Cooking Greens

There is a huge variety of edible leafy greens, and I've been exploring some new types. Why stick with the standard, commonly-available types when there are so many tasty greens to try?! The greens come in every flavour (sweet, sour, bitter, salty-ish, spicy...). They are various shades of green, as well as some that are tinted with reds, maroons, purples, etc. This is a very brief and basic introduction to a few greens and how to cook with them.

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In the photo above, from left to right: Tokyo bekana, Yukina savoy, Hon tsai tai, Mizuna.

Some people shy away from these because the names are unfamiliar (but 'kale' and 'arugula' are fairly common now and were once unfamiliar...)

Tokyo bekana: light green leaves; tender

Yukina savoy: very dark green, heavy leaves, wrinkled

Hon Tsa Tai: purple stems; some bunches have some small yellow flowers (edible, if you choose)

Mizuna: white stems, very serrated leaves

Before I get to the cooking tips, I want to answer the question of why I grow (so many) greens. Some people have never eaten any cooked greens before, and I used to be like that too! Once in a while we would have spinach or Swiss chard when we were growing up. At some point, I tried kale and liked it.

However, the thing that convinced me to eat more greens was learning that they are packed with nutrients. The book "Eating on the Wild Side" by Jo Robinson presents some solid research on the richness of nutrients in fresh leafy greens (one key word is fresh: just-picked greens contain far more nutrients than greens that have been sitting around for a week or two).

Some greens like kale are often talked about... but all leafy greens are nutrient storehouses. Once I started eating leafy greens on a regular basis, I found that I had more energy. Now, I find that if I go a couple days without greens, my energy drops a bit and I start to crave them.

First of all, some tips on storing your greens to maintain freshness:

1. Keep refrigerated.

2. Store them in a ventilated plastic bag (not sealed up tightly)

That's it! Pretty easy!

Now, for cooking them. 

1. Rinse the leaves in cool water

2. Cut them to the desired size, discarding excess stems if you want. An easy way to cut large leaves is to stack them and roll them into a bundle from the long side; then, slice them into ribbons.

There are two main quick-and-easy ways to cook them: 

1. Heat a frying pan over medium to medium-high heat. Add butter (or other cooking fat/oil). When the pan is hot, add the greens. Add a sprinkle of salt. For tender greens, stir them every half minute or so and they will be ready in a couple minutes. Add minced garlic or sliced scallions at the end of the cooking time, if desired. Or, add chopped onion when you add the greens to the pan.

For heavier greens, stir them for a minute or so until they start to wilt. Add a couple spooonfuls of liquid (water, broth, etc) to the pan and quickly cover with a lid. Check them every couple minutes, and remove from the heat when they are tender.

2. Greens can also be steamed until tender, and then salted and topped with butter.

I have read in a few places that adding a light drizzle of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice (or kombucha or other vinegar) to cooked greens helps to increase the absorption of nutrients from the greens. Or, add your favourite vinaigrette dressing.

Some people cook greens in a grilling basket (I don't have experience with that), and some roast them in the oven. If you cook them in the oven, check them often and stir frequently to prevent them from drying out / burning.

There are lots of ways to fancy up the greens too... add to quiche; top a pizza; add to lasagna; add to a stir-fry (with other vegetables); use large leaves as wraps to roll a filling and bake them; add to omelettes; sprinkle with toasted nuts or seeds; etc.

Greens are great accompaniments to any meat or seafood, they go well with grains (such as rice, quinoa, etc), and they pair especially well with root vegetables. 

Greens are interchangeable in many recipes. Any tender green (such as Swiss chard, Tokyo bekana, mizuna, etc) can be substituted for spinach. Some of the heavier greens (such as tatsoi, yukina savoy, etc) can be substituted for kale in recipes.

Here are some more ideas for incorporating greens into your meals:

What are your favourite ways to prepare greens? Leave your suggestions in the comments below!