We’ve all been there - stuck in a gastronomic rut of some sort. Maybe you joined a CSA and have what seems like an unreasonable amount of cabbage and beets in your share...for the third week in a row. Or maybe you’ve just surfaced from the depths of culinary habit to realize you’ve only been eating three dinners on rotation for the past month. When I find myself in a creativity hole of any kind, I like to back up to basic methods of cooking.
More specifically, as I take home weekly bags (and bags and bags) of Freight Farmed greens from our HQ farm, I inevitably reach a point where I run out of recipes for swiss chard, escarole, or mustard greens. To improvise my way to many more delicious meals of leafy greens, I switch between the 5 basic ways to eat leafy greens. When I look at a big bag of leafies, I first decide how I’m going to treat those greens. Changing up between different cooking methods broadens your experience of any one green by giving it a very different character. Check out the 5 ways I tackle my leafy greens below!
Here we have our salads, but don’t be fooled there is more than just lettuce and kale out there to make a salad with. Break free of the bonds of the salad bowl and tackle some of the scarier greens. Tougher greens like kale, swiss chard, or brussel sprout leaves need to be kneaded or “massaged” with oil to soften their texture. Think of this as the leafy equivalent of pounding the bejesus out of a steak to tenderize it. Texture is a great way to change a salad’s nature: think chopped salad - easier on the fork and totally different to eat than a big leafy affair. Intensely flavored greens like spicy mustard, citrusy sorrel, or any kind of herb (really) can be shredded and diffused throughout the body of a salad to add flavor.
- Hot and Fast.
Hot and fast: high heat, with a little vegetable oil (olive oil can’t get as hot) and simple seasoning. This is my favorite way to eat high quality, fresh greens, as it begins to break down some of the more robust plants, but still manages to stay out of their way as they barrel down the flavor highway. The important thing here is to not crowd your pan - too many greens too close together and you’ll just end up steaming them, which is a lot less fun. If you’re going for large volume, go ahead and steam the greens before cooking them hot and fast, just be sure to drain them and dry out the pan before adding your cooking fat.
Sautéeing greens like this is a great way to tame bitter greens, as the hot pan offers ample opportunity to deglaze with wine, vinegar, or orange juice which will reduce and caramelize. Or just go straight to the source and drizzle some honey over those bitter greens right before they’re done cooking.
- Low and Slow
Comfort. That’s what I get from low and slow greens. Think braised collards with bacon. Think creamed spinach. Another strategy for breaking down tough, bitter greens is to cook them over low heat with some kind of liquid (water, wine, stock) and some aromatics (onions, garlic, celery, carrots, and the like). Use a lot of greens here, and less liquid. Cooking them with the top on will keep the moisture in the dish, and it’s easier to add more liquid than it is to drain or evaporate too much liquid. Braised greens are a good side dish, but they’d also do well incorporated into a dip, stirred into a pasta, or made into soup by adding a bunch of stock. There’s also shakshuka, cook your greens in tomato sauce, low and slow, then add a few eggs, and put a lid on the pan to poach/steam the eggs in your tomato-y veggie goodness. Add peppers too, just for fun.
Crispy. It’s easier to get crispy with greens in the oven than in the frying pan. Why stop at kale chips? Give chard a try or even better: collards, they make excellent chips. Make sure to de-stem the greens, give them enough space (I use a cookie sheet with parchment paper over it), use a verrrrry light touch with the oil (I cheat and use a spray can or bottle of olive oil), throw on some spices, then keep a close eye on the greens in a 400ºF oven. Green chips are all about the fine balance between crowded, soggy, steamed greens and charred leaves.
- Processed every which way.
This is where leafy greens can get really out there. Processing your greens with a food processor, immersion blender, or straight up mortar and pestle breaks down their structure and allows you to great pastes and liquids for a variety of uses. Generally, greens are easily processed into some kind of pesto - get weird here. Swap out basil for just about any other leaf, and pine nuts for walnuts, pecans, or cashews, and otherwise this is still just your regular old pesto recipe, after studying abroad and dyeing its hair.
Personally, I filled my freezer with tubs of a cold-killing swiss chard soup this winter. You can use any green here: just sautée 2 big bunches of greens with the herb of your choice, and some aromatics (again, onion, garlic, celery, carrot) in a big soup pot until they’re tender - I also added 4 kinds of pepper here: white, black, red, and cayenne for a sinus-clearing kick - then add about 3-4 cups of stock and simmer for about 10 minutes. Transfer to a blender and blend to a (more or less) uniform consistency. Add water or more stock as needed to make the mixture more soupy. This is a great way to inject an explosion of healthful, tasty greens into your winter life.