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Learning to love cooked greens. March 12, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes.
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Silence Dogood here. In the part of the South where I grew up (Nashville), cooked greens pretty much meant collards, turnip greens, or mustard greens, boiled to a sludgelike consistency with fatback or bacon grease. They were bitter and slimy. Beet greens and Swiss chard tasted like dirt. Eeewwww! The only cooked greens I could bear were spinach leaves, still boiled into sludge (usually from a frozen box) but served up with vinegar, salt and pepper, rather than pork fat. Spinach never became bitter, and the vinegar (and good old S&P) perked it up nicely.*

What about kale (now my favorite green), you ask? It was unknown in the South of my childhood. The only time in my school years when I misspelled a word in a spelling bee was when my fourth-grade teacher (a Northern transplant) gave me the word “kale.” She was incredulous when I told her that my spelling, “cail,” was based on the sound, since I’d never heard of the word, much less the plant. I thought it must be a Scottish or Irish word (think “ceilidh,” pronounced caylee).

Once I was out on my own, I read about the huge health benefits of greens, releasing megadoses of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other super-healthy stuff, along with fiber and very few calories. I also found out that all these nutritional goodies were most readily available if cooked.

I was lucky to love kale, mustard greens, cabbage, arugula, watercress, endive, sprouts, matchstick broccoli stems, and many another green raw in salads. I could eat a mixed-green salad packed with nutrients every day. But yikes, I realized, those nutrients would be even more available if I cooked the greens before eating them.

Clearly, it was time to rethink cooked greens. I started with my favorite, cooked spinach. I abandoned my mother’s time-tested technique of boiling a box of frozen chopped spinach to death. Instead, I bought bags of organic fresh spinach. I prepared this two ways: I added the washed leaves to a heavy pan, in which sweet onion and mushrooms had already been sauteed, covering the pan and letting the spinach wilt. Or I dry-steamed the spinach in a heavy covered pan with just the wash-water clinging to the leaves and/or a bit of veggie stock, with added black pepper, salt (we like RealSalt and sea salt), gomashio/gomasio, a Japanese seasoning that combines sesame seeds and sea salt, and balsamic vinegar (instead of Mama’s ubiquitous white vinegar).

Okay, what about the heartier greens, like kale and collards? I found a wonderful recipe for those in Alicia Silverstone’s The Kind Diet (Rodale, 2009). Thanks, Alicia!

To make her recipe my way, you saute 3 minced garlic cloves in extra-virgin olive oil. Meanwhile, wash a bunch of collards and cut out the stems, then chop them (the stems), set them aside, and tear the greens into salad-size pieces. Add the stems to the garlic pan with 3 tablespoons of raisins, sea salt (or RealSalt or Trocomare), black pepper, and red pepper flakes or a splash of your favorite hot sauce (optional). (I like Frank’s Red Hot Sweet Chili Sauce in this.) If the pan starts to dry out, add a splash of veggie stock or broth.

When the stems start looking translucent, add the damp collard greens to the pan, stir well to coat with the saute mix. Add 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (or more to taste), add another splash of veggie stock/broth if needed, stir well, turn the heat to low, and cover the pan. When the greens are heated through but still have a bright green color and retain their shape, serve. Top each serving with a sprinkling of roasted pumpkin seeds. (Alicia uses toasted pine nuts on hers.)

Yum! These are good greens, people. I plan to try a variation tonight using kale and subbing diced sweet onion for the garlic, adding a handful of chopped mushrooms with the onion, and using gomasio instead of the pumpkin seeds.

Other ideas: You could use peanut oil and chopped peanuts instead of olive oil and pumpkin seeds for a richer taste, maybe subbing shoyu (Japanese soy sauce) or tamari and rice wine or ume vinegar for the balsamic vinegar. For a decadent taste, try subbing toasted sesame oil, black sesame seeds (usually available in health food stores), shoyu/tamari and rice wine/ume vinegar. Or for a very mild taste, use canola oil instead of the olive oil and fresh-squeezed lemon juice instead of the vinegar, swap out the dark raisins for golden raisins, and top your greens with almond pieces or slivered almonds. (If you can find Meyer lemons, as I did recently at Wegman’s, they’ll add a delicious sweet-tart taste.) Hmmm, I’ll bet diced dried apricot would taste really good in this, too…

I also need to consider the more conservative tastes of our friend Ben, who enjoys balsamic vinaigrette on his salads but refuses any cooked greens with even a whiff of vinegar, and is no fan of Brussels sprouts, collards, and kale. What to do? Hide those greens in stir-fries, bean dishes (even refried beans and dal), soups, lasagna, and the like. (I’ll share my ultimate soup recipe tomorrow.) Fortunately, OFB loves spinach in his salads, and he obliviously eats kale and mustard greens when they’re tucked into a big, crunchy salad as well.

I’m still working on a cooked-greens recipe that is healthy enough to suit me and still is tasty enough for Ben. (Any ideas?) ‘Til then, I guess I’ll be having my cooked greens for lunch.

                   ‘Til next time,


* I don’t know why WordPress changed the font on the first paragraph, but I apologize. Hopefully it’s just a fluke and not their latest style.



1. Nell Jean - March 13, 2012

Stir-fried greens or pepperpot stew, new ways I’m cooking greens, but I still like the old way with a good splash of pepper sauce when they’re in the plate.

I’ll bet OFB would go for that splash of pepper sauce too, Nell Jean! We’ll find out tonight!

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