Traditionally, collard greens are cooked with water and a ham hock or two, or sometimes bacon, for hours on end until they collapse entirely into a tender pile of smoky greens and "pot liquor." But this isn't the only way to cook collards, nor is it the tastiest. Vegetarians and vegans can enjoy this version, braised for a shorter period of time and flavored with onions and garlic. The addition of smoked Spanish paprika replaces the smoky flavor usually supplied by the meat.
Stem and chop 1 1/2 pounds of collard greens into large strips or chunks.
Bring a large pot of water to boil. Plunge collard leaves into the boiling water and cook for 4 to 5 minutes.
Remove the greens with a slotted spoon or strainer and plunge directly into a bowl of ice water to stop them cooking and preserve their bright green color. Save 1 cup of the cooking water.
Drain the greens and gently squeeze the excess moisture from them.
Slice 1 onion and 2 to 4 garlic cloves very thin.
Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large, deep skillet or Dutch oven. Use medium heat.
Add the onion and cook, stirring until the onion has begun to soften, about 3 minutes.
Add the garlic and 1 teaspoon smoked paprika plus a generous pinch of salt. Continue to saute for about 5 minutes, until the onion is tender.
Add the collard greens and cook for about 3 more minutes, until the collards have begun to soften.
Add the 1 cup of reserved cooking water and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, partially cover, and cook at a gentle simmer for about 45 minutes to an hour. Stir often and add more water as needed.
When the greens are very tender, taste and adjust the seasoning as needed. Sprinkle some apple cider vinegar over the greens and serve hot or warm, accompanied by your favorite pepper sauce.
Collards are rich in vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin C, folate, calcium and potassium.
You can use 1 cup vegetable broth instead of the reserved cooking water for extra flavor.
You can sprinkle the greens with lemon juice instead of vinegar in the final step. Chef Bryant Terry uses orange juice to finish his take on braised collard greens.
For a rich, nutty flavor, omit the paprika and toss the greens with one-quarter cup brown butter instead. .
Make sure to check the pot often after you've added the water. Do not let the pot go dry or you will burn the greens.