If you are a gardener, you probably know that most greens grow best in cool weather. Why, then, does it seem as though these wonderful vegetables have long been most prevalent on the tables of Southerners? Growing up in the upper Midwest, we mostly knew of spinach from Popeye --and it would take more than the power of a cartoon hero to get us to really eat the slimy olive green things that came out of cans.
My parents did love beet greens, and the first beets from the garden were always tiny, picked more for the greens than the roots. Even though she sauteed them only lightly, my mother's best efforts to get us kids to take more than the mandatory bite were usually futile.
When we moved to central Appalachia many years ago, I was introduced to greens as a regular part of menus and learned to appreciate at least a little the slow simmered with ham hocks versions we were often served. But it wasn't until years later when I discovered how wonderful greens could really be if a few basic rules were followed:
- Always use LOTS of onion and/or garlic
- Use a small amount of oil (preferably olive)
- Cut the stems from the leaves and cook them a bit longer than the leaves
- Saute the leaves only until just wilted and slightly tenderized
There are gradations in how strongly flavored (or bitter) different greens are, so you may want to start out with the milder varieties. Kale and spinach are now much more likely to be used in recipes, but they are still not often sauteed on their own. Mustard greens and collards are more of an acquired taste, but there is a wonderful kind of greens that I heartily suggest everyone become familiar with:
There are red, yellow, and green variations of chard, each of them beautiful to look at and wonderfully mild and even just a bit sweet. As with all greens, a touch of frost mellows the flavor, so the best time of year to buy these is right now, in fall and early winter. The preparation method I give below for chard will also work with just about any greens, but why not start out with these beautiful chard leaves if you are new to cooking with greens? I think you will be very glad you did.
As usual, this is more method than recipe. Amounts can vary according to your taste, so decrease or increase the onion and garlic as desired. Many people will want a dash of a favorite hot sauce and that is a good choice too. After you have tried this with chard (or beet greens--almost interchangeable), try moving on to one of the other kinds of greens so prevalent in the farmers markets and produce aisles right now.
Chard, Northern Style
olive or canola oil
onion, coarsely chopped
1 bunch of chard, washed
salt to taste
hot sauce (optional)
balsamic or other vinegar
1. Prepare the chard by separating the coarsest parts of the stems from the leaves. Chop the stems coarsely. Roll the leaves into tight curls and then, using scissors (the easiest way) or a knife, cut the leaves into coarse pieces. Set the leaves aside.
2. Measure the stems and use about the same amount of onions as stems.
3. Saute the onions and chard stems in a small amount of oil over medium high heat, stirring occasionally. Make sure the pan you use will be large enough for all the leaves you will be adding.
4. When the onions are soft and translucent, stir in the garlic and then add the leaves.
Lower the heat to medium, cover the pan, and cook just until the greens are wilted and slightly tender. For most greens, this will be only 5 minutes or so. If needed, a bit of water can be added to the pan to avoid over-browning.
5. Remove from heat and salt to taste. Serve with vinegar and hot sauce as desired.
Thanks to one of my loyal followers (who seems to be having a problem making comments here), I have been reminded that greens love, love, love, the addition of some cubes of feta cheese when served. You might also try a dollop of plain yogurt (Greek or regular), especially if you are drizzling the greens with hot sauce.