The final step to cooking excellent vegan collards is creating flavor balance. As you continue to prepare leaves and add them to the broth, you may have to add additional broth. Collards cook down, but when dealing with an extremely large mess, it’s always good to have extra broth on hand.
I like to skim broth off of my currently bubbling cauldron of leftover vegetable goodness, and then pour the ladle through a hand strainer (as shown below).
If you made your broth the day before or are using store bought broth, this step is easier, but it’s really good to know how to make broth on the fly, just in case you need it and discover you don’t have enough.
Taste your broth (don’t burn your tongue). The collards have to simmer for at least one hour, so you’ll have lots of time to figure out your flavor balance.
The blend of spicy, sour, sweet and savory are always in flux, maturing as the collards cook and maturing further overnight. This past fall I used our final push of spicy peppers from the garden to flavor several glass containers of vinegar, which I keep in the fridge like some kind of pickle hoarder. If you have any such thing, use it, it’s delightful. I also enjoy adding “Scott’s Barbecue Sauce” (which is where I got this delightful bottle), to my collards if I have some laying around.
A couple of pinches of brown sugar helps to mimic the flavors we get from ham or bacon.
You don’t have to have pepper vinegar or Scott’s Barbecue Sauce to make collards taste good, plain white vinegar can be dressed up with spices too.
Taste for salt balance. People are hesitant to use too much salt, but keep in mind that if this is a very large pot of collards, the salt is dispersing through a very large amount of pot-liquor. The key is to taste, correct, then taste again.
Garlic powder helps your vinegar taste delicious. Purchasing spices in the ethnic aisle of the grocery store (or at the local dollar store), is a great way to get the most economy out of buying spices, especially for making large vats of food, or if you’re a daily cook.
If you need to kick up the spice, use your favorite hot sauce. Texas Pete is made here in North Carolina, but is hard to come by if you live in another state. No worries, Tabasco works too.
I never make collards without crushed red pepper. It kicks up the spice, but be careful, the heat blooms over time.
Set a timer for an hour and let your collards simmer with the lid on. Stir once or twice through to make sure that there is enough pot-liquor so that leaves don’t stick to the bottom of the pot. I’ve never burned collards yet, but I’m sure it’s not out of the realm of possibilities, especially if a lot of steam is escaping.
After an hour, taste again and correct if necessary. Taste the leaves- are they soft enough for you (and your audience) to enjoy? If not, let them simmer for another 30 minutes- 1 hour and check again. More mature plants have thicker leaves which may require more cooking to match the texture that you enjoy.
When I cut the heat off of the eye of the stove, the collards will continue to stew and develop until they cool. If you’re waiting to put them in the fridge, this may be a while. The best thing about vegan collards (aside from their kindness and economy), is that you won’t run the risk of meat spoiling in them when left out.
I finished up this batch at about 11 pm. They were going with me to work at 9 am, so I simply left my collards on the stove to cool all night. By 8 am, they were still slightly warm due to their sheer volume. If you do need them to cool faster to refrigerate, transfer the collards to a big, flat oven pan. Surface area is your friend when cooking a cauldron of anything, and cooling food before putting it into the fridge prevents spoilage and bacteria. Cool to room temperature, then transfer. When reheating, reheat to boiling and allow to boil at least 15 minutes to keep your pot-liquor broth sterile.
Collards and black-eyed peas are an ultimate Southern comfort food. Add some cornbread and sop up all of that delicious pot-liquor. You deserve it!