When I picked up my Enterprise farmshare box last week, I was a little shocked about how green it was.
Well, of course it was green. That’s the point of a farmshare, isn’t it? Fresh produce, sustainably grown—good for you and good for the planet. But I’m not talking about the green beans. Those are delicious, of course. And green.
I’m talking about the greens.
Dandelion greens. Spinach. Red kale (it’s a greenish sort of red). And a bunch of beets . . . still attached to their greens.
Remember when I confessed ? The reality is a little more drastic. Unless you count numerous pans of spanakopita and a few dishes with wilted arugula, I was uninitiated in the realm of cooking greens. I never could convince myself to put all that effort into washing and preparing a great heap of fresh leaves, knowing they would shrink to a soupy, brownish-green mass.
Since then I’ve been forced to experiment; the colder months are peak season for most cooking greens, and we have found at least one bunch in our farmshare almost every week. I’ve learned that whatever cooked greens may lack in appearance they more than make up for in flavor. Beet greens echo the earthy sweetness of the root below, and a slow simmer can take collards from coarse to luscious. We have added greens to soups and stews by the handful, served up chili and cornbread alongside collards braised to the melting point, toasted several batches of kale chips, even made a squash gratin layered with Swiss chard.
Every experiment has been delicious, and I have yet to regret the extra few minutes needed to wash the grit from my greens or separate the leaves from the stems. Just a few grains of sand can ruin an entire dish, so always budget a few extra minutes to swirl the leaves through two or three changes of cold water. Some greens—like spinach, chard, and beet greens—wilt quickly and are ready to enjoy after only a few minutes in the pan. But others—such as collards, mature dandelion greens, and tougher varieties of kale—require a long, slow simmer to soften them and coax out their hidden sweetness. Taste a leaf for some guidance on cooking time: the more bitter the raw greens, the longer it will take to simmer them to perfection. The tougher stems need more time to cook than their leaves; always take the time to separate them. Many recipes suggest discarding the stems, but quickly blanching the chopped stems will tenderize them enough to add them in with the leaves. Or simply build a few extra minutes into your recipe and start them before the leaves, as I have done.
Had there been only one bunch of greens to contend with last week, I may not have blinked. Had I not ventured to taste the dandelion greens straight from the box, I may not have been frightened at their bitterness. And had this been a normal week at home, I would have found a way to feature each leafy bunch in a dish of its own. Alas, we were headed out of town on Saturday, and the delicate greens would not last until our return. With only one family dinner before our departure, I decided to toss them all into one pan and hope for the best.
I knew that the greens would eventually give up their bitterness, but it never hurts to help things along with a gently caramelized onion. On the theory that opposites attract, I included some garlic and a serrano pepper—just enough heat for a pleasant counterpoint, but still mild enough for my four-year-old children to enjoy. I tossed in the chopped stems, followed by the dandelion greens and kale. Still so scared of the dandelion’s bite, I sent a generous lump of brown sugar into the pan as well. Just as this first batch made its transition from tough to tempting, I stirred in the delicate beet greens and a few handfuls of baby spinach. Within a few minutes, everything had melted together; a splash of cider vinegar finished it off, bringing balance to the complex sweetness.
The result was a substantial mess of greens, but certainly not more than we could handle. It is possible, in fact, that my son ate nothing else for dinner that night, save for a slice of bread to mop up the delicious soupy liquids left on his plate.
Time: 20-45 minutes, depending on greens used
- 2 bunches cooking greens (such as dandelion, kale, collard, chard, or beet)
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 large onion, halved and sliced
- 3 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 fresh jalapeno or serrano pepper, finely chopped, or ¼ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 cup dry white wine, or ½ cup chicken or vegetable broth diluted with ½ cup water
- 2 Tbsp brown sugar
- 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar or fresh lemon juice, optional
Wash greens well in two or three changes of cold water. Separate leaves from tough stems; chop stems into 1-inch segments and cut leaves into bite-sized pieces. If using a mix of greens, be sure to keep slower-cooking leaves separate from the more tender ones.
Heat oil in a skillet or wide pan over medium heat. Add onion and saute 5-8 minutes or until slightly browned. Add garlic and fresh chopped pepper (if using) and cook, stirring, for another minute.
Pour in wine or broth and water and stir, scraping any browned bits from the surface of the pan. Stir in brown sugar, red pepper flakes (if using), and chopped stems. Bring to a boil, lower heat, and simmer for about 5 minutes.
Add chopped leaves and toss to combine with onion and liquid mixture. Cover and simmer for 5-10 minutes for more tender greens, or for 30-35 minutes for tougher greens. (If using both slow- and quick-cooking greens: first add the slower-cooking ones, simmer for about 20 minutes, then add the remainder and simmer an additional 10 minutes.)
Transfer greens and liquid to a serving bowl. Taste, and add a generous splash of cider vinegar or lemon juice if desired.
Would you also like to experiment outside of your cooking comfort zone? Now is the time to sign up for a 2011 summer-to-fall CSA! If you don’t have a particular farm in mind, start your search here.