on a marble countertop, sits a blue cloth napkin next to a white bowl of quick collard greens with a fork laid across the top of the bowl

Smoky Vegan Collard Greens is a quick and easy recipe for healthy, southern-style vegan and vegetarian greens that are hearty enough for meat-eaters to love—it’s delicious!

Living health-minded means being sure to eat your veggies—AND including plenty of dark leafy greens. Eating healthy, quick collard greens is easy to do when they taste like these smokey vegan collard greens.

My best memories of eating collard greens are from when I was just a kid. Given how green this traditional southern-style side dish tends to be, it may seem odd to have collards linked to a happy childhood memory, but like most good memories, there’s more to it than just the veggies.

The memories of an iron skillet brimming with wilted greens topped with bacon is one of the first things I recall seeing when we’d eat with Aunt Pearly and Uncle Earnest. They always seemed to have plenty of food on the table with fresh veggies and other southern-style sides from one end to the other.

Come to think of it, the smoked applewood sea salt we use in this smoky vegan collard greens recipe tastes just like the air smelled when we’d sit and swing on their front porch sharing stories and catching up while sipping on sweet tea.

Even though I pretty much grew up in Chicago’s northwest suburbs, the flavors in this dish come to you straight from Tennessee’s lush hills. So, when it comes to cooking collard greens, you can bet your last biscuit that the taste you experience will be southern-style.

Let’s dive in and learn how easy it is to make smokey flavored and healthy vegan collard greens seasoned to perfection without using meat or oil in this recipe.

Are Collard Greens Affordable?

This recipe for simple vegan collard greens is easy on the budget because it contains inexpensive ingredients. Fresh raw collard greens, and greens in general, are very budget-friendly vegan food.

And feel free to substitute any hearty green that’s on sale or in season in the place of collard greens in this recipe, such as mustard greens, turnip greens, or kale.

As for canned collard greens, yes, these are an affordable option, too. But for this recipe, we’re skipping canned collard greens and cooking up a quick and beautifully seasoned batch of greens from scratch!

a shallow white bowl of southern-style collard greens with bits or cornbread scattered beside it along with a blue denim cloth napkin

Are Collard Greens Good For You?

On their own, collard greens are super healthy and considered to be a superfood. Collards provide incredible cholesterol-lowering benefits when cooked healthily.

However, traditionally, they’re usually prepared with their inherent goodness swimming in a sea of fat.

That may be a rather blunt statement, but it’s also all too true.

Since collards bring a generous amount of vitamins and minerals to the table, we like to cook ours without oil. Our recipe is closer to steaming the naturally gluten-free collards rather than frying.

In this healthy vegan collard greens recipe, we share how to prepare Southern-style collard greens with smokey flavor without using cooking oil.

How to Clean and Trim Collard Greens

  • First, wash and dry the collared leaves. If the greens are noticeably sandy, rinse the greens by soaking them in a bath of cold water, rinse with more water, drain, and then pat dry.
  • And if the center stem is super thick, remove it as needed. If the collard leaf stem is not super thick or tough, it is edible, so chop it and use it!  A simple way to trim the stem away from the collard leaf, fold each leaf in half and cut along the stem to remove it from the leaf.
  • We chopped our collard greens into wide ribbons by stacking a couple of leaves, rolling them up into a long roll, and then chopping the roll into ribbons or wide strips at once. If the ribbons of greens seem a bit too long to eat with ease, go ahead and cut them to the length you prefer.
close up of cooked greens with a smoky meatless vegan bacon

Can You Eat Raw Collard Greens?

Collard greens are super good for you when cooked from fresh, and they’re super healthy, nutritious, and delicious when eaten raw, too! Even canned collard greens provide some nutrients—though fresh is always best.

In this southern-style smokey vegan collard recipe, we suggest cooking the collards until they’re relatively tender or to the tenderness you prefer. 

And in our recipe for a gorgeous and colorful, deconstructed Collard Wrap Salad Bowl, or our Mango Cashew Collard Wrap, we do not cook the collards, or any ingredients in the recipes, at all.

How to Cook Collard Greens Without Meat

Believe it or not, you can make delicious southern vegan collards without using meat. This real flavor in this vegetarian and vegan collard greens recipe begins with tomatoes and other vegetables. The onion and garlic’s initial wilting provides a foundation of exciting flavors in this healthy take of collard green soul food recipe.

Aromatic ingredients like garlic and onions, smoked salt, or liquid smoke, if you prefer, and a pinch of simple red pepper flakes all work together to give the greens a bit of heat and smokey flavor, without meat!   

Greens act almost like noodles in this vegan recipe, as the collards practically soak up the seasonings.

The finishing touch to this vegetarian collard greens recipe is a generous sprinkling of oil-free Fakin’ Bacon.  Our quick and easy Fakin’ Bacon tastes just like bacon, but it’s NOT—plus, it’s oil-free, gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, and plant-based!

a pan of oven baked vegan bacon sits near a bowl of southern-style collard greens witha few pieces of cornbread scattered around on a white marble counter surface

Ingredients to Make this Meatless Southern-Style Collard Greens Recipe

To make this quick, gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, meatless, oil-free collard greens recipe, you’ll need the following ten items plus optional hot sauce for extra spicy flavor:

  • onion
  • plenty of garlic
  • water or veggie broth for cooking without oil
  • canned or fresh diced tomatoes—Fire-roasted canned tomatoes work incredibly well!
  • smoked applewood salt, or regular salt
  • dried red pepper flakes
  • collard greens
  • black pepper
  • apple cider vinegar—Vinegar helps tenderize the collars as well as season the greens.
  • plant-based vegan bacon—We recommend our oil-free Fakin’ Bacon.
  • optional hot sauce for serving—Our oil-free Creamy Hemp Buffalo Sauce tastes terrific on greens.
southern-style vegan collard greens in a white bowl

How to Prepare Collard Greens

When it comes to cooked vegetables, I sincerely prefer my vegetables to keep a bit of their texture, cooking them quickly, just enough to tenderize but not disintegrate.

For collard greens, which, as mentioned, may also be enjoyed raw, I like to cook them until they’re just tender.

However, more often than not, folks expect their collard greens to be pretty thoroughly cooked—like melt in your mouth, barely the need to chew, cooked. That’s how authentic southern-style soul food greens usually present—so tender they’re practically invisible!

For this recipe, you toss everything in the pan except the collards, vinegar, Fakin’ Bacon, and optional hot sauce, and cook for a minute or five or until those other veggies begin to wilt.  

Then, you add in the collards, stir, cover, and let them simmer until cooked to your liking.  

Once the greens reach your desired tenderness, splash them with a little vinegar, stir, and sprinkle on the Fakin’ Bacon! Serve with hot sauce on the side, or your favorite, for an extra bit of spicy heat.

Plant-Based Vegan and Gluten-Free Side Dishes to Serve with Smoky Vegan Collard Greens

Being sure to eat plenty of greens is one of the surest ways to get the nutrients you need when enjoying a plant-based lifestyle.

And there’s nothing as quite as satisfying as a heaping helping of these quick greens served with traditional southern-style sides.

Collard greens taste lovely with an array of hearty sides, such as:

Instant Pot, Crock-Pot, or Stovetop Black Beans
Gluten-Free Cornbread Muffins
Healthy Mashed Potatoes & Gravy with Cannellini Cream
Vegan Protein-Packed Mashed Potatoes
Southern Style Stuffing Muffins

on a marble counter sits a single fork filled with bite of vegan collard greens recipe

How to Store Cooked Vegan Collard Greens

You may store your smoky vegan collard greens for up to three or so days in the refrigerator. Just be sure your greens are sealed well in an airtight container.

And if you prefer your collards super tender, soul food or southern style, you could undoubtedly freeze portions to thaw and eat later.

We’re Thankful for Your Interest in Plant-Based Recipes!

As always, we want you to know that it is a pleasure to share healthy, oil-free, vegan, and gluten-free recipes with you.  

It’s terrific to hear from you when you have a question or comment about our recipes—so, by all means, drop us a line!

And before we sign off, if you’re ever in the Orlando area, there’s an award-winning vegan restaurant that serves a wonderfully seasoned blackened tempeh. They serve the blackened tempeh with rice, black beans, mango salsa, and, you guessed it, lovely collard greens! When we have no time to make our own quick and easy smoky vegan collard greens, we’re happy to shout out that the greens at Ethos taste mighty nice!

Happy Eating!

a blue fringed napkin is gathered beside a white shallow glass bowl of a hearty, vegetarian collard greens recipe with a smoky meatless topping
smoky vegan collard greens topped with vegan bacon in a white bowl with a denim colored blue napkin and fork to the side

Smoky Vegan Collard Greens | Southern-Style

  • 15
  • 15
    Cook Time:
  • Yield: 6 Servings

You’ll truly love this recipe as it gives you traditional tasting collard greens without using meat or oil! This quick and easy recipe turns out collars that are wonderfully tender, practically melty, depending on how long you allow them to simmer, and so delicious!


  • a splash or two of water or veggie broth for cooking
  • one small to medium onion, diced
  • about 4 to 6 cloves of garlic, chopped small or minced
  • one can of diced tomatoes or about 2 cups worth of fresh tomatoes
  • 1 tsp of applewood smoked sea salt, or any salt
  • about 2 pounds or so of washed collard greens, stemmed and chopped - We used three bunches of organic collard greens to end up with roughly eight cups or so (or fists full) of raw chopped collards.
  • 1/2 tsp of red pepper flakes, more or less
  • ground black pepper, to preference
  • dash of apple cider vinegar, to taste
  • a generous sprinkling of vegan bacon such as our easy-to-make, mess free, oil-free Fakin' Bacon
  • optional hot sauce for serving - We suggest a drizzle of our oil-free Hemp Buffalo Sauce or a squeeze of vegan and gluten-free certified sriracha sauce.


  1. In a large Dutch oven or a deep skillet with a lid on medium-high heat, warm the pan for just a minute or two. Then, once the pan begins to feel warm, add a splash of broth or water along with the onion and garlic. After the onion starts to look a bit translucent, add the tomatoes, salt, red pepper flakes, and stir. Adjust the heat as needed to maintain a steady simmer.
  2. After about five minutes or so, remove the lid and add the collard greens to the pot. Give everything a good stir to distribute the simmering tomato base evenly throughout the collard greens and cover.
  3. Now, for greens cooked to the tenderness I prefer,  it only takes a few quick minutes for the greens to cook and wilt to perfection. If you like yours to be super soul food style, meaning super tender, leave them to simmer a bit longer until they reach your desired texture.
  4. Once the greens reach the tenderness level you prefer, taste and season with a splash of vinegar, black pepper, and a bit more salt and red pepper flakes, as needed. We suggest serving these gorgeous, well-seasoned collard greens with rice, beans, and cornbread.


  • Oil-Free Cooking: Keep a cup of water or vegetable broth nearby to add moisture as needed to keep ingredients from sticking to the pan.
  • Tomatoes:  We most often use fire-roasted tomatoes in our collard greens, though any chopped tomatoes, fresh or canned, will work well in this recipe.
  • Tenderness:  The longer you simmer your vegan collard greens, the more tender they'll be.


% DV

Calories Per Serving: 89
  • Total Fat 4.6 g 7 %
  • Saturated Fat 3.8 g 19 %
  • Cholesterol 0 mg 0 %
  • Sodium 424.3 mg 18 %
  • Carbohydrates 10.1 g 3 %
  • Fiber 3.8 g 15 %
  • Sugar 3.6 g ---
  • Protein 3 g 6 %
  • Vitamin A 48 %
  • Vitamin C 31 %
  • Iron 6 %
  • Calcium 14 %

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