Make Sweet And Savory Collard Greens With A Dash Of Brown Sugar

Collard greens are delicious and a key ingredient in Southern soul food, introduced to the American diet by way of the African diaspora. As such, it's a dish rooted in African American history with a tried-and-true recipe that slowly stews the greens in broth with smoked ham hock, aromatics, and a dash of vinegar.

In this dish, collard greens are tender, juicy, and loaded with savory, smoky, and salty flavor. But we suggest also adding a dash of brown sugar to provide the perfect sweet complement to this utterly savory dish. Brown sugar has more depth of flavor than white and is often used to enrich savory dishes; it can quickly balance a spicy pot of chili or dissolve into a glaze for candied bacon.

In this classic Southern collard greens recipe from Tasting Table, you could add a tablespoon or so of brown sugar to the braised ham hock broth and collard greens when you add the rest of the seasonings. As the greens slowly cook, the brown sugar will dissolve and diffuse a rich sweetness into the salty, smoked ham and earthy collards for the ultimate sweet and savory side dish. Whether you use a smoked turkey leg, bacon, or ham, brown sugar will pair wonderfully with their meaty flavors. The sugar will also enhance the caramelized sweetness of fried onions and the underlying fruity flavor of apple cider vinegar.

Tips for cooking with collard greens

Collard greens are robust, hearty leaves that tend to trap a lot of dirt and debris. Since there's nothing worse than a gritty bite of greens, washing collards is one of the biggest factors in their successful preparation. You can run each separate leaf under the faucet, or save yourself the time by soaking the leaves in a vinegar solution. Distilled vinegar will kill most bacteria, while the soak will effectively draw any sand and dirt from the leaves.

The brown sugar will add a tasty depth to the greens, the meat, and the broth or potlikker. However, if you find the sweetness overpowering, you can correct it by augmenting the spice level and savoriness. A dash of Worcestershire sauce would bring out the umami richness of the pork, while a teaspoon of red pepper flakes would add just enough heat to balance the sweetness.

While many recipes using collard greens instruct you to remove their tough stems, you can dice the stems and saute them instead. You can add the stems back into the stewed collard greens for a delightfully variable texture. You can also pickle collard green stems with many of the same ingredients used to develop the broth, like apple cider vinegar, garlic, spices, and even sugar.