Slow-Cooked Greens with Smoked Turkey

How to Cook a Mess o' Greens with a Smoked Turkey Leg

Greens so good, you'll want to eat the pot! At least that's what the nice lady in the doctor's office claimed, when she walked me through how to cook greens like she's been cooking them for sixty years and before that her mama and before that her grandmama. Her daughter and I were both taking mad notes ...

Real Food, Fresh & Flexible. Slow Cooked on the Stovetop or in the Oven. Weight Watchers Friendly. Low Carb. Naturally Gluten Free. High Protein. Great for Meal Prep.
Slow-Cooked Greens & Smoked Turkey ♥, healthy leafy greens cooked until tender and luscious with a smoked turkey leg or ham hocks. Low Carb. Low Cal. High Protein. Gluten Free. Great for Meal Prep and Weight Watchers.

My Fridge As a Greens House

A month back, I became fascinated – make that obsessed – with cooking leafy greens, you know, spinach and kale but also the less familiar collard greens, mustard greens, turnip greens, beet greens and more.

The fascination began with Jubilee: Recipes from Two Centuries of African American Cooking, a fascinating cookbook that's yielding one great recipe after another.

While I was experimenting with Jubilee's quick-cooked greens (and I still am ...), I bought greens left and right. And then I happened into conversation with a woman in the lobby of a doctor's office. After she talked me through how she cooks greens, my purchases got truly out of control.

At one point, the fridge held three pounds of spinach, two pounds of collards, a pound of mixed greens (all in convenient bags of already-cleaned greens) plus bundles of fresh beets, collards and mustard greens.

Ten pounds of greens, maybe? For a household of two??? Crazy! Ours was not a green house but a greens house!

What Are Leafy Greens?

But let's back up a bit. What, exactly, are "greens" anyway?

Greens are the edible leaves of certain plants. They're packed with nutrients and frankly, I'm betting none of us eat enough. There's some crossover but mostly, I think leafy greens fall into two camps.

Tender Greens for Eating Raw Lettuce falls here, especially the leafy green lettuce, but so does spinach, especially the tender baby spinach we use in salads. If you buy a bag of mixed lettuces called "spring mix," those too are leafy greens. So are dandelion greens.

More Fibrous Greens for Cooking Kale can be eaten raw, especially when it's massaged into tenderness (as in Quick 'Massaged' Kale Salad) but it's absolutely wonderful cooked. Mature (vs baby) spinach is better for cooked dishes. But mostly, when we talk about cooking leafy greens or a "mess of greens", we are talking about collard greens, mustard greens, turnip greens and when they're available, a whole range of Asian leafy greens.

Which Greens Are Best for Slow Cooking

No tender baby spinach or arugula here, please! If you can, choose curly kale, collard greens, mustard greens or turnip greens. Better yet? A mix of two or three or more of each!

With slow cooking, the greens' fibers break down and the greens turn sweet and tender and luscious and along with the potlikker ... absolutely intoxicating.

Bundles of Fresh Leafy Greens vs Bags of Fresh Greens

Slow-Cooked Greens & Smoked Turkey ♥, healthy leafy greens cooked until tender and luscious with a smoked turkey leg or ham hocks. Low Carb. Low Cal. High Protein. Gluten Free. Great for Meal Prep and Weight Watchers.

Both work. Both are great.

Fresh Bundles If you buy bundles of fresh leafy greens, you'll spend considerable time cleaning and trimming the greens. It's not hard, just a bit wet and time-consuming. And you'll need to buy a pot's weight of greens, two pounds for every 1 pound of edible greens for cooking after removing the heavy stems and ribs.

Bags of Fresh Greens When you can find bags of fresh greens, when the contents are mostly greens not tough stems, wow, they're wonderful and huge time savers. Most recently, I found bags of collards and bags of mixed greens good for slow-cooking in the produce department at Walmart, a brand called Nature's Greens. They were lovely! I trimmed off a few heavy stems but wow, what a time-saver.

Frozen Greens Not too many years ago, I remember finding good frozen greens at Whole Foods but in the last few weeks, I've found none at all save spinach.

What Is Potlikker? Pot Likker? Pot Liquor?

Slow-Cooked Greens & Smoked Turkey ♥, healthy leafy greens cooked until tender and luscious with a smoked turkey leg or ham hocks. Low Carb. Low Cal. High Protein. Gluten Free. Great for Meal Prep and Weight Watchers.

The greens cook in a liquid that over the hours turns golden-colored and rich-flavored. Oh my, such deliciousness! Once the greens are fully cooked, we call that liquid "pot liquor" which is some times usually if more casually called "potlikker" or "pot likker". Maybe that name is warranted because the liquid is as good as booze even without any alcohol??? Or maybe it's so good you want to lick the pot?! Who knows ...

Anyway, good stuff, the potlikker!

What to Make With the Extra Smoked Turkey Legs

At least in my world, smoked turkey legs are found in the meat department near the hams and come in threes. Too bad, you really only need one for an enormous pot.

So you might end up with extra turkey legs, wondering what to make with them.

First, they freeze, just wrap really well to avoid exposure to air and the formation of ice crystals that breaks down the meat. After that, here are a few ideas.

What's In Slow-Cooked Greens?

In all my recipes and most well-written recipes, every ingredient serves a purpose. Each one matters. Each one contributes to the overall dish. It's not that an ingredient can't be substituted by something else but when choosing the substitute, it's important to understand why the original ingredient was present in the first place.

  • Greens Sturdy, mature greens best saved for cooking, curly kale, collards, mustard greens, turnip greens, beet greens. A mix works especially well!
  • Smoked Turkey Leg These are fully cooked and full of flavor. They're big, just one yields about 300 grams of meat. But do make sure that you have a pot big enough to fit one of these big boys! If you have trouble finding smoked turkey legs or are making a smaller batch that can't handle a whole turkey leg, substitute a ham hock. Skip the turkey leg for vegetarian or vegan greens.
  • Liquid What you choose for liquid will make a difference in the potlikker. I do recommend starting with homemade chicken stock or turkey stock, it's so easy to make No-Big-Deal Homemade Chicken Stock (use the same technique in a bigger pot for a turkey carcass) but if need be, water will suffice.
  • Vinegar The acidity in the vinegar offsets the greens' richness, it doesn't take much but really can't be skipped.
  • "Sweet" Adding a touch of sweetness to the greens is a new-to-me technique, something I learned from Jubilee. Even though the greens don't taste at all sweet or sugary after cooking, the small measure of sweetness somehow helps to balance the bitterness of the greens. We love the wholesome sweetness of sorghum syrup (also called sorghum molasses or just sorghum), a southern and Midwestern specialty but maple syrup works, so does anything sweet including corn syrup, plain ol' pancake syrup or even sugar.
  • Red Pepper Flakes Just a touch of heat. Could you use Tabasco or hot sauce? I do believe.
  • Salt There's no overstating how important salt is to cooked greens. Without salt, the greens taste just flat and unappealing. The right amount of salt, however, is subjective. If you use a store-bought chicken stock, it will already be plenty salty, you may need no additional salt. But with homemade chicken stock, do not be shy, especially when making the large batch of greens.

You Might Wonder Be Wondering ...

Can You Make Slow-Cooked Greens Ahead of Time? Yes! In fact, I recommend it. The first time I made them, we had them for dinner and they were what I'd call "good to very good". By the next morning? I could have eaten the pot.

Can You Make Slow-Cooked Greens with Frozen Leafy Greens? I haven't but suspect you could, especially if you find frozen greens like collards.

Can You Make a Vegetarian or Vegan Pot of Greens? Yes! Just leave out the dairy and meat ingredients. You may need to season the potlikker a little more.

Can You Slow Cook the Greens in the Oven? Yes! An oven has such even temperature control, it's an excellent way to slow cook soups and stews, way better, in my opinion, than a slow cooker.

What Makes This Recipe Special

  • It easily scales from a pound of greens to many pounds of greens, a small batch to a big batch
  • It's hearty, healthy food that (to our taste, anyway) is drop-dead delicious
  • It's pared down to the very basics, no fancy spices, no hard-to-find ingredients
  • It serves easily, either as a healthy side or a hearty main dish served with rice, beans, grits or cornbread

  • Ready to get started? Here's your recipe!

Slow-Cooked Greens & Smoked Turkey ♥, healthy leafy greens cooked until tender and luscious with a smoked turkey leg or ham hocks. Low Carb. Low Cal. High Protein. Gluten Free. Great for Meal Prep and Weight Watchers.


Hands-on time: 30 minutes plus occasional attention throughout
Time-to-table: 7 hours but best made a day ahead
Makes a bunch, allow 1/4-1/2 cup per side serving and 1 cup per main dish serving

If working with fresh greens in bunches (vs cleaned greens in bags), allow plenty of time to soak, rinse and trim the greens. You'll want this job done before starting to cook.
    (makes about 13.5 cups)
  • 3 tablespoons butter or bacon grease
  • 2 large onions
  • 3 pounds greens, already cleaned and trimmed
  • 6 cups chicken stock, turkey stock or water
  • 1 fully cooked smoked turkey leg

  • 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar or to taste
  • 3 tablespoons "sweet" (sorghum or maple syrup or molasses or corn syrup or even sugar)
  • A sprinkle of red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt or to taste
    Per POUND of Edible Greens
    (for easy scaling up or down, makes about 4.5 cups)
  • 1 tablespoon butter or bacon grease
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 pound greens, already cleaned, trimmed and chopped
  • 2 cups chicken stock, turkey stock or water
  • 1 fully cooked ham hock (rough equivalent of 1/3 a smoked turkey leg)

  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar or to taste
  • 1 tablespoon "sweet" (sorghum or maple syrup or molasses or corn syrup or even sugar)
  • A sprinkle of red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt or to taste

TO CLEAN & TRIM THE GREENS Working in batches, let the greens soak in warm water in a large basin or a clean kitchen sink for about 5 minutes. Lift the greens out of the water and rinse the basin or sink. (Some cooks insist on doing refreshing the water and soaking two more times.) Piece by piece, rinse each green under running water, rubbing the leaves with your hands to detect any grittiness, using the flowing water to get the grit out of any crevasses. Once cleaned, use a sharp knife to remove the tough center rib, discard this. Stack five or six leaves on a cutting board. If you can, roll the greens into a cigar shape, then cut cross-wise into ribbons. If the greens don't roll easily, just scrunch them together with one hand, then cut into ribbons with the other. Set aside, you'll end up with one enormous pile of greens.

IF USING FRESH GREENS FROM A BAG Refresh the greens by rinsing under running water. If there are lots of tough center stems, discard these.

START COOKING In an extra-large pot (I use a very large stock pot), melt the butter on medium high, add the onion and let cook, stirring occasionally until beginning to soften. Add the washed, trimmed and chopped greens a big handful at a time, stirring into the onion, letting each handful cook down a bit before adding another. Once all the greens are in, add the stock or water, it should almost come up to the height of the greens. Submerge the turkey leg in the greens and stock. Cover the pot and bring the liquid to a boil.

SIMMER FOR 2-3 HOURS. Adjust the heat as needed to keep the liquid at a very slow simmer, just a few bubbles, not a mad boil, it may take a few tries to get the temperature just right.

REMOVE THE TURKEY SKIN Pull the turkey leg out of the pot. When it's cool enough to handle, remove the turkey skin and tendons (discard these), leaving just the turkey leg meat. With two forks, "pull" the larger pieces of meat and return just the meat to the pot.

TASTE THE EARLY POTLIKKER Taste a small sip of the liquid, this is the start of the "potlikker" and once it's done, you want it to taste really good. Do know, the potlikker's flavor will continue to develop during the remaining cooking time but right now, give it some help by adding the vinegar, the "sweet" and some red pepper flakes. Taste it again, then add the salt and taste again. We find the amounts shown in the ingredient list to be "spot on" but of course, adjust them to your own taste.

SIMMER FOR 3-4 MORE HOURS, FOR A TOTAL OF SIX HOURS Taste the greens themselves, they should be soft and silky but not mushy. Taste the potlikker, it should be rich and aromatic, as good as the pot itself. If needed, adjust the vinegar, "sweet" and salt, even the red pepper flakes.

TO SERVE RIGHT AWAY If you like, serve now. Better yet, let cool and refrigerate overnight to serve tomorrow because oh-my-lanta, they'll be oh-so-good tomorrow.

TO SERVE TOMORROW Reheat the greens until hot, then serve as a side dish or as a main dish with How to Cook White Rice or cornbread, either Skillet Cornbread (for Yankees) or Simple Cast Iron Southern Corn Bread (or Southerners).

SLOW COOKING IN THE OVEN If your stove won't hold a low simmer, let simmer in the oven at 220F/100C, just a touch above the boiling point.

SLOW COOKING IN AN ACTUAL SLOW COOKER I have such rotten luck with unreliable, inconsistent slow cookers but yes, if you have a slow cooker large enough to hold this much volume (without filling the entire slow cooker), cooking on low for 6 - 8 hours should do the trick.

LEFTOVERS What's leftover reheats beautifully.

TO FREEZE Transfer to freezer containers, top with a double layer of waxed paper pressed against the greens (this prevents ice crystals from forming on the greens themselves), seal tightly and freeze.

FOR VEGETARIAN OR VEGAN GREENS Use vegetable stock or water for the cooking liquid and skip the turkey leg. Some richness will be lost, you'll need to adjust the vinegar, "sweet" and salt accordingly. I'd also be tempted to add a 3-ounce can of tomato paste to deepen the flavor and "umami" savoriness.

NUTRITION INFORMATION Per Cup: 120 Calories; 4g Tot Fat; 2g Sat Fat; 37mg Cholesterol; 202mg Sodium; 11g Carb; 3g Fiber; 1g Sugar; 12g Protein. WEIGHT WATCHERS Old Points 2 & PointsPlus 2 & SmartPoints 3 & Freestyle 2 & myWW green 2 & blue 2 & purple 2

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Kitchen Parade is written by second-generation food columnist Alanna Kellogg and features fresh, seasonal dishes for every-day healthful eating and occasional indulgences. Quick Suppers are Kitchen Parade favorites and feature recipes easy on the budget, the clock, the waistline and the dishwasher. Do you have a favorite recipe that other Kitchen Parade readers might like? Just send me a quick e-mail via How to print a Kitchen Parade recipe. Never miss a recipe! If you like this recipe, sign up for a free e-mail subscription. If you like Kitchen Parade, you're sure to like my food blog about vegetable recipes, too, A Veggie Venture. If you make this recipe, I'd love to know your results! Just leave a comment below.

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Alanna Kellogg
Alanna Kellogg

A Veggie Venture is home of "veggie evangelist" Alanna Kellogg and the famous asparagus-to-zucchini Alphabet of Vegetables.