Down-Home Comfort: Collard Greens and Cornbread for New Year’s Day

by in Holidays, Recipes, January 1st, 2014

As a Southerner, I’ve had some form of slow-cooked greens served alongside a serving of Hoppin’ John on New Year’s Day nearly every year of my entire life. Hoppin’ John, a dish made of peas and rice, is supposed to bring luck — although no one’s quite sure why — and the greens are supposed to bring money. The resulting meal is a plate of hearty goodness, which, lucky and money-conjuring or not, is the perfect way to start a new year.

There’s no reason to limit greens to just one day! Winter greens such as collard, mustard, turnip, kale and chard are all good, good for you, and a most-welcome departure from sometimes-dreary starchy winter roots and tubers.

Old-school Southern cooking often seasons greens with a variant of pig fat and cooks the life out of them. Don’t get me wrong; that version can be delicious, especially if that’s what you grew up eating. Winter greens are members of the Brassica family and are noted for their pleasant bitterness and slight peppery flavor. They can stand up to long cooking and they need full, bold tastes to meet their match. However, the truth is that Southern food is a living, growing cuisine, and not all Southern food is — or has to be — unhealthy. One recent adaptation that is true and authentic to Southern cooking is to use smoked turkey meat instead of pork. Smoked turkey provides that earthy, smoky flavor without as much saturated fat as bacon, fatback, ham hock or hog jowl. (Vegetarian and non-traditional alternative seasonings include dried chipotle peppers and smoked paprika.)

When the smoked meat is combined with broth or water and simmered with the greens, it creates a magical amalgamation, an umami-rich broth called potlikker. Potlikker is made for cornbread, especially cornbread made from stone-ground whole-grain corn and creamy, rich buttermilk. Believe me, there’s nothing on this earth like a wedge of cornbread dipped in that potent, green broth. It’s nothing but down-home comfort.

Better practices don’t start in one day; success needs repetition. Get your year off to the right start with this recipe for Collard Greens with Smoked Turkey and Whole Grain Cornbread.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!

Georgia-born, French-trained Chef Virginia Willis has cooked lapin Normandie with Julia Child in France, prepared lunch for President Clinton and harvested capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, but it all started in her grandmother’s country kitchen. A Southern food authority, she is the author of Bon Appétit, Y’all and Basic to Brilliant, Y’all, among others. Follow her continuing exploits at

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Comments (6)

  1. David Galloway says:

    Thanks, Chef, for your reminder of the traditions of New Year's Day with the enhanced and healthier ways to enjoy them. I am looking forward to benefitting from your wisdom and humor in this new series. Thanks

  2. seakaeo says:

    Also a southerner, our New Years tradition is also greens, peas and cornbread but we add cabbage. They can be cooked just like the greens (i.e. turkey vs. ham). And for a snack later in the day crumble up some cornbread in a glass and cover in milk. I have memories or my Granny doing this.

  3. Lana Stuart says:

    So happy to see Virginia Willis' writing on Food Network! She is simply one of the best representatives of today's southern cuisine. I particularly enjoyed this post and its presentation of some of our most enduring Southern food traditions – greens and blackeyed peas for New Year's Day. I prepared and served mine just as I have done every year for as long as I can remember. Traditions run deep in Southern families and this is one of the most delicious!

  4. Angie Mosier says:

    Love this post from Virginia Willis. Thank you for representing the South in such a beautiful and smart way. Can't wait to read and see more!

  5. Heather says:

    Thanks Virginia, lovely as always. I love to cook my soup beans with a smoked turkey wing, it's sogood, I dare say I prefer it over a ham hock…..

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