Keepin’ it Green with Collard Greens: Making Soul Food the Healthy Way

Southern soul food cuisine is one of the most comforting cuisines around.

Composed of classic dishes such as cornbread, candied sweet potatoes, and grits, soul food has been a staple in many African-American homes for decades. Despite the reputation of comfort and good ol’ down-home deliciousness that soul food brings, it also can be extremely unhealthy. Filled with high amounts of sodium and fat, soul food has the potential to contribute to health disparities in the African-American community.

Fortunately, there are ways to modify your favorite soul food recipes to make them healthier. Below is a classic collard greens recipe, courtesy of Hank Shaw via After the recipe, check out our tips for making some healthy swaps.

Southern Style Collard Greens Recipe

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 2 hours

Yield: Serves 4-6 as a side dish

While you can make this recipe with chard, kale, turnip or mustard greens, they cook much more quickly than collards, so cut the cooking time to 30 minutes.


  • 2 TB bacon fat, lard or vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, sliced from root to tip
  • 1 ham hock
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1 quart chicken broth
  • 1-2 cups water
  • 8-10 cups chopped collard greens, about 2 pounds
  • Vinegar and hot sauce to taste
  1. Heat the bacon fat in a large pot set over medium-high heat. Sauté the onion in the bacon fat, stirring often, until the edges begin to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the ham hock, smashed garlic, chicken stock and water and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook for 1 hour.
  2. Add the collard greens to the pot and cook until tender, another 45 minutes to an hour.
  3. To serve, fish out the ham hock, pull the meat off the bones and chop. Mix the meat back with the greens and serve with vinegar and hot sauce at the table.

To significantly cut down on the amount of fat, use smoked turkey wings! Turkey is a lean meat that will decrease unnecessary grease, while not compromising flavor. Also, instead of using bacon fat or lard which is full of cholesterol and saturated fat, you can use refined coconut oil. Coconut oil won’t burn in high heat, and provides energy when digested by the liver.

Southern soul food is indulgent and flavorful, however, it can be very bad for your health. If you want to eat soul food in a restaurant setting, check out Detroit Vegan Soul. This restaurant provides all of the classic soul food dishes without any meat or dairy products.

Photo credit: Glory Foods

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