Sweet and Sour Greens

by Sarah on January 17, 2012

Here on UC, I’ve shown you a few ways to cook greens quickly (and tastily) but this is the way I learned to make real greens years ago….nope, not from Nana, and not from my Granny Bea either–who was originally from Tennessee, and I’m sure ate her share of greens in her day–but from this old cookbook from Nana’s collection, The Southern Living Cookbook.  I’ve played with the original recipe over the years though and made it more to my liking so hopefully you’ll like it as much we do.  It is a little more time-consuming than the easy version but when you taste them, I think you’ll be glad you made the effort.

Modern conveniences have made making greens about a hundred times easier for us than in my Granny Bea’s day anyway.  I suppose I could’ve gone to the farmer’s market and bought a few bunches of collards or mustard greens and washed them all and cut out the tough ribs….but I didn’t.  I’m way more ’50’s housewife than I care to admit and I went to my modern market and bought these bags of ready-washed and cut greens.  Shoot man.  It’s just too easy. Get approximately two pounds of greens–any kind you wish, though long-cooking kinds work best here, like collards, turnip greens or mustard greens.  I ended up with one bag of mustards and another bag of mixed quick-cooking greens (spinach and chard) so I just added that bag in later so it didn’t stew quite as long.

This is a perfect example of the kind of cooking where you layer flavors as you cook and end up with a perfectly composed end product.  As you put things in, you are thinking to yourself, “Really? This is all going to work together?”  And then when you taste it at the end you are happy happy happy and never doubt weird recipes ever again.  Ok, maybe you still do.  But maybe less.

For the first layer, you’ll slowly–painfully slowly–render a couple slices of bacon, chopped, in some olive oil.  Add sliced onion and let that wilt…slowly…then add some chopped garlic and let that go a few minutes too.  Just wilt it all, don’t brown it.  Then add in the water and cider vinegar. That’s the sour layer.

Contrary to all popular ways of modern cooking, we’ll now add some regular white sugar.  That’s the sweet layer.  Don’t worry, it doesn’t taste cloying.

Once the sugar is dissolved, we’ll zip up the whole mess with some seasonings. Salt, freshly ground black pepper and some chili flakes.  I used about a half-teaspoon of chili flakes, but you can be go as mild or spicy as you dare.

Now you’re ready to load up the pot with the greens.  With two pounds of greens, the whole pot should be full.  They really shrink, so don’t be alarmed at how full the pot is.  Put a lid on it and turn the heat to medium-low.  Let cook for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

When you open the pot, it will be magic!  The greens will have shrunk to about 1/3 the volume and the color will have darkened.  The flavors will have melded into some unbelievable concoction of tangy, slightly sweet earthiness with just a bit of a kick from pepper and chili flakes.  They’re wonderful.

*Hello, Vegetarian friends, are you still there?  Tap, tap, tap….you there?  You can make these easily without bacon.  Just skip that part.  Onions directly in olive oil, etc….*

Sweet and Sour Greens


  • 2 pounds collard, mustard or turnip greens, washed and chopped, ribs removed
  • 3 slices bacon, sliced in half lengthwise then chopped into 1/4" pieces
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil


  • Render bacon pieces in olive oil over medium-low heat.
  • Add onion and wilt, about 5-6 minutes.
  • Add garlic and wilt, about 1 minute.
  • Add the water, vinegar and sugar.
  • Add the salt, pepper and chili flakes.
  • Add the greens and cover the pot.
  • Let cook for approximately 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

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