The Vegan Braised Greens Recipe This Nutritionist Loves
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Registered dietitian and plant-based diet specialist Cynthia Sass shares her recipe for making vegan braised greens with a few ingredient swaps for a lighter, healthier, and flavorful version.
A vegan take on traditional braised greens
Braised greens are a traditional part of many family dinners throughout the fall and winter seasons. But this staple side dish is typically made with chicken broth and bacon, which add flavor but also sodium and saturated fat. Preparing greens without these animal-based add-ins can result in a bland, unappealing batch.
With the right healthy food swaps, however, you can whip up a version that’s lighter, healthier, and just as satisfying as its conventional counterpart. (Try these nutritionist-approved cozy fall recipes.)
Nutrition of kale
I chose this powerhouse cruciferous vegetable because many of my private practice clients ask for new ways to enjoy kale beyond kale salads and smoothies. Also, there are numerous kale health benefits. But collard greens, alone or combined with kale, also work well in this recipe.
Kale is one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet. It’s packed with health-protective antioxidants and provides fiber, vitamins A, K, B6, and C, and minerals, including calcium, potassium, copper, and manganese. That’s an impressive nutrient punch for just 33 calories per cup.
This leafy green is also heart-healthy. Kale consumption has been shown to reduce cholesterol by upping its excretion and preventing cholesterol from being reabsorbed from the digestive system into the bloodstream, according to research published in Food Chemistry.
Another study, published in Biomedical and Environmental Sciences, looked at what happened to high cholesterol counts in men who regularly had kale. They found that downing kale juice daily for 12 weeks upped the men’s “good” HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol by nearly 30 percent and decreased “bad” LDL (low-density lipoprotein) by 10 percent while improving antioxidant status.
How to make vegan braised greens
Swap chicken broth for low-sodium organic vegetable broth
I opted for low-sodium organic vegetable broth from Trader Joe’s instead of regular chicken broth. In addition to trading an animal ingredient for a plant-based alternative, the switch saves over 400 mg of sodium per cup. (Also, here’s what you need to know about bone broth.)
Swap bacon for apple cider vinegar, onions, and garlic
In place of bacon, the umami flavor in this recipe comes from a combination of apple cider vinegar, onions, and garlic. A study in Diabetes Care found that apple cider vinegar improves post-meal insulin sensitivity— how sensitive the body is to the effects of insulin—by up to 34 percent, after a high-carb meal in people with insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes. (Learn more about the growing epidemic of insulin resistance.)
Yellow onion and garlic, both members of the allium family, provide robust flavor and protective health benefits. A review of studies published in 2019 in Food Science & Nutrition suggests that consuming allium plants may help prevent several types of cancer.
Add maple syrup
Maple syrup perfectly balances the slight bitterness of the kale. This natural sweetener is packed with antioxidants, as well as manganese, a mineral needed for bone health, collagen production, and wound healing. (Here’s how to gauge if you’re consuming too much sugar.)
Braise the kale
Braising the kale results in a chewy but tender texture that’s melt-in-your-mouth delectable. The finished dish is also aromatic and provides a nicely balanced combination of sweet and sour, with just enough salt.
Tip: Serve the greens as part of a balanced plant-based meal. Consider pairing it with oven-roasted cauliflower or red bell peppers, vegan mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes, and protein from lentils, BBQ beans, or black-eyed peas. I hope you’ll agree that the recipe is also tasty enough to satisfy the non-vegan members of your family.
Vegan Braised Greens
Courtesy Cynthia Sass, MPH, MA, RD, CSSD
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ cup finely chopped yellow onion
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups low-sodium organic vegetable broth, divided
8 cups kale, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons raw apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons maple syrup
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
Over low-medium heat combine olive oil, onion, and garlic in a saucepan with a half cup of the vegetable broth. Stir continuously until onions are translucent. Add the rest of the broth, along with the remaining ingredients, bring to a quick boil, and then reduce to a simmer.
Cook uncovered for 45 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the greens from the pan to your serving dish. Cover the greens with a spoonful or two of the remaining sauce from the pan and serve hot.
- American Institute of Cancer Research: "Kale: Rich in Antioxidants"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Kale, raw"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Chicken Broth"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Syrups, maple"
- Food Chemistry: "In vitro binding of bile acids by spinach, kale, brussels sprouts, broccoli, mustard greens, green bell pepper, cabbage and collards"
- Biomedical and Environmental Sciences: "Kale Juice Improves Coronary Artery Disease Risk Factors in Hypercholesterolemic Men"
- Diabetes Care: "Vinegar Improves Insulin Sensitivity to a High-Carbohydrate Meal in Subjects With Insulin Resistance or Type 2 Diabetes"