Saturday, March 17, 2007


By Cynthia Lair Website
Fresh herbs and tender leaves like arugula, spinach, and watercress can be chopped raw and added to soups, salads, and grains , or lightly steamed. More mature greens like bok choy, kale, dandelion greens, and collards, taste bitter if you serve them raw, and the texture may be too tough for your easy chewing. Steaming these greens actually intensifies the bitterness. They need to be cooked in liquid where the bitter flavor can be dispersed.

First you need to prepare the greens. Remove large stems or break off small ones. Fill a sink with cold water and submerge the leaves. With herbs, leave the stems and hold on to them as you give the leaves a dunk. If there is sediment in the water, drain the sink and repeat. If you plan to put the greens in a salad, spin them dry. Leaves destined for cooking can have excess water shaken off and be placed on a towel or chopping board.

The issue at hand is how to cook the greens so they lose as little nutritional value as possible while shedding their bitter flavors. There are three cooking techniques that I like to use when cooking the more mature, bitter greens: quick-boiling, simmering, and sautéeing. To quick-boil greens, bring two quarts of water to a boil. Do not chop the leaves, but submerge them whole into the boiling water. Use a wooden spoon to move them from top to bottom.

To tell when they are done, use your senses. The leaves should begin to lose their perkiness and wilt slightly, but the bright green color will still be present. At this point, bring a leaf up with your spoon, tear off a piece, and chew it. If the flavor is bitter, let them cook more. The greens are just right when chewing a piece releases sweet juices in your mouth. If the color is gone or there is no flavor left when you chew it, they’ve cooked too long. The amount of time depends on the maturity of the green and the amount of leaves you’re cooking. For something like tender mustard greens, it should be a thirty- to sixty-second dip, while mature collard greens can take about five minutes.

Once you test the green and get a sweet flavor, pour the contents of the pot into a colander. Save the water, which is called pot-likker. Many cooks like to drink this nutrient-filled broth, but I like to use it to water my plants. Gently run cool water over the greens to halt cooking. Once they are cool enough to touch, gather them into a ball and gently squeeze out the excess water. Chop them on the cutting board and they are ready to dress and serve.

To simmer greens, bring about one inch of liquid (water, broth, wine . . .) to simmer in a large skillet. Chop the washed greens into strips. Place the strips in the simmering liquid and keep them moving with a wooden spoon. You are looking for the same results as described above: a bright green color and a sweet flavor; but since the greens have been chopped, the cooking time will be shorter.

When sautéeing greens, it is good to work with just-washed greens. The water helps with wilting and releasing bitterness. Heat 1-2 Tablespoons of oil in a skillet. Add a minced clove of garlic if desired. The garlic will tell you if you have the heat right. Too hot and the garlic will burn, too cool and the garlic will just sit there. If there is too much water on the greens or the oil is too hot, the oil will sputter, so take care. Chop the greens you are using into bite-sized pieces. Stacking the washed leaves is an easy way to make efficient, uniform cuts. Place cut leaves in the skillet and keep them moving. Stay with the process and test every minute or so for doneness. When the leaves are still full of color and tasting proves not bitter, but sweet, they’re ready!

Once you have a heap of cooked greens in front of you, there are limitless possibilities. Frankly, I like to keep things simple and give them a dash of vinegar and a sprinkle of tamari, toss, and eat. Cooked greens can be added to soups, grain dishes, and salads to add color, flavor, and nutrients. You can prepare a heavenly peanut sauce to drizzle over greens, or toss them with toasted sesame oil and toasted sesame seeds for an Asian flavor. A squeeze of lemon is fine, but how about a little orange juice with garlic and a touch of chipotle sauce? Serve it over slices of polenta and it’s fit for company.

Following are some of my favorite greens recipes. I’ve included recipes that exemplify various preparation techniques , using greens raw and cooked. Another easy way to include greens in your meal is to take a less bitter green like chard or watercress and let it steam on top of an already prepared dish, as described in the Szechwan Tempeh with Swiss Chard recipe. Whatever way you choose to use them, let these superheroes rescue your next meal from the nutritional doldrums. Don’t be fooled by an antacid tablet claiming it’s your best source of calcium. Look! It’s a Vitamin C pill! It’s a digestive aid! No. It’s Captain Dark Leafy Green, ready to help you engage your warp drive and go!

Leafy dark greens boast an impressive nutritional profile. Rich in
vitamins A (from beta-carotene) and vitamin C, they are also good sources of calcium, iron, folate and magnesium. Greens also contain lutein and zeaxanthin, which are believed to help protect against cataracts
and macular degeneration. Here we'll cover some of the most nutrient rich, vitamin packed greens and the nutrition benefits derived from them.

Collard Greens: One of the milder of the sturdy greens, collards are an excellent source of folate, vitamin C and
. Collards are especially high in calcium.

Bok Chok: Bok Choy is a Chinese variety of
cabbages. It is an excellent source of vitamin C, beta-carotene and iron, as well as a good source of folate, vitamin B6
and calcium. Avoid buying bok choy that has brown spots on it, because it indicates some flavor has been lost.

Kale: While sweet following a light frost,
generally has a stronger flavor than collard greens and can be quite coarse and peppery when raw. To ensure a milder texture and flavor, choose smaller kale leaves and cook them until tender. In addition to being an excellent source of vitamin C and beta-carotene, kale is also a good source of iron, vitamin B6, lutein and zeaxanthin.

Mustard Greens: Mustard greens may have an even stronger flavor than kale, but milder varieties are grown in Asia and are sometimes available in the United States.

Swiss Chard: Swiss chard is an excellent source of
vitamin E, a nutrient that is usually only found in high-fat foods. It is also high in potassium
, magnesium, vitamin C and beta-carotene. To preserve its crispness and sweetness, be sure to keep it chilled.

Spinach is mild enough to be enjoyed both raw and cooked and contains carotenoids such as beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin. Besides carotenoids, spinach is higher in folate than other greens. Cooking the spinach with a small amount of fat, such as olive oil
, will enhance the availability of these nutrients.

Beet Greens: Rich in beta-carotene, vitamin C, iron and calcium,
greens are often more nutritious than beets (with one exception: Beets are higher in folate). They are best for eating when young and tender.

Turnip Greens: The leafy tops of turnips are one of the bitterest greens available, so they are not often eaten raw. Like beet greens, they are best for eating when they are quite young. Although both turnips and turnip greens are nutritious, the best source of vitamins and minerals is the greens, which are high in vitamin C, beta-carotene and folate.

1 comment:

LBSkier said...

The effect of this preparation is analogous to the use of horseradish in simple butter sauces with rich fish such as swordfish, tuna or salmon. It even works well with beef.

To serve four:
4 6 oz. fresh salmon filet sections
2 Tb olive oil
Salt and milled black pepper to taste
2 medium shallots, diced
1 cup off-dry white wine, such as a California Riesling
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp grainy mustard
2 Tb cream
6 oz. soft butter
1/2 cup edible-pod radishes, sliced thin, then chopped fine
2 Tb flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped fine

Prepare the grill. Rub the salmon filet section with a little olive oil, season with salt and pepper to taste, and reserve.

In non-reacting skillet, toss the diced shallot for fifteen seconds without browning. Add the wine and vinegar, boil up for a few seconds, reduce the heat slightly, and simmer to reduce to 1/3 cup. Add the diced radishes, and simmer for one minute. By tablespoons, whisk in the butter to make a smooth emulsion. Add the mustard and lemon juice, whisking to combine. Taste and season with salt and milled pepper. Grill the salmon four minutes on each side, or according to your own preference. Divide among serving plates. Add the parsley to the sauce at the last moment, and spoon over the fish.