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Hearty and humble, beans and greens with a side of cornbread has been a staple dish in Appalachia for generations. Use collards, turnip greens, mustard greens, kale, or spinach — whatever you have on hand. Simmered in broth with herbs, garlic, onions, and bacon, these Southern beans and greens make a simple, flavorful, and affordable meal in about 30 minutes!

Overhead shot of hands holding a bowl of beans and greens.

Greens and Beans

No Southern meal would be complete without a side of greens. Slow-cooked with a hunk of seasoning meat like fatback or ham hock, this dish was originally prepared by Native Americans and African slaves as a soulful, nutrient-rich, and inexpensive way to take advantage of turnip, collard, mustard, spinach, or kale greens. In Appalachia, beans and greens have long been served as a main dish — the star of the show — rather than just an easily overlooked side dish. Just don’t forget the cast iron skillet cornbread or the simple buttermilk biscuits to round out the meal!

While traditional preparations required plenty of time for soaking dried beans, this easy recipe takes advantage of convenient canned beans, smoky bacon, and quickly-wilted greens for an updated take on the old-fashioned classic. You’ll have an entire supper that’s ready from start to finish in about 30 minutes, with the richness and depth of flavor that you get from hours of simmering on the stovetop.

Adding kale to a Dutch oven.

Ingredients

This is just a quick overview of the ingredients that you’ll need for a pot of beans and greens. As always, specific measurements and step-by-step cooking instructions are included in the printable recipe box at the bottom of the post.

  • Bacon: adds smoky flavor.
  • Onion: white onion, yellow onion, or sweet onion will work.
  • Garlic: about 2 cloves give the dish savory flavor.
  • Herbs: I like fresh rosemary or fresh thyme, but you can use parsley, chives, oregano, or basil, too.
  • Crushed red pepper flakes: for a little bit of spicy kick.
  • Chicken broth: the cooking liquid for simmering the greens and beans. Control the sodium in the dish by using low-sodium broth or homemade chicken broth or homemade chicken stock.
  • Greens: I’ve shown kale here, but collards, mustard greens, turnip greens, and spinach will all work.
  • Apple cider vinegar: for subtle tang and an acidic touch that brightens the dish and balances the rich, smoky beans and greens.
  • Sugar: balances the bitterness of the greens.
  • Beans: I’ve shown cannellini beans here, but lima beans, small white beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, or black-eyed peas will all work.
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper: to enhance the other flavors in the dish.
Adding white beans to a Dutch oven.

How to Make Greens and Beans

This healthy beans and greens recipe comes together in about 30 minutes, thanks to help from canned beans and smoky bacon!

  1. Cook the bacon in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat.
  2. Add the onion, and sauté until it’s soft.
  3. Stir in the garlic and herbs, and cook for 1 more minute.
  4. Add the red pepper flakes, broth, greens, vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper. Use a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.
  5. Stir in the beans, and bring the liquid to a boil.
  6. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the liquid has reduced and thickened, about 6-8 minutes. Mash some of the beans with the back of the wooden spoon to help thicken the mixture slightly.
  7. Taste and season the wilted greens with an additional pinch of salt and pepper, if desired. Serve!
Close up side shot of a fork in a bowl of beans and greens with cornbread.

What to Serve with Greens and Beans

The addition of beans, which provide protein and fiber, turns a simple side dish into a hearty, satisfying entree. Serve the beans and greens as a main dish for lunch or dinner alongside any of these easy options:

Overhead shot of hands eating a bowl of beans and greens with cornbread

Storage

Leftover beans and greens will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-4 days. Reheat the leftovers in a skillet over a low flame until warmed through, about 5-10 minutes. You can also reheat individual servings covered in the microwave for 1-2 minutes on high.

How to Freeze

You can also freeze the greens and beans with the pot liquor in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight and then reheat gently on the stovetop.

Square side shot of greens and beans in a bowl on a wooden table with a side of cornbread.

Recipe Variations

  • Just about any canned beans will work. I’ve shown cannellini beans (white kidney beans) here, but pinto beans, pink beans, kidney beans, lima beans, and black-eyed peas are all good options as well.
  • Use your favorite variety of hearty greens. Collard greens, mustard greens, kale, turnip greens, and spinach will all work.
  • Instead of bacon, try sausage instead. You can use smoked sausage, bulk pork sausage, or ground Italian sausage.
  • Give the greens even more smoky flavor by adding a dash of smoked paprika to the broth.
  • Brown sugar is a fine substitute for the white sugar.
  • Instead of vinegar, add a squeeze of lemon juice to the pot for an acidic touch.
  • For a vegetarian meal, omit the bacon and saute the onion and garlic in olive oil. Use vegetable stock in lieu of chicken broth.
  • Add Italian flavor with a Parmesan cheese or pecorino romano cheese garnish.
Hands holding a bowl of greens and beans.

Tips for the Best Beans and Greens Recipe

  • Buy pre-washed and pre-chopped greens for a shortcut. If you choose to wash and chop your own greens, be sure that you rinse them really well to get out any sand or sediment in the leaves, and remove the tough stems.
  • Adjust the seasoning to suit your taste preferences. For a spicier dish, add more crushed red pepper flakes, or serve the pot with a side of extra hot sauce or cayenne.
  • If you prefer your greens more wilted, you can cover the pot and cook the dish over low heat until the greens reach the desired level of tenderness.
  • Add vinegar. The apple cider vinegar gives the dish a nice “tang,” and it helps to cut the bitterness of the greens. It also balances out the salty, savory flavors in the recipe.
  • Fresh herbs like rosemary or thyme are best, but you can substitute with about 1 teaspoon of dried herbs when necessary.
Overhead shot of a bowl of greens and beans recipe with a side of cornbread on a wooden table.

More Beans and Greens Recipes to Try

Square overhead image of beans and greens

Appalachian Beans and Greens

5 from 1 vote
Prep: 5 minutes
Cook: 30 minutes
Total: 35 minutes
Servings 4 people
Calories 410 kcal
Hearty and humble, beans and greens with a side of cornbread has been a staple dish in Appalachia for generations. Use collards, turnip greens, kale, or spinach — whatever you have on hand.

Ingredients
  

  • 4 ounces bacon, chopped (I use 5 slices of center cut bacon)
  • ½ of an onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary or thyme
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, plus more to taste
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 large or 2 small bunches collards, turnip greens, kale, or Swiss chard, stems removed and leaves roughly chopped (10 to 12 ounces)
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • 2 (15.5 ounce) cans cannellini beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, lima beans, black-eyed peas, or other canned beans, drained and rinsed
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste
  • For serving: cornbread

Instructions

  • Cook bacon in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat for 10-12 minutes, or until almost crisp. Add onion, and sauté until translucent, about 7-8 minutes.
  • Stir in garlic and rosemary (or thyme), sauté 1 more minute. Add red pepper flakes, broth, greens, vinegar, sugar, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Use a wooden spoon to stir, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot.
  • Stir in the beans. Bring the liquid to a boil, then turn the heat to low and simmer, mashing some of the beans with a wooden spoon, until the liquid has reduced and thickened, 6 to 8 minutes.
  • At this point, the greens should be wilted and slightly tender. If you prefer the greens even more tender, you can cover the pot and let the mixture gently simmer until the greens reach the desired level of tenderness.
  • Taste and season with additional salt and pepper, if necessary. Serve with cornbread.

Notes

  • Just about any canned beans will work. I’ve shown cannellini beans (white kidney beans) here, but pinto beans, pink beans, kidney beans, lima beans, and black-eyed peas are all good options as well.
  • Use your favorite variety of hearty greens. Collard greens, mustard greens, kale, turnip greens, and spinach will all work.
  • Instead of bacon, try sausage instead. You can use smoked sausage, bulk pork sausage, or ground Italian sausage.
  • Give the greens even more smoky flavor by adding a dash of smoked paprika to the broth.
  • Brown sugar is a fine substitute for the white sugar.
  • Instead of vinegar, add a squeeze of lemon juice to the pot for an acidic touch.
  • Buy pre-washed and pre-chopped greens for a shortcut. If you choose to wash and chop your own greens, be sure that you rinse them really well to get out any sand or sediment in the leaves, and remove the tough stems.
  • Adjust the seasoning to suit your taste preferences. For a spicier dish, add more crushed red pepper flakes, or serve the pot with a side of extra hot sauce or cayenne.
  • If you prefer your greens more wilted, you can cover the pot and cook the dish over low heat until the greens reach the desired level of tenderness.
  • Add vinegar. The apple cider vinegar gives the dish a nice “tang,” and it helps to cut the bitterness of the greens. It also balances out the salty, savory flavors in the recipe.
  • Fresh herbs like rosemary or thyme are best, but you can substitute with about 1 teaspoon of dried herbs when necessary.

Nutrition

Serving: 1/4 of the recipeCalories: 410kcalCarbohydrates: 53gProtein: 23gFat: 13gSaturated Fat: 4gPolyunsaturated Fat: 3gMonounsaturated Fat: 5gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 21mgSodium: 673mgPotassium: 1348mgFiber: 14gSugar: 3gVitamin A: 7094IUVitamin C: 68mgCalcium: 352mgIron: 8mg
Keyword: beans and greens, greens and beans
Course: Dinner, Lunch, Side Dish
Cuisine: American, Southern
Author: Blair Lonergan
blair

Hey, I’m Blair!

Welcome to my farmhouse kitchen in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Inspired by local traditions and seasonal fare, you’ll find plenty of easy, comforting recipes that bring your family together around the table. It’s down-home, country-style cooking!

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Comments

  1. Sounds good! Glad to see the suggestion of smoked paprika. I love that or chipotle powder, especially when I use less bacon or my bacon isn’t very flavorful.

  2. 5 stars
    Made this recently to go alongside some leftover pork shoulder. I was in a hurry so used the Kirkland pre-cooked bacon crumbles (which I vacuum seal and freeze in 1/2 cup portions), adding a smidge of olive oil to make up for the lack of bacon fat. Otherwise followed your directions and ingredients. Mashed a little more than yours using a potato masher. Excellent! This is a great way to cook collards. They came out very tender! Bet this would be even better with freshly cooked bacon.