the red peppers over an open flame, and as a result, they develop a deep, woody, chargrilled flavor. The taste of smoked paprika combines with the collards perfectly, giving them an extra dimension pretty much immediately. If you don't have smoked paprika to hand, though, regular sweet, and hot paprika all deliver a truckload of flavor too, although naturally, each of them will augment the greens in different ways. You can even use a combination of paprikas, to cover every flavor base. ‌

Add Them To Ham And Beans

ham and bean soup
ham and bean soup - Fudio/Getty Images

Ham and beans is an endlessly satisfying, and endlessly tasty dish. It can, however, sometimes err a little bit on the heavy side, with its combination of rich beans and fatty pork sending you for a food-induced nap. So if you want to brighten up your ham and beans, and introduce some earthier tones, add canned collard greens. The greens not only add a pop of extra nutrition to ham and beans, but they also give it some much-needed vegetal flavor notes, stopping it from getting too dense and savory. Plus, they stretch the dish even further — adding them is a great choice if you're cooking on a budget.

Collard greens also pair very well with any fresh herbs you add to this dish, with fresh parsley, in particular, helping to give them an extra lease of life. The combination of collard greens and ham, meanwhile, is a match made in heaven, with the ham's smoky sweetness adding extra depth to the greens. To use the greens, just add them in a few minutes before you're planning on serving the dish, to give them time to warm up and let the flavors infuse.

Make A Coconut Curry With Them

coconut kale curry with quinoa
coconut kale curry with quinoa - Amallia Eka/Shutterstock

Greens work especially well in curries — and if you want one of the best ways to cook canned collard greens, a hearty coconut curry is the way to go. Like spinach and kale, collard greens provide grassiness and a slight nuttiness to coconut-based curries, with the coconut milk used helping to give their texture a silky smoothness. Collard greens also absorb the flavors of spices well and pair tremendously with ginger and garlic.

The combo of coconut milk and collard greens works with basically any kind of curry, whether you're throwing meat in or opting for a vegan vibe. In our opinion, though, pairing the greens with potatoes and chickpeas for a plant-based meal is the way to go. Chickpeas and collard greens have a surprisingly similar flavor palette, both gently nutty and earthy, with the chickpeas giving the curry a boost of protein. The potatoes, meanwhile, combine with the coconut milk well, adding creamy notes to an already-creamy sauce. As a bonus, this type of curry is also incredibly quick, particularly if you're using canned collards, as once you've cooked your vegetables, it's just a matter of mixing a few cans of things and warming it all up.

Coat Them With Browned Butter

browned butter in steel pan
browned butter in steel pan - Candice Bell/Shutterstock

Butter and collard greens are a timeless combo. If you want to kick things up a notch, though, browned butter collard greens are the way to go. This recipe is the brainchild of Bruce & Eric Bromberg, authors of the "Bromberg Bros. Blue Ribbon Cookbook." Although the original recipe calls for fresh collard greens, browned butter still works tremendously with the canned version. While you might not get them as crispy as if you were using fresh vegetables, they'll still be full of deep, nutty, luscious flavor.

The best part, too, is that you only need a few simple ingredients. You start by cooking your butter in a pan for a few minutes, which turns its milk solids a deep brown and intensifies the flavor. Then, throw in your canned collards. It's best to drain them well before doing so, as you don't want to introduce too much moisture into the pan — this can make the finished dish taste dilute. Cook everything together for a minute or two, spritz the mixture with some lemon, sprinkle it with salt and pepper, and serve as a side with your favorite grilled meat.

Throw Them In A Meatloaf

meatloaf in pan with red topping
meatloaf in pan with red topping - Nancy Salmon/Shutterstock

Want a great way to use up a leftover can of collard greens, and make your meat go further? Combine the two in a meatloaf. Meatloaves are pretty much the perfect vessel for extra ingredients, and canned collard greens give them a boost of earthy flavor instantly. The greens also work seamlessly with classic meatloaf ingredients like Worcestershire sauce, onions, and garlic. Need another reason to try this out? We can also verify that doing this is an excellent way to sneak some veggies into your kids' diets. Trust us — you'll never have to beg them to eat their greens again.

Putting this dish together couldn't be simpler, as the canned collard greens have already been cooked, meaning that you just need to drain them and throw them into your meatloaf mixture. Adding canned collard greens can somewhat dim the intensity of a classic meatloaf's flavor, so it's a good idea to amp up the seasonings slightly. You can't go wrong with your favorite brand of hot sauce here. The sauce melds with the meaty flavors of your pork or beef, while simultaneously brightening up the greens.

Use Them To Make Callaloo

bowl of callaloo soup
bowl of callaloo soup - Content zilla/Shutterstock

If you're bored of serving your canned collard greens in the same way every time, try making callaloo. This classic Caribbean soup, which is especially common in Trinidad and Tobago, is more commonly made with taro or dasheen leaves. If you can't find them, though, canned collard greens can work well too, and provide the same earthy, slightly bitter notes. These flavors are a natural fit with the scotch bonnet pepper, okra, fresh thyme, and paprika that go into this dish, creating a complex flavor profile that's simply irresistible.

The beauty of collard green callaloo is that you can enjoy it simply, adding a few choice ingredients to honor the flavor of the greens or bulk it up to make more of a filling meal. One great way to do this is by adding in smoked turkey. The meat gives the callaloo extra richness and makes it more satisfying, with the smokiness deepening the already-smoky flavors in the dish. If you don't have smoked turkey, any smoked meat will do the trick.

Read the original article on Daily Meal