So what to do when you have run amok at the Farmers Market or picked up a late-spring share at your local CSA and find yourself in possession of a mountain of crisp, gorgeous greens? Kale, chard, bok choy, mustard, beet and turnip greens are all abundant and at their peak of flavor right now, and they’re delicious practically any way you cook them. Faced with yet another refrigerator bursting with bags of greens clamoring to be eaten, here’s what I’ve learned so far:
If refrigerator space is at a premium—which means any day my family is in residence– it only makes sense to reduce the overall size of the greens invasion by the most obvious method . Cook those suckers! Once they’re silky, tender and flavored with garlic and salt, they can be stirred into polenta, tossed with pasta, festooned over rice or smashed into potatoes. They can top a pizza, form a casserole layer or enliven a soup. They’ll keep for days, and add delicious flavor and intense nutrition to any dish where you can put them. And if it looks like they won’t get used right away, they can store flat and unobtrusively in a plastic bag in the freezer until inspiration strikes. Here’s what works here at Farandwee.
All greens can be prepared in essentially the same way, although cooking time may vary. If they have thick, tough stems, it’s best to strip them and cook only the leafy portion; in my experience it’s practical to strip the stems from mustard, kale and collard greens. I separate the leaves from the stems on chard and bok choy and start them cooking 5 minutes or so ahead of the greens in the same pot, and serve them together. I cook spinach, turnip and beet greens whole.
Once they’re washed, stripped from their stems if necessary and chopped into any shape and size that appeals, all types of greens are very happy being sautéed in olive oil over medium-high heat until they’re bright green and tender. The most fragile greens—spinach, chard and beet—only need to cook for a few seconds before they’re ready to eat. The more substantial ones, like kale and collards, can take longer to soften; if they do, add a bit of water to the pan and cover to allow the steam to help with the cooking. The liquid, or “pot liquor” packs a delicious flavor punch. There is absolutely nothing wrong with letting some salt pork, bacon or ham lend some piggy deliciousness to the overall flavor either. Cook right along with the greens or cook until crispy, remove from the pan and then add the greens, adding the meat as a garnish before serving.
When the greens are cooked they either go into the fridge to cool for another day or it’s time to eat them! I usually add a few drops of olive oil or a small pat of butter to bring out their greens’ natural succulence, and salt and pepper to taste. Then it’s time to get creative and add some raisins and toasted pine nuts for Sicilian flair or sesame oil and a dash of ginger and soy for an Asian-inspired treat. If they’re too bitter, a drizzle of honey or the sweetness of an onion cooked at the same time may take the edge off. A splash of lemon or vinegar will brighten the flavor and a sprinkle of hot sauce adds a touch of heat. A can of beans and a little chicken stock create a terrific soup or pasta sauce, while a little shredded cheese and a tortilla makes a quick and tasty snack.
All the varieties of greens above are delicious as salad greens too, if you’re lucky enough to have access to them when they’re harvested as leaves only 2-3” long. Once they get larger, they often become too tough to chew easily, and members of the mustard family can get painfully spicy as they get older, a flavor that is moderated by cooking. If the assertive flavors of baby greens don’t suit your family’s tastes, a handful tossed into a more mellow salad blend can add a touch of pizzazz without being overwhelming. Dressed with a drizzle of olive oil, a few drops of wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice and a sprinkle of salt and pepper, baby greens are an extraordinarily flavorful way to start or end a meal, and can easily support the added richness of chopped nuts or crumbled cheese, or the sweet undertones of berries or other fruit.
The abundance of fresh greens reflects the general abundance of life as midsummer approaches, the warm days and the long, dreamy evenings when family and friends gather to eat from the farm and the garden, savoring the flavors while the fireflies dance and the music of birds and insects fills the air. No better time to see the kitchen full of goodness, and know that hungry mouths and hearts will be fed at the same table.
©Mary Braden 2013