Musings of a Master Chef: Southern Greens

by James Corwell, Certified Master Chef

In the South, there is a long tradition of braised collard greens and black-eyed peas to start off the new year. This is serious business in Atlanta, my hometown. The tradition ushers in good fortune as black-eyed peas represent good luck (and some say coins) and the greens represent money. Certainly, an edible resolution and delicious way of manifesting change for the new year. 

It seems the tradition of black-eyed peas on new year’s celebrations dates back more than 1500 years, first seen in the Talmud for Rosh Hoshana. But, in Atlanta, braised greens are enjoyed all year long. As they are a natural part of the cultural flora and fauna. 

Last month, Mrs. Saddlewhite, my neighbor and master chef of southern food gave me some of her famed collard greens. As we caught up, she shared how she and her daughter cooked everything in advance so they can sit back and enjoy the family later in the day. 

She is wise and good humored, and I love to listen to her talk about cooking, family, and the church. She can tell you all about the civil rights movement in Atlanta, and how the neighborhood has change over 40+ years.  As she shares her memories, I can feel a deep well of endurance, sacrifice, and strength coming from her gentle core.

My family and I enjoy her gifts. The greens are tender, a little spicy, with a subtle touch of vinegar and a heaping dose of love. In her home cooking there is a whole other side of life. The cultural perspective of food always grabs me as I lacked that growing up. But as a Chef, I learned some time ago how food tells a story about ourselves, society, cultures and histories.   

Like so many other foods, braised greens were born out of the mother of necessity where something wonderful was created out of an impoverished time. Even as a child, it was not uncommon to find shanty made shade tree collard stands tucked into the side streets of Atlanta. Turning backyard crops into gold was a way of making extra money once upon a time. That Midas touch has all but vanished into local farmers markets which is an altogether different shade of gold.  

Greens are humble, overlooked and often undervalued. Mrs. Saddlewhite’s gift not only fed me, but unknowing she nourished my spirit too.  I will always encourage you to ask yourself about your food and its source. Often you will be amazed at what you find and if you are very lucky you will discover a touching treasure. Bless you Mrs. Saddlewhite, for your delicious greens, the glimpses into the past, and your welcoming spirit into the neighborhood. 

Vegan Southern Style Braised Collard Greens

Serves: 8-10


  • Olive Oil ¼ cup
  • Medium Onion, thinly sliced 1 
  • Garlic, thinly sliced ¼ cup
  • Collard Greens, 2 pounds washed, mid rib removed, leaves cut into 2-inch pieces 
  • Jalapeno, chopped 1
  • Salt 1 ½ Tbsp.
  • Water 3 qts.
  • Carrot, 5-inch piece 1 
  • Celery stalk 1 
  • Bay Leaves 2
  • Smoked Paprika ¾ tsp.
  • White Vinegar ¼ cup
  • Franks Hot Sauce ¼ cup


  1. In a 6-quart or adequately sized pot combine the olive oil, onion, and garlic.  Cook the onion mixture over medium heat until soft, about 3 minutes. 
  2. Add in the collards, jalapeno, and salt; stir well to combine.
  3. Add in the water, carrot, celery, bay leaves, smoked paprika, white vinegar and hot sauce. Stir well to combine and bring to a simmer. 
  4. When simmering; cover and cook the greens for 2 hours.  
  5. Check the pot every 30 minutes that the greens are cooking gently covered in the cooking liquid called potlikker.
  6. Adjust the final seasoning as needed with additional water or salt to taste.  Serve with hot sauce on the side.

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