On greens and their cooking


De gustibus non est disputandum: In matters of taste, there is no argument.

This might be the case for cooked greens, too, but I do believe most resistance to them comes from being served overcooked greens.  Sure, creamed spinach might have a special place in one’s heart (it does in mine), but goodness, serving all greens that way would be like boiling one’s broccoli or asparagus or green beans into submission: it’s not recommended!

As far as I am concerned, there are two steps to cooking delicious greens:  1.  growing your own and  2.  cooking them to the proper consistency as dictated by their texture.  Step one is pretty obvious.  If you grow your own you have enormous incentive to eat them and they’ll be at the peak of freshness.  Step two is a bit more tricky, as it requires a bit of consideration of the leaves.  But even that gets pretty easy:  the tenderer the leaves, the gentler their cooking.

Warm spinach salad: Wash and dry some new spinach (if there are thick stems, remove them), and place in a glass bowl, and add some crumbles of feta cheese on top.  Heat some good olive oil to just shy of smoking:  you just want the sweet flavor to leap out.  You may add some chopped chives or very thinly sliced garlic at the very end of heating.  Whisk in some good balsamic vinegar or lemon juice, and add a pinch of salt and some pepper.   Toss over the spinach and adjust seasonings:  the spinach should be slightly limp, and shiny, but not cooked.  Serve warm.

(Warm salads are entirely adaptable:  saute some cubed marinated tofu in some garlic and sesame oil and ginger, and toss them, hot, with clean, slightly damp spinach.  Same with lentils, or other savory beans:  toss hot, eat warm.)

Bigger, tougher leaves require bigger, tougher care.  Many greens through the heat of summer have thicker stems and more leathery leaves:  this helps them conserve their energies; this adaptation one of the reasons you won’t find spinach grow for you in the summer!  Often, I cut or pull the leaves off the tough ribs and stems and chop the ribs to cook separately.  It is here I pull out what my family considers to be the Great Equalizer in making any green palatable:  plenty of representation from the genus allium.  So, I will chop up the summer-toughened stems of kale, rapini, chard, etc. and throw them in a pan with plenty of onions, leek, and/or garlic; add a glug of olive oil and some salt, and caramelize them together gently.  After they look mostly cooked, I add the chopped leaves and a bit of water, cover, and cook; checking on them until they’re (what I consider to be) done.  A splash of vinegar at the end brightens them up a bit.

Many greens are from the brassica family (cabbage, kales, rapini, bok choy, turnips, collards) and so share that family’s somewhat offensive sulfurous stink when cooked.  Some studies say the longer these things are cooked, the more hydrogen sulfide is released!  It is traditional, however, to boil to death certain collards and mustard greens:  simmering in a pot with some garlic and maybe a ham hock…frankly, I *love* Southern greens, served up with some butter beans and a side of thick bread to sop up that “pot likker,” but perhaps this is an acquired taste.  Actually, many collards and mustards grow so thick and hearty that a long simmering is the only way to make them edible.

Anyway, experiment lots is the best advice I can give you with greens.  Experiment, and have plenty of garlic and onions on hand…

9 responses to “On greens and their cooking

  1. Thanks for the quick tutorial. I’m growing Rainbow Chard this year and am dedicated to figuring out how to eat them and like it!

  2. Your readers might also like to try our favorite (and fast) preparation for any type of greens.

    Cut leaves from stem (saving stems for another use), stack, roll up like a big fat cigar, and start cutting at one end. You’ll produce a fluff of half-inch narrow ribbons that you can then cut crosswise for easier eating.

    Get the steamer going over a little bit of boiling water and toss in the ribbons to steam for 60 seconds. Remove, pat dry with a clean cloth, and toss with a little whisked olive oil and Dijon. We eat these just about every day at or house.

    Thanks for all your stories, El…

  3. I love the idea of heating the olive oil and adding it with balsamic and to the uncooked greens. I have never thought of that, but will definitely try it, you make it sound so good. We have been struggling to come up with a decent tasting homemade salad dressing for quite some time now… to no avail.

    Now if only I had goats for the cheese,


  4. One of my very favorite ways to cook greens is to chop them, mix them with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast them on a cookie sheet in the oven at 350 for about 20 minutes. They come out crispy and delicious. Drizzle balsamic over them and you’re in heaven.

    The other way we make them is to sautee them with a little panchetta. Yum! We had that last night.

  5. This has been a great place to stop and get a recipe for the spring supper.

    Thanks to each of you, include the blog owner!


  6. My neighbor down the street just gave us a sack of curly kale and radishes for our salad last night. We mixed that with his romaine and our lettuce and had a feast! We have enough kale left over for a small pot of cooked greens. Yum!

  7. Wow -all this talk of cooked greens is making my mouth water–Hurry spring! Kris

  8. I’m with Kris, the idea of fresh greens… spring can’t come soon enough! I love both kale and chard with sweet red onion. Just plain with some black pepper and red pepper flakes… the onion is so sweet and pairs perfectly with the greens, cooked about 5 minutes or so – don’t even need oil for the sautee, it cooks wonderfully in its own moisture.

  9. Christy, if you like beets you’ll like chard. It’s actually a beet grown for its leaves. It’s really mutable too: I use the small leaves in salad but the big leaves certainly are terribly versatile!

    H2, how wonderful, thanks for the steam-y suggestion. I got a spendy steam insert to fit in something like half my pots for Xmas and it’s not seen that much use yet; this would be a great method to try. Steaming cabbage before browning in a pan is something I often do too, tossed with some spuds…

    Ah Mike. One of our favorites uses a bit of our cider vinegar. But yeah, having a 100% home-grown one would be hard for us too unless we start getting pigs and dairy goats, or add another greenhouse just for olive trees! Our faves are riffs on the basic vinaigrette but I do have a buttermilk or yogurt one too that’s in the rotation. I think these fresh herbs, chives and onions are quite a great addition at this time of year.

    Thank you ASG for that great roasting recommendation! That is the primary way I tend to cook summer squash, plus lots of onions; I can see that being lovely with greens too. But pancetta: it’s on my list of things to attempt to make!

    Linda, you are quite welcome. Can’t wait for the riot of spring greens here either….

    Jules, what a kindly neighbor! That sounds like a great spring feast.

    Kris, I am so with you. It’s been nice but you know it could be nicer outside…

    MC, yeah, I like to contrast the greens too. Often I just add some of our greenhouse carrots because they are SUPER sweet after that chilling. Red pepper flakes are definitely up my husband’s alley too. Yum.

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