I love a good soup. Infinitely forgiving, enhanced by improvisation, requiring minimal cleanup – making soup is my kind of cooking. I’m also a sucker for traditions – especially holiday traditions that are steeped in history. This recipe combines the ease and comfort of soup-making (and soup-eating) with time-honored tradition promising good fortune. Plus, it’s winter – Lord knows stewing some greens and veggies in bone broth ain’t gonna hurt your immune system. You really can’t beat this soup for some hungover, post-partying comfort.
Living in Savannah for 20 years certainly influenced my palate and my sense of history – you can’t help feeling closer to the past when this is your hometown:
In the American South, it’s pretty much a given that most everyone will be eating some variation of the same meal on New Year’s Day: collard greens, black-eyed peas, some form of pork (usually ham), and corn bread. These foods are meant to bring good fortune in the new year, and it doesn’t hurt that they are super yummy. Each ingredient is symbolic, and their powers are only amplified when eaten in concert. Collard greens represent all that cash you’ll want in your wallet as you face another year, and black-eyed peas stand in for coins. Some traditionalists count out exactly 365 black-eyed peas – one for each day of the year, but just incorporating them is enough to grease the wheels with Lady Luck. Cornbread is the color of gold, and the more you utilize pork in the meal, the better your chances for a lucky year, as pigs symbolize forward motion (and also pair really well with collards and “field peas”).
Usually, all these symbols end up on the table separately. The collards greens are slow-cooked with ham hocks and fatback. Black-eye peas show up in the form of Hoppin’ John, and the cook’s favorite pork – maybe chops or a boozy ham – will take center stage on the table.
But that’s a lot of dirty pans and a lot of focused effort after a long, champagne-fueled evening. Also, soup rocks – and you get to utilize some Christmas leftovers nearing the end of their shelf-life. So here you have my tasty twist on the classic Southern New Year’s table.
It’s worth noting that collard greens and black-eyed peas can go really, really wrong, and both benefit from tried-and-true traditional cooking methods – namely cooking them in pork fat, adding a little vinegar for balance, and cooking them patiently to avoid a mouthful of bitterness. (Pro-tip: add a pinch or two of nutmeg whenever you’re cooking greens – collards, kale, chard, etc – it’ll enhance the flavor.) This soup incorporates those lessons, and you get the bonus benefit of all the vitamins that cook out of the collards but remain in the broth (called “pot likker” for obvious reasons…yum…).
Ok, so here’s the deal. I’ve never, ever measured anything for this soup, and I completely forgot to try to do so this year. All the measurements below are guesses, but the good news is that this recipe is super forgiving. This soup is rustic, so have fun with it and don’t worry about perfect amounts. I promise it’ll still be yummy. The same advice goes for the knife work. Go easy on yourself and chop things are large as you want. I love a chunk of onion, so I can get pretty lazy with this. I’m pretty sure that one day, I’ll just toss in a whole onion and call it a day.
A note on the ham stock: I make my ham stock using the bone from my Christmas ham, and I just freeze the stock until I need it. It’s really easy. I just put the bone in a soup pot, fill that bad boy up with water, and add a couple carrots, an onion or two (depending on whether the onions are large or small), a couple stalks of celery, a few cloves of garlic, and two bay leaves. Simmer covered for four to six hours (seriously). Remove the stock from the heat, allowing it to cool, skim off the fat, strain out the solids, and voila! Best thing about making the stock is that it’s so forgiving. It’s great for cleaning out the fridge. Got some random parsley or thyme that you don’t want to throw way? Add it to the pot. Have a few leftover carrots? Toss them in, skin and all. You even leave the skin on the onions and garlic, so this is literally the lowest effort cooking you’ll do all December, but you’ll feel really cool and impressive when you mention you’re making your own bone broth. See how fancy that sounds? Go have fun with it.
- ~4 cups collard greens, chopped into approximately 1 inch rectanglesOk, I usually use one bunch of collard greens, but when I bought them this year, the bunches were smaller, so I used two.
- To prepare the greens, soak them in cold water in the sink for a couple of hours, then gently but thoroughly scrub/rinse each leaf under running water to remove any stubborn sand and dirt. When chopping them up, make sure you remove the stems and ribs.
- 8-10 cups ham stock (can substitute with chicken broth in a pinch)Ham stock works best, but you can use chicken broth or beef broth if you don’t have any ham stock available. Just keep in mind that store-bought broth will be saltier than the homemade stock, I wouldn’t recommend adding salt until the end, when you can taste the soup and gauge what it needs. Also, if you opt for beef broth, keep in mind that it’s going to change the flavor much more than chicken. I’ve made no-pork collard greens for my Muslim friends in the past, and beef broth works really well with the greens in that context, but here, it could overpower the other flavors. Proceed with caution.
- 2-3 cups ham, cut into roughly 1-inch cubes Leftover Holiday Bourbon Ham is perfect for this. Also, cut the ham into whatever size chunks you want. You really can’t mess this up.
- 6 pieces thick-cut baconOk, so the deal is that you’re just cooking the bacon and reserving the grease to cook the veggies and greens. You could use lard or some other form of animal fat instead. Traditionally, collard greens are usually cooked with fatback or ham hock, and this is method is just a variation based on (A) what I tend to have in my fridge (read: bacon – nom nom), and (B) since this is a soup made with ham stock, I think the bacon works just as well.
- 2 (16 oz) can black-eyed peas, drained and rinsedSo, you can totally use dried black-eye peas here. I’m usually in the clutches of post-Christmas malaise at this time of year, so I’m not organized enough to remember to soak and prep the black-eye peas. If you are, go for it.
- 1 large onion (red or yellow works), large diced
- 4 cloves of garlic, minced
- 3-4 carrots, choppedI usually go with 4 carrots because I like carrots – and I tell myself that the extra veggies balance the wealth of fat I dump into this soup. Also, I’m from the “more is more” school of cooking. I can’t help myself.
- 2 cups celery, choppedI usually end up using 2 or 3 stalks plus the “heart” of the celery bunch, leaves and all.
- 1-2 cups button mushrooms, chopped (optional)
- 1 small bunch Italian parsley, roughly mincedOk, so the story here is the I had an entire bunch of parsley in my fridge this year that was 100% going to spoil if I didn’t use it, so I said to hell with it and used the same thing. I was lowkey afraid that the parsley would overpower everything else, but honestly, it was fine. You in no way need to add this much, but you can if you find yourself with a bouquet of parsley, you don’t have to let it wilt in your veggie bin.
- 2 tbsp salted butter
- 1 tbsp paprika
- 2 tsp dried thyme
- 2 tsp dried oregano
- ¼ tsp nutmeg
- ½ tsp Dijon mustard
- ~1 tbsp Texas Pete Hot Sauce
- ½ tsp white wine vinegar
- 1 cup heavy creamGo with your gut here. I like a lot of broth, and I like a healthy amount of cream to enrich the soup and balance the greens. I’d start with a cup and just taste it. If you feel more cream would enhance the flavor, pour in a little more.
- Salt and pepper to tasteBecause I don’t salt my ham stock, I end up adding a significant amount of salt at the end. My advice would be to gently, cautiously salt the veggies as you sauté them, but don’t add anything more. At the end, just keep adding and tasting until you hit your saltiness sweet spot.
- Cook the bacon until crisp – either in your soup pot or in a separate frying pan. Reserve all of the grease, and save the bacon for some other meal – you won’t need it for this soup.
- The pot is a time saver, but I find the bacon doesn’t cook as well for me when I do it that way, so I generally take the extra step of cooking the bacon in a frying pan and transferring the grease to the pot. Either way, you’re after the grease here, so the bacon is a fun bonus. I tend to snack on it as I cook, because most of the time, it’s the afternoon, and all I’ve put in my belly since waking is black coffee and San Pellgrino. My husband and dog also enjoy this part, as they too receive a delicious portion of snack bacon.
- Melt the butter in the bacon grease on medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until they are beginning to soften and become translucent.
- Add the garlic and continue to sauté for another minute or two to release the flavor.
- Add the carrots, celery, and mushrooms, and sauté for another several minutes. Once again, the goal here is to release the flavor and slightly soften the veggies.
- Add the collard greens, and keep turning/sautéing for another couple minutes. You really want the fat and heat to work their magic on the greens a bit. They won’t wilt significantly the way kale or spinach would, but they should limpen a little.
- Add the paprika, oregano, thyme, nutmeg, fresh parsley, and Dijon mustard. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, but don’t go crazy. You can’t take that salt back, but you do want to add some to help all the other spices along. Give the veggies and spices another minute on the heat to incorporate the flavors.
- Add in the ham stock. There’s an art to this. I love a lot of broth in my soup, so when I’m adding my stock, I just keeping pouring until I hit a solids-to-liquid ration that makes me happy.
- Add the black-eyed peas, Texas Pete Hot Sauce, and white wine vinegar. Bring the soup to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer.
- Simmer for 45 minute to an hour. I recommend tasting the greens at the 45 minute mark. Collard greens can be very bitter if undercooked. If you’re tasting the bitterness, give it another 15 minutes and try again.
- Remove the soup from the heat and stir in the heavy cream. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve hot with a side of cornbread.
I hope you love this soup as much as I do. May it bring you prosperity and good health in the new year (or whenever you choose to enjoy it).
Happy New Year,