Southern food gets a bad rap as being unhealthy and full of fat…and some of it is, but vegetables have been the stars of many Southern kitchens. I think that vegetables have been so important in the Southern U.S. because of the great weather for growing the crops but also because meat is incredibly expensive. Like many African American families in the South, my parents were sharecroppers tending to the farms of others, they had very little money to purchase meat. My Father’s family raised pigs and chickens but eating them wasn’t a daily occurrence. My Mom got chickens from the 4-H club but those chickens usually weren’t eaten until they stopped laying eggs. Those older, tougher birds made some delicious stew but they would only eat that once in a while.
I called my Mom today to ask her about how she learned to cook vegetables. She told me that they grew most of their own vegetables when she was a kid. Collards, okra, squash and cucumbers were staples in her home. She said most of the vegetables they ate were overcooked and that she didn’t learn until much later that they could be cooked for shorter periods of time to retain texture.
They would get ham hocks and fat back from a small shop in town and cook their greens with them. Now believe me I LOVE to eat my greens like that, all smothered in meat, but not all the time. Most times I cook my greens without added meat for a more healthy meal. I have a few different ways to ramp up the flavor when I cook vegan or vegetarian greens (usually collards or kale, sometimes turnip or mustard greens). I almost always start with caramelized onions cooked slowly in a neutral flavored oil, like canola. You can use olive oil if you like the stronger flavor. I add red peppers, sometimes hot ones sometimes sweet, depending on my mood. Garlic also adds a ton of flavor.
Simmering the greens in tomato and vegetable broth make the greens tender and add a savory richness to the dish. I use homemade broth when I can but I also keep a jar of Better Than Bouillon Vegetable Base in my refrigerator. A spoonful of that adds a flavor bomb to your meal without adding fat. It is fairly high in sodium so I don’t add any additional salt if I’m using this. (This is not a sponsored post, it’s what I really use). I saw that this brand was recommended by America’s Test Kitchen when they were comparing chicken broth so I tried their vegetable base and liked it.
I get my love of sweet potato from my Mom. She’ll roast a few of them at a time and keep them in the fridge so they’ll be ready to eat almost immediately, just heat and serve. Whenever i decide to go meatless I turn to sweet potatoes (like in this sweet potato steaks recipe) because they’re so flavorful and filling. I leave the skin on the sweet potatoes, it tastes good and it’s good for you. Many of the nutrients are found in the skin. The natural sweetness of the sweet potatoes is a great foil for the spicy red peppers in the greens. I cooked my sweet potato in the microwave for just about 7 minutes to soften. I let them cool off enough to handle then slice and sear them in a hot skillet. It’s a beautiful thing.
Tomato Braised Collards with Sweet Potato
- 2 bunches collard greens (about two and a half to three pounds total)
- 1 large onion (about one cup,sliced)
- 2 tablespoons canola oil or olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 small hot red pepper or 1 sweet red bell pepper or both (according to taste
- 1 can diced tomato (14-15 ounce can)
- 1-2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar (start with 1 and add more at the end of cooking if you like)
- ½ teaspoon vegetable base plus ½ cup of water or ½ cup vegetable broth
- 2 sweet potatoes, about 12 ounces each
- Wash the collard greens thoroughly, several times if necessary
- Wash the sweet potatoes and prick each one 8 times with a fork
- Cook the sweet potato in the microwave ( on a microwave safe plate) on high for 4 minutes. Turn them over and cook for another 3-4 minutes until they are tender. Cooking times will vary depending on how thick the sweet potatoes are.
- Let them cool enough to handle.
- Remove the tough part of the stem
- Stack the collard leaves and roll them up ( you may have to do this in batches) slice the collards into ½ inch lengths.
- Slice the onion into ¼ inch slices
- In a large pot saute the onion in 1 tablespoon of oil on medium/low heat, stirring occasionally, until they begin to soften and brown.
- Slice the pepper and cook with the onion for 5 minutes
- Slice the garlic and stir into the onions, cook for about a minute or less
- Add the sliced collard greens, tomato,1 tablespoon red wine vinegar and vegetable base and water (or vegetable broth) and stir
- Cover and cook on medium low heat for 20 minutes stirring occasionally.
- Remove the lid and cook uncovered for 5 minutes to reduce the liquid in the pot. Add more red wine vinegar, 1 teaspoon at a time, if you like
- Cut each sweet potato into quarters lengthwise
- Heat 1 tablespoon of canola oil in a skillet and cook the sweet potato wedges until they are brown on each side
- Serve 2 sweet potato wedges per person over collard greens
Tomato Braised Collards with Sweet Potato