At this time of year, our palates yearn for tender spring vegetables like asparagus and fava beans, but it’s a little too early to find those if you want to shop locally.
But you can always add variety to your vegetable routine by sourcing a plethora of late season winter greens still fresh at the farmers markets and grocery stores, from collards and kale to mustard greens and mizuna.
Helping folks know what to do with exotic greens like bok choy and inspiring them to expand the way they prepare familiar greens like cabbage is the impetus behind Portland chef and restaurateur Jenn Louis’ new, award-winning cookbook, “The Book of Greens.”
“One of the reasons I wrote the book was that a lot of people would approach me and say, ‘Hey, I got ‘X’ at the farmers market, and I don’t know how to use it,” Louis said in a phone interview from her home in Portland. “There are more and more varieties available, and people are afraid to cook them and fail, so I wanted to add things that are pretty unique … that way people can find new greens and know how to use them.”
The leafy greens are not only healthy — a recent study in Neurology journal found that seniors who had daily helpings of greens showed a slower rate of cognitive decline than seniors who did not eat many greens — but also make for delicious dishes that offer all kinds of complex flavors.
“The whole goal of the book is to show how greens are used globally, in main dishes, rather than as a side or a salad like in North America,” she said. “I wanted to create an encyclopedia and to show how to use them in a more versatile way.”
Structured alphabetically from Agretti to Watercress, “The Book of Greens” provides unusual recipes, such as the Charred Cabbage with Miso and Lime recipe inspired by one of the most popular dishes at Louis’ Israeli-inspired restaurant, Ray.
“At Ray, Roasted Cabbage with Turmeric and Caraway is the top-selling dish,” she said. “People think cabbage is just for coleslaw, but it really makes an elegant dish.”
Along with cabbage, Louis is a huge champion of kale, which many trendoids have declared over its peak, if not dead. Louis begs to differ.
“Kale is delicious, and kale salad is absolutely delicious,” she insisted. “There are so many twists and variations. I like to add cocoa nibs and dates.”
One of her favorite kale recipes is for Colcannon, an Irish recipe usually made with potatoes and cabbage. She gussies it up with Russian kale, Savoy cabbage and bits of cured meat or salami.
“It would be great as a breakfast with a poached egg on top,” she noted.
Right now, Louis is growing broccoli rabe in her garden, an intensely bitter green that tastes less bitter when it’s fresh or blanched. Her book includes a recipe for a Broccoli Rabe Pesto that can be served on top of a Testaroli crepe, an ancient form of pasta.
Another way to make bitter greens such as chicory more palatable is to serve them with some kind of fat, such as Gouda cheese. You can also add more acid, she said, which can soften the chlorophyll.