This Collard Greens Recipe Will Be the MVP of Your Thanksgiving

Food Network Kitchen's Nikki Scott shares a tried-and-true family recipe.

Food Network Kitchen’s Collard Greens.

Food Network Kitchen’s Collard Greens.

Photo by: Matt Armendariz

Matt Armendariz

By: Frances Kim

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While turkey usually gets all the attention on Thanksgiving, everyone knows that side dishes are the best part of the meal — after all, they do take up most of the plate! For Food Network Kitchen culinary producer Nikki Scott, the holiday isn’t complete without her grandmother’s Collard Greens. They’re the first thing she thinks of when she thinks of a home-cooked meal. “Collard greens are a go-to veggie in American Black households,” says Nikki. “Everyone loves kale these days, but this is the classic, the O.G.”

While Nikki highly recommends trying her grandmother’s method, because collard greens are a tradition for so many families, she is quick to point out that it’s all about your taste and preference. As the food journalist and historian Toni Tipton-Martin writes in her James Beard award-winning cookbook Jubilee, "There is an impression that old-fashioned, Southern, or country-style greens must be boiled to death to be authentic soul food...That notion, though, hasn't always been set in stone. Descendants of the African diaspora have always prepared cultivated and wild greens by myriad methods." Instead of an hourslong braise, Nikki calls for cooking the collards just until they’re tender but still have their integrity.

She starts by carefully washing a whopping 4½ pounds of greens and removing the ribs, the thick, fibrous stalks in the center. “It sounds like an insane amount of greens, but they’ll all fit into the pot as they cook down,” says Nikki. She then takes a stack of leaves, rolls it like a cigar and slices it into thin ribbons (a French technique called chiffonade, which will definitely earn you bragging rights at the Thanksgiving table!). “The thinner you slice the leaves, the better they taste,” she advises. “There’s magic in thinly sliced collard greens.”

Once the greens are prepped, it’s all about building flavor. Nikki relies on smoked turkey wings for her base, although you can use smoked ham hocks or bacon if you don’t want to double up on turkey. “The smokiness superimposes itself into your greens and adds another level of yumminess that is indescribable,” says Nikki. Once the turkey is browned and fragrant, she adds red pepper flakes, apple cider vinegar, garlic powder, onion powder and sugar, which balances out the bitterness of the greens and really pulls out their flavor. About half an hour later, you’ll be rewarded with a pot of beautiful, silky collards that will be the talk of the Thanksgiving table.

If you’re still rounding out your menu at the last minute, be sure to check out Nikki’s classes for Sweet Cornbread and Southern Baked Mac and Cheese — they’re so good that they just might become your new holiday staples.

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