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Leafy greens go way beyond Southern-style

It's not exactly news that dark, leafy greens are good for us, but when the old year drips into a new one, we tend to take healthy eating more seriously. At least until the temptation of Valentine's Day comes around. • The benefits of eating greens such as spinach, kale and collards are well documented. They've got loads of vitamins A, C and K, plus folate, iron and calcium. They're fiber-rich and contain high levels of antioxidants, which are effective in the prevention of heart disease and some types of cancers. Nutrition experts tell us we would live longer and more healthfully if we figured out a way to eat greens about five times a week. Even frozen veggies count here.

So, what prevents us from scarfing down Swiss chard and mustard greens in quantities large enough to give us the longevity of Jack LaLanne? I contend that it's mostly because we only know a few ways to prepare them, and one of those involves boiling the greens to a limp mass with salt pork. That Southern-style preparation is mighty fine with a slab of corn bread to sop up the tasty pot likker, but it's not something we would likely eat or prepare several times a week.

The recipes that accompany this story give you new ideas or might inspire you to tinker on your own. Some greens, such as spinach, collards and Swiss chard, are delicious when simply sauteed and garnished with a swirl of finishing oil such as sesame, pistachio or truffle. Remember, too, that vinegar complements the natural bitterness of some greens. They can also be chopped and added to soups, stir-fries and pasta dishes. Every bit and bite counts.

There are a few things you need to know about cooking greens; the most important is that the different greens are generally not interchangeable.

The reason we eat more spinach than any other type of dark green is that the leaves are sweet and tender, making them quick-cooking and mild tasting. Spinach can be eaten raw in salads, sauteed and eaten as a side dish, or featured in quiches, casseroles, omelets and many appetizers. It's definitely our go-to green.

Kale, on the other hand, is slightly bitter and needs the heat of cooking to mellow it. It's best in soups and stir-fries. Kale, collards and mustard, beet and turnip greens get a bad reputation for being slimy, but if they are not cooked for superlong periods, that slickness doesn't develop.

Here is a primer of some of the most widely available dark, leafy greens and how best to prepare them.

Collards: This relatively mild-flavored green is now conveniently sold chopped and washed in bags, just like spinach. Besides the long-cooking Southern preparation, collards can be cooked briefly and added to soups, stir-fries or pasta salads.

Spinach: There was a time when most of the spinach sold at the store was curly leaf. Today we eat more flat-leaf and baby varieties. If you buy spinach in bunches, make sure to wash it thoroughly because there tends to be a lot dirt between the leaves. Discard the stems of flat-leaf spinach before cooking. The stems of baby spinach are tender enough to eat. Spinach is the most mild tasting of all greens. Eat it raw or cooked.

Kale: This slightly bitter green is reminiscent of cabbage in taste, and in fact is part of the cabbage family. The tough stalk — like the core of the cabbage — should be removed. The leaves can be chewy if not cooked long enough but if they are chopped in smaller pieces they can be sauteed in olive oil and chicken stock or tossed into a green salad and eaten raw. Just a bit will go a long way.

Mustard greens: Cook for short periods to preserve the peppery taste of these greens. Overcooking makes them mushy. Remove the stems but leave the thin stalk in the middle. Can be eaten raw in salads especially with a sweet vinaigrette to balance the tang.

Swiss chard: Tastes similar to spinach with a slightly bitter edge. Its colorful stalks are show-stoppers. Whoever came up with the dietary motto "Eat the rainbow" might have been staring at Swiss chard. Both the leaves and stems are edible. You can use Swiss chard in any recipe that calls for spinach, but you'll need to extend the cooking time just a bit since the leaves aren't quite as tender.

Arugula: This small, peppery green is commonly used in salads but can also be made into a tangy pesto sauce (leaves only, toasted walnuts, olive oil and grated Parmesan cheese made to a paste in the food processor). Arugula is also delicious added to soups, stir-fries and pasta dishes.

Bok choy: Sometimes called Chinese cabbage, bok choy is common in Asian cooking, especially stir-fries. It is mild tasting and watery, and can be eaten cooked or raw. Baby bok choy is often braised.

Escarole: A variety of endive that's just as at home mixed in with salad greens as it is in a soup. If cooking, toss the curly leaves in at the end of the process. It should be cooked gently to retain flavor.

Beet and turnip greens: Though they both are the leafy tops of root vegetables, one is mild and the other quite bitter. Beet greens are closer in flavor to Swiss chard, and the youngest ones are more tender. They can be eaten raw or cooked. Turnip greens are pungent and slightly bitter, though they mellow when cooked. If buying the greens with the root vegetables attached, make sure they are not wilted or blemished. You'll have better luck finding beet greens than turnip greens. Most turnips are sold without their leafy tops. Best place to look is at farmers markets.

Janet K. Keeler can be reached at or (727) 893-8586.


Garlicky Kale With White Beans

1 1/2 pounds kale

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

4 medium garlic cloves, minced

2 (15-ounce) cans cannellini or other white beans, drained and rinsed

2/3 cup chicken or vegetable stock

Freshly ground black pepper

Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot.

Wash the kale in several changes of cold water, stripping off the leafy portion from both sides of the tough central vein. Discard the veins and tear the leafy portions into small pieces. Add the kale and 1 teaspoon salt to the boiling water. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the kale is tender, about 8 minutes. Drain well.

Heat the oil and garlic in a large skillet over medium heat. When the garlic is golden (this will take about 2 minutes), add the kale and cook, tossing well, until heated through and evenly flavored with the garlic, 1 to 2 minutes.

Add the beans and stock and simmer just until the beans are heated through, about 4 minutes. Add pepper to taste. Adjust the seasonings and serve immediately.

Serves 4 as a main vegetarian course (made with vegetable stock) or 6 as a side dish.

Source: Vegetables Every Day by

Jack Bishop (HarperCollins, 2001)


Sauteed Mustard Greens

With Caramelized Onions

1/2 cup thinly sliced onions

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 pound mustard greens, washed and torn into large pieces

2 to 3 tablespoons chicken broth or vegetable broth (vegetarian option)

1/4 teaspoon dark sesame oil

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

In a large saute pan, saute onions in olive oil over medium heat until the onions begin to brown and caramelize, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add the minced garlic and cook a minute more, until fragrant.

Add the mustard greens and broth and cook until the mustard greens are just barely wilted. Toss with sesame oil. Season with salt and pepper.

Serves 4.



Spinach Salad With Mushrooms, Croutons and Warm Lemon Dressing

1 1/2 pounds baby spinach (about 9 cups, tightly packed)

1/2 pound cremini or white button mushrooms, wiped clean and sliced thin

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 medium garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons lemon juice


Freshly ground black pepper

2 cups prepared garlic croutons

Place the spinach and mushrooms in a large bowl and set aside.

Heat oil and garlic in small skillet over medium-low heat until the garlic is golden, about 4 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.

Pour the warm dressing over the salad and toss gently. Add the croutons and toss again. Serve immediately.

Serves 4.

Source: Vegetables Every Day by

Jack Bishop (HarperCollins, 2001)


Braised Collards With Tomatoes and Peanuts

2 1/2 pounds collard greens, tough stems discarded and the rest washed and shaken dry, then coarsely chopped


2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

2 medium garlic cloves, minced

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper or to taste

1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes

1/4 cup unsalted roasted peanuts, chopped

Bring several quarts of water to a boil in a large pot. Add the greens and salt to taste. Cover and cook until the greens are crisp-tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Drain, rinse under cold water, and drain again. Set the greens aside.

Heat the oil in a large saute pan. Add the onion and saute over medium heat until golden, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cayenne and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Add the tomatoes and greens to the pan and stir to combine. Cover and cook, stirring once or twice, until the greens are tender and the flavors have blended, about 10 minutes. Adjust the seasonings. Transfer the greens to a serving bowl, sprinkle with the peanuts, and serve immediately.

Serves 6 as a side dish.

Source: Vegetables Every Day by

Jack Bishop (HarperCollins, 2001)


Shell Pasta With Sausage and Greens

1 pound shell or ear-shaped conchiglie pasta

12 ounces kale, broccoli rabe or other green, chopped (if using kale or a leafy green, remove and discard center stem)

1 1/2 cups chicken stock

3/4 pound bulk Italian sausage, hot or mild

2 green onions, chopped

6 garlic cloves, diced

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes

1/4 cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese

Bring 3 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot, adding 1/2 teaspoon of salt and a tablespoon of olive oil. Add the pasta and cook as directed on the package, until al dente.

While pasta is cooking, gently boil kale or rabe in chicken stock for about 8 minutes.

While greens are cooking, saute Italian sausage until brown, about 8 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove sausage from pan. Add green onions to pan, and saute until soft. Add garlic and cook for a minute more.

When pasta is done, drain and return to pot. Toss together with the greens, sausage, garlic and Parmesan cheese. Add chili pepper flakes to taste.

Serves 4 to 6.

Note: You might want to try experimenting by adding some sauteed bell pepper.



Swiss Chard Tzatziki With Toasted Pita

1 cup finely chopped Swiss chard leaves (ribs removed before chopping)

1 garlic clove

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup plain yogurt

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

A dash of cayenne

3 (9-inch-diameter) pita breads, cut like a pie into triangles

Olive oil for drizzling onto the pita bread

Bring a 1- or 2-quart saucepan, half-filled with water, to a boil. Add the chopped chard leaves. Cook until tender, about 3 to 5 minutes. While the chard is cooking, prepare a bowl with ice water for an ice bath. When chard is cooked, strain through a fine mesh strainer and put into the ice bath to stop the cooking. Drain well, set aside.

Using mortar and pestle, grind the garlic and salt into a paste. In a medium-sized bowl, stir in the yogurt, chard, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice and cayenne pepper. Set aside.

Cut the pita bread into triangles and spread in one layer in a broiling pan (use a sturdy broiling pan, not a cookie sheet or your cookie sheet will warp). Drizzle olive oil on one side of the pita wedges. Use a pastry brush to spread the olive oil more evenly. Broil for 5 minutes or until the pita bread starts to toast. Remove and let cool for a minute.

Serve the tzatziki with the pita wedges.

Serves 4.



Chicken, Apple and Goat Cheese Arugula Salad

Extra-virgin olive oil

1 large shallot, peeled and sliced

1 1/2 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into

1-inch cubes


1 tart green apple, thinly sliced

4 to 5 cups arugula leaves, enough for a salad for four

1/4 cup toasted walnuts, roughly chopped

1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese

Lemon juice

Salt and pepper

Heat a nonstick frying pan to medium heat. Add a tablespoon of olive oil and lightly saute the shallot slices until translucent. Remove from pan. Add another tablespoon of olive oil and cook the chicken breast pieces, stirring occasionally, until just cooked through, 5 to 10 minutes. Sprinkle some salt on the chicken while you are cooking it. Remove from pan and chill.

When chicken has cooled, toss together in a serving bowl the shallots, chicken, sliced green apple, arugula, walnuts and goat cheese. Dress with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste.

Serves 4.


Leafy greens go way beyond Southern-style 01/11/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 12, 2011 7:23am]
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