I have heard everything from, “they are slave food”, to,”I just don’t like them”, and I can’t believe my ears. I love greens of all types because there are very few foods that are as nutrient dense as greens are and they can be cooked in so many ways. I think a lot of people don’t like them because they had a bad experience or two with greens and that poisoned the pot, so to speak. Either they got a batch that was gritty, you know the feeling…like chewing glass; or they were served a plate of really bitter greens, something I particularly do not enjoy. It’s funny, I am grazing on some watercress as I am writing and noticed the incredible mustardy, horseradishy, peppery taste of them…its incredible. The fact is, of all of the things that graced the American table for centuries greens are the most absent now, when was the last time you saw greens at a fast food restaurant? Ok, besides iceberg lettuce…
We are making a concerted effort to increase the amount of vegetables we eat of all types and we are paying a lot of attention to greens. Greens are a good source of vitamin A, many B vitamins, C, E, K, dietary fiber and a whole host of minerals and phyto-nutrients important for health. That was true for all of the varieties of greens that I was able to gather nutritional data for. Green leafy vegetables are simple enough to prepare, but do not all require the same amount of cooking time. Hearty greens like collard and kale do require more cooking time and delicate greens like spinach, turnip greens or dandelion greens need only a quick wilting.
Recipes for greens fall into two basic types: boiling/steaming, where some quantity of broth, stock or water is employed to cook the greens or; sautéing, where the greens are added directly to a small amount of fat, wilted and then seasoned. I will try to illustrate with two simple recipes. The former is usually used for hearty, tough greens like collards which need longer moist cooking to make them tender enough to eat. A great many recipes call for removing the leaves from the stems, I only suggest do that if the stems are very woody because when they are tender enough to eat they are a wonderful addition to the dish where they provide a bok choy like texture to the softer leaves.
Sautéed Dandelion Greens with Balsamic Vinegar and Beans
Recipe makes 4 servings as a side dish or 2 entrée servings
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 shallot, peeled and minced
2 bunches dandelion greens, washed thoroughly and chopped
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 cup black beans, cooked (you can use any type of bean you want)
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp unsalted butter or extra virgin olive oil (optional)
Wash the greens thoroughly by covering completely in cold water, agitating and lifting out of the water. This may need to be done a few times depending on how much dirt is on the greens. Heat a sauté pan, add the oil and then the garlic and shallot. Just as the garlic is starting to brown add the greens. Stir or sauté quickly until the greens start to wilt and add the beans. Continue to sauté until the beans are hot, add the balsamic vinegar and season with salt and pepper. Cook until the liquid has reduce to a light syrup, add the butter and toss to combine. Serve at once.
There are a lot of recipes for collard greens or kale that call for boiling the greens for a long time, an hour or more and they all recommend throwing the stems away (a practice which is needed for only the woodiest stems). I have found that this is not necessary to get a very nice texture. The greens that are boiled that long have lost most of their texture and I am sure their nutrition as well. I cook my collards, or in this case turnip greens which don’t require as much cooking anyway, in a small amount of water or stock until they are tender after a brief sauté in small amount of fat; adding more liquid if required as they cook. The fat can be anything like the traditional bacon drippings, butter or even extra virgin olive oil. The cooked greens are then seasoned with things like: vinegar, salt, pepper, hot pepper flakes, hot sauce, crisp bacon bits, fresh or dried fruit or any other seasoning as you see fit.
Grandma’s Turnip Greens (from the old country) with Blood Oranges
Recipe makes 4 servings as a side dish or 2 servings as an entrée
2 Tbsp Schmaltz (chicken fat rendered with onion) or fat of your choice, use what your grandmother would use
1 large bunch turnip greens (or 2 smaller ones)
½ cup of diced onions
½ cup chicken stock (or other liquid)
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to tasted
a dash of Tabasco, Red Hot or other sauce (optional)
blood orange sections (instructions on sectioning citrus are here)
gribenes (crisp bits of rendered chicken fat or skin similar to bacon bits)
Wash the greens as you would any other dirty leafy vegetables (complete instructions here ). Chop the greens into 1 inch squares and chop the stems a bit smaller. Heat a pot (with lid) large enough to hold the greens (or you may have to add them in stages, as the first stage wilts you would add the next and so on…), add the fat and dice onions. Cook the onion until they become translucent. Add the greens and toss until they wilt. Add the chicken stock, season with a bit of the salt and pepper (start with ½ tsp salt), cover and simmer for about 15 minutes checking occasionally to make sure there is still some liquid in the pot. Season with hot sauce or just vinegar and add the orange sections. Allow them to warm and remove the greens to a serving platter or plate and top with a few of the gribenes (toasted nuts work well for this too).
There you have it, eat more greens for your health and for the great taste. This is just the beginning, as you learn more about greens and try new ones you will see that there is a huge variety of flavors and textures. I hope you will rediscover greens. Enjoy!