Why It Works
- Mushrooms add a meaty bite.
- A rich vegan stock adds savory depth.
- Smoked paprika provides the smoky essence of cured pork (minus the pork), while olive oil enriches the broth.
This recipe began with traditional collard greens, stewed with cured pork. But here are the tricks to get an equally flavorful vegan pot of collards.
In my original post, I explored the roots of African American cooking and the contentious variations of preparing collard greens:
Collard greens, stewed until tender and rich with cured pork, are a dish that's become emblematic of Southern cooking and, more specifically, African-American cooking. Trace its origins and you'll traverse empires and colonies, trade routes and slave ships—delicious food with, at times, brutal roots.
According to Michael Twitty of Afroculinaria, Portuguese slavers brought collards to their forts in West Africa and Angola. Because stewed greens had long been a staple food in much of Africa, collards—a leafy member of the brassica family, like kale—were a natural addition to the local cuisines. Enslaved Africans then carried those greens with them to the Americas, stewing collards and other greens in a deeply flavorful broth—known as the "pot likker" (pot liquor). The tradition has spread from there and continued to today.
How collards should be cooked can be a contentious topic. Last year, after Whole Foods tweeted a photo of braised collards with peanuts, the company weathered a backlash from people who objected for two reasons. First, many claimed that peanuts had no business in the collards pot. Second, the tweet carried a faint whiff of cultural colonialism ("Hey, check out this cool new vegetable I've discovered," says the white person to a nation of black people who've known about it all along.) Regarding that second reason, I'm not convinced the original tweet was quite so tone-deaf, but I understand how it could be taken that way. Read it here and judge for yourself.
Those objecting on the basis of the first point, though, were decidedly wrong. Twitty fact-checked their claim in an article on his site, pointing out that in Africa, peanuts were a common addition to braised greens—nothing ahistorical about it."
To veganize porky collards, I needed to do three things: First, I needed a much more flavorful broth base, because there's no individual vegan ingredient I could think of that could single-handedly do the kind of heavy lifting that cured pork can do. Second, I needed something meaty to stand in for the chunks of pork. And third, I needed something to add a sense of unctuousness, since simmered vegetables would yield a far too lean pot of greens—the rendered pork fat that lightly coats each and every morsel in a traditional pot of collards is a critically important element of the dish.
For the first part, the solution was to create a flavorful vegan stock. Most of the time, when I make vegetable stock, I do a very quick and easy version, which works in many applications in which you want just a little more flavor than water alone will provide. But in this case, that quick stock isn't going to cut it. We need more intense flavor and depth. So for this recipe, I turned to Kenji's more ingredient-intensive vegetable stock recipe, which includes kombu (Japanese seaweed) and dried mushrooms for an intensely umami foundation, along with a broad array of spices, from black pepper to coriander seed, for much more complex flavor. This is a stock with a stronger backbone that can better support the collards.
Once the stock is done, I fish out the dried mushrooms and keep them for later—they'll make up some of the meaty bits I'll need to stand in for the pork chunks. On top of that, I add sliced cremini mushroom caps, which I sauté in olive oil with the onions to brown them and deepen their flavor. Then I sprinkle in some smoked paprika, which delivers that smoked-meat flavor I'm after, and add the vegetable stock.
The collards go in the pot and cook in the same way as above—long enough to lose their fresh green color and become very soft. To finish them off (and solve the third problem), I stir in a generous dose of olive oil, enough to leave an even sheen on all of the leaves.
With that, you have a bowl of vegan collards that taste an awful lot like the pork-loaded ones, minus the meat. And, you know...feel free to add peanuts.
1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons (105ml) extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 pound (450g) cremini mushrooms, stems trimmed and caps sliced
2 quarts (1.9L) hearty vegetable stock, rehydrated dried mushrooms reserved
1 medium yellow onion (about 8 ounces; 225g), sliced into 2-inch lengths
1 teaspoon (4g) smoked paprika
3 pounds (1.3kg) collard greens, woody stems trimmed and leaves cut into thick ribbons
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Apple cider vinegar, to taste (optional)
In a large, heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, heat 3 tablespoons (45ml) oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add cremini mushrooms and reserved rehydrated mushrooms (from stock) and cook, stirring, until lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Add onion and cook, scraping up any browned bits, until softened, about 3 minutes; lower heat if necessary to prevent scorching.
Stir in smoked paprika followed by stock. Bring to a simmer, then add collard greens, pushing down to submerge. Return to a simmer and cook, uncovered, until greens are very tender, about 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and add remaining 1/4 cup (60ml) olive oil.
Add vinegar to taste, if desired, then serve. (You can add vinegar to the pot, or let individual diners season their greens with it at the table.)
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 13g||17%|
|Saturated Fat 2g||9%|
|Total Carbohydrate 19g||7%|
|Dietary Fiber 8g||29%|
|Total Sugars 5g|
|Vitamin C 36mg||179%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|