This is the best Southern Turnip Greens Recipe that will show you how to wash and cook turnip greens with smoked turkey, bacon, or ham hocks. This soul food dish is well seasoned with fresh spices to ensure no bitter greens!
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How Do Turnip Greens Taste
Turnip greens are the greens that grow from turnips. The greens are bitter with a slightly peppery taste. The longer the greens are left to harvest, the more bitter they will become. See notes below for how to prepare delicious greens that aren’t bitter.
How to Wash The Greens
If you are buying from the normal produce area, greens are sold in bundles. Look for bundles with really thick, leafy greens. If you wait and shop at the last minute this may be difficult to find and you get stuck with smaller bundles. You may just have to buy more.
Greens have thick stems and veins on the back of the leaves. These areas capture dirt and sand. You will need to clean them thoroughly.
- Start removing the stem. Fold the leaf in half (lengthwise) and rip off the stem.
- Fill a large bowl or your sink with water.
- I like to use this produce vegetable cleaner to spritz the greens. You can also use vinegar. Or you can just use water it’s your choice.
- From there load them into your bowl or sink.
- Use your hands and swish them around. Rub your hands over the actual leaves to scrub away any dirt.
- Drain the water and refill. Repeat this process until your water runs clear and you see no dirt in the water.
How to Remove the Stem from the Greens
It is common Southern practice to remove the stems from the greens. This is optional. Removing the stems from every item and washing them over and over to remove dirt is very time-consuming. If you plan to buy bundled greens, be sure to block off half a day.
How to Double the Greens Recipe
Greens will wilt a lot. When you first add them to the pot it will feel like a lot, but they will shrink down a lot. You can easily double the recipe (I would opt for the same size smoked turkey, or no more than a half-pound larger), but keep the cooking time the same.
Seasoning and Flavor/How to Remove Bitterness
You can really keep it simple with the seasoning. I like to use fresh onions and garlic, Creole Seasoning, and smoked paprika, but you can use other spices if you wish. Liquid smoke is also a great option. Sugar or sweetener will help with the bitterness you typically find with turnip greens.
Well-seasoned meat is found in most recipes for greens. I use a smoked turkey leg or wings. I find these in the standard meat section of my grocery store. You may have to ask your local butcher if they carry them.
You can also use ham hocks, bacon, or salt pork if you wish.
How to Make Southern Turnip Greens
Detailed measurements and full instructions can be found in the recipe card at the bottom of this post.
- Heat a large pot or Dutch oven on medium-high heat. Add olive oil to the pot along with onions and garlic.
- Saute onions and garlic until translucent and fragrant.
- Deglaze the pan by adding chicken broth.
- Begin to layer in the greens and add them in batches.
- Add in Creole Seasoning, smoked paprika, sugar, and turkey. Bring the pot to a boil.
- Place the lid on the pot and adjust the heat to medium-low.
Cook Time/How Long to Cook
Cook time is around two hours for tender greens. If you are really strapped for time you can use my Instant Pot Collard Greens recipe method. Ultimately, your total cook time will vary based on how you like your greens.
If you like them super tender you may cook them for 3 hours or more. If you like more of a bite, lessen the cooking time. Check and watch your greens to be sure you reach your desired result.
Turnip Greens Nutrition
Turnip greens are part of the cruciferous vegetable family, along with kale and broccoli. They are high in nutrients and low in calories. The greens are a great source of Vitamin C, Vitamin A, folate, iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and zinc.
Can You Make Them Ahead/How Long Will They Last in the Fridge
For holiday cooking you typically make these a day in advance. The greens will last in the fridge covered for 3-4 days.
I love to freeze greens to have on hand. I use these freezer molds from Amazon and they work perfectly. You can freeze greens for up to 6 months. I throw them in the slow cooker for an hour or two to reheat.
Vegetarian or Vegan Greens
Omit the smoked turkey for meatless greens. Use vegetable broth.
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Southern Turnip Greens Recipe
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 1 cup chopped white onions
- 3 garlic cloves Minced
- 3 pounds fresh turnip greens This is usually 3-4 bundles. Weigh for accuracy. Weight includes the stems.
- 1 smoked turkey leg or wing See notes
- 1 1/2-2 cups chicken broth You can also use water.
- 1/2 tablespoon Creole Seasoning Adjust to taste.
- 2 teaspoons Smoked Paprika
- 1-2 tablespoons sweetener or sugar Adjust to taste. I used 2 tablespoons.
- Place the smoked turkey in a pot large enough to fit along with water. Add enough water to cover the turkey. Bring the water to a boil. Cook the turkey for 45 minutes to an hour until it becomes tender. You may have to keep a close watch and add additional water as the water evaporates.
- While the smoked turkey cooks/softens, wash your greens. Fill a large bowl or your sink with water. Use your hands and scrub the veins of the leaves to remove any dirt or sand. Wash the greens thoroughly until the water runs clear.
- Remove the stems from the greens and slice the greens into smaller pieces.
- Heat a large pot or Dutch oven on medium-high heat. Add the olive oil to the pot along with the onions and garlic. I like to use a Dutch oven because you can saute the vegetables and cook the greens all in one pot.
- Saute the onions and garlic until translucent and fragrant.
- Deglaze the pan by adding the chicken broth.
- Begin to layer in the greens and add them in batches. Greens will need to wilt down a lot in order to fit in the pot. Add in the greens and then stir and allow them to cook down.
- Add in the Creole Seasoning, smoked paprika, sugar, and smoked turkey. Bring the pot to a boil.
- Place the lid on the pot and adjust the heat to medium-low. Allow the greens to cook for 2 hours or until the greens are soft and the smoked turkey is tender (fall off the bone tender). Check in throughout the cooking process and stir the greens when necessary.
- Open the pot and remove the turkey. Shred the meat from the turkey using forks and return it to the pot. Taste the greens repeatedly and add seasoning, sugar, and spices if necessary.
- Sugar or sweetener is added to take away some of the bite from the flavor of the turnip greens. This is optional and you can wait to taste the greens after they have cooked. Decide if they need any sugar and add it to taste.
- Start with 1/2 tablespoon of Creole seasoning and adjust to taste. You can substitute Creole seasoning for whatever spices you like.
- It’s also common to serve greens with vinegar. Feel free to add it if you wish.
- I like for my greens to be tender. If you like them super tender you may cook them for 3 hours or more. If you like more of a bite lessen the cooking time. Check in on them to be sure you reach your desired result.
- Greens will wilt… A TON! When you first add them to the pot it will feel like a lot, but they will shrink a lot. So you can double the recipe (I would opt for the same size smoked ham hock, or no more than a half-pound larger), but keep the cooking time the same.
- Ham hocks, bacon, or country ham, etc can be substituted for smoked turkey in this recipe.