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Eat your greens! Chef John Ash shares six recipes to show you how

There is a difference between cooking greens and salad greens.

Cooking greens are not easily classified under one roof. The biggest group is the brassica or cabbage family, which includes kale, collards, broccoli rabe and mustard greens.

Brassicas are native to Europe and western Asia. Kale and the closely related collard greens probably originated somewhere in the eastern Mediterranean at least 2,000 years ago, though some believe collards may have originated in Asia, where they still grow wild. Kale also grows wild in northern Europe and England. Both kale and collards resemble the original cabbage, which did not form a head.

Cooking greens such as collards and kale are mainstays of American Southern cooking, where they are usually cooked with smoked or salted pork. Mustard greens are also popular as a part of the soul food repertoire of Southern cuisine, sometimes combined with turnip greens.

Here are some of the many types of greens used for cooking:

Broccoli rabe (also known as rapini) is similar to broccoli, with smaller stocks and florets. It has a pleasantly bitter, peppery flavor.

Swiss chard: There are several varieties. It has an interesting, tart flavor.

Collard greens have wide green leaves, with leathery texture (and often large size) that can be reminiscent of elephant ears. Large bunches require long cooking, so look for ones with leaves as small as possible and stems that are not too thick. Collards have more of a cabbage-like flavor than other greens.

Dandelion greens: Local wild and field-grown versions of this pleasantly biting green have smaller, more severely saw-toothed leaves than the mass-produced varieties. Larger dandelion greens can be tough and quite bitter, needing more cooking (up to 10 minutes) than the young varieties, which should be cooked quickly (as little as 3 minutes). If gathering your own, make sure the area hasn’t been sprayed with pesticides and the dandelions haven’t yet flowered.

Kale is a sturdy green that loves the cold and is often displayed outdoors because of its tolerance for cold weather. When small and tender, kale can be used in salad mixes.

Mustard greens, as the name implies, have a tangy, mustard-like flavor. Smaller leaf varieties such as baby red mustard greens are often found in salad mixes now common in supermarkets.

Turnip and beet greens: While most are left attached to the root vegetable as an afterthought, some varieties of turnips are grown especially for their thin, dark greens. As with mustard greens, their sharp flavor (and their coarse texture) mellows with cooking.

When buying greens, choose those that have good, green color with leaves that show no or little yellowing and no withering or blemishes. Look for stems that appear freshly cut and are not thick, dried out, browned or split. Often greens are sold bunched, so the inner parts of the bunch may be subject to decay and slime.

Yield will vary depending on the green. They all will shrink when cooked, sometimes to one-eighth of their original volume. As a rule of thumb, figure about a half pound of raw, untrimmed greens per person if you’re using the greens as a side vegetable. You can reduce that amount if the greens are a component in a soup, stew or pasta.

This is normally a high-fat dish, and often the greens are cooked to death. Here, however, it’s not such a long cooking time. The cooking stock is flavored with smoked pork and the broth consumed along with the greens.

Collards with Smoked Pork

Serves 4

1 smoked ham hock or shank, about 1¼ pounds

1-quart defatted chicken stock

1 quart water

1 bay leaf

2 small bunches collard greens, about 1 ½ pounds total

1 small to medium onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, chopped

2 teaspoons vegetable oil

½ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Hot pepper flakes or sauce, to taste

Put hocks, stock, water and bay leaf in a large saucepan or pot; bring to a boil; cover and gently simmer 1 ½ hours. Remove hocks and set aside. Chill or freeze the liquid until any fat rises to the top and can be skimmed off.

Trim about ½ inch from the bottoms of the collards. Cut crosswise into strips, about ⅜ inch wide at the bottom and up to 1 inch wide toward the top. Wash thoroughly in a large tub of cool water. Drain.

In a large sauce pan or small stock pot, saute onion and garlic in oil until soft. Add collards and stock and bring to a boil. Simmer, partially covered, about 25 minutes or until the thickest stem pieces are tender. Season with salt, pepper and hot pepper, to taste.

Meanwhile, remove all the fat and skin from the hocks and dice the lean meat. Remove collards with a skimmer to 4 shallow bowls or soup plates. Add ½ cup of broth to each bowl and sprinkle on diced pork. Make sure rustic country bread is on hand for dunking.

Considered by many to be Portugal’s national dish, caldo verde is found everywhere — from the dining rooms of Lisbon’s most luxurious hotels to the humblest of country homes. It’s a versatile dish: serve it as a one-course meal at lunch or as a light supper in the evening. Be sure to cut the kale into very fine slices; that’s what creates the soup’s distinctive character. Here I’ve called for mashing the potatoes in the pot, but for a more sophisticated version you could puree in a food processor before adding the kale.

Potato and Kale Soup (Caldo Verde)

Serves 6 to 8

6 ounces chouriço (cured chorizo) or other spicy cured sausage

3 tablespoons olive oil

3 cups (1 medium) white onion, peeled and cut into large dice

2 tablespoons finely sliced garlic

1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes

7 cups low-salt, defatted chicken stock

¾ pound young kale

Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Drops of hot sauce

Slice the sausage into thin rounds and then cut each round in half. In a heavy-bottom soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat and cook sausage until it is nicely browned and crisp. Remove and drain on paper towels.

Add the onion and garlic to the pot and cook until they are just beginning to soften and lightly colored. Add the potatoes and the stock and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer until potatoes are just barely cooked through. Coarsely mash the potatoes with a potato masher or large fork.

Meanwhile, roll up the kale and cut crosswise into very thin strips. Add to pot and cook until kale is tender, 10 minutes or so. Add the cooked chouriço and season to taste with salt and pepper and drops of hot sauce, if desired.

This is adapted from a recipe by Paula Wolfert in her wonderful book “Mediterranean Grains and Greens.” It’s great as a topping for crostini or bruschetta and terrific as a flat bread topping. I often stir it into cooked pasta.

Marmalade of Spring Greens

Serves 6 to 8

2 pounds spinach, escarole, Swiss chard or a mixture of greens

1 garlic clove, peeled and lightly crushed

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

4 anchovy fillets, drained and crushed with a fork

1½ teaspoons capers (preferably salted), rinsed and drained

¼ cup chopped pitted Kalamata olives

1½ tablespoons golden raisins, soaked in warm water, drained and chopped

⅛ teaspoon chile flakes, or to taste

Wash the greens and remove their stems or stalks and drain. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the greens until thoroughly tender, 3 or more minutes. Drain, refresh in cold water, drain again and squeeze out excess water.

In a skillet, fry the garlic in olive oil over medium heat until lightly browned. Remove garlic and discard. Add the anchovies and capers and fry, stirring until the anchovies dissolve, about 1 minute. Add the greens and cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes or until the greens absorb the flavored oil.

Remove the mixture to a large cutting board; allow it to cool; then chop finely or pulse in a food processor with the olives, raisins and pepper flakes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

This is a wonderful accompaniment to grilled and roasted meats, chicken and fish. I also like it as a topping for crostini and grilled country-style bread.

Brocolli Rabe with Pancetta and Pecorino

Serves 4 to 6

1 ½ pounds broccoli rabe, trimmed and cut into 2-inch lengths

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

5 ounces diced pancetta

4 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced

¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste

½ cup dry white wine

¾ cup freshly shaved Pecorino cheese (Romano, Toscano, etc.)

Sea or kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the broccoli rabe and blanch for about 2 minutes, until slightly softened. Drain. Shock in cold water, drain again and set aside.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the olive oil and when hot, add the pancetta and saute until crisp, about 5 minutes. Set pancetta aside on paper towels to drain. Add garlic and red pepper flakes. Saute for 1 minute, until the garlic and pepper flakes become fragrant. Deglaze the pan with wine until almost evaporated.

Add the broccoli rabe and saute until it’s tender but still retains its bright green color, about 3 minutes. Add the reserved pancetta. Remove from heat and toss with the cheese. Season to your taste with salt and pepper, plus more olive oil if desired. Serve immediately.

The best dandelion greens are local varieties. They don’t last long, so don’t dally before you enjoy them.

Dandelions with Garlic and Olive Oil

Serves 4

1 pound dandelion greens

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 large cloves garlic, chopped

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Trim off the roots and the very bottoms of any tough stems. Remove any leaves that are bruised or yellowed. Plunge leaves into a sink of cool water. Swish around and drain in a colander. Repeat.

Bring a 5-quart pot of water and a tablespoon of salt to a boil. Add the dandelions and cook 5 minutes. Remove with a skimmer (if you want to save the cooking liquid) or drain in a colander. Gently squeeze out any excess moisture.

In the same pot, heat oil and add garlic over medium heat. When the garlic is just turning golden, add the dandelion. Toss well, coating with oil and garlic. Add salt and pepper and toss again.

You can use various varieties of Swiss chard here, including the multi-hued rainbow Swiss chard.

Swiss chard and White Bean Salad

Serves 4 to 6

1 large or 2 smaller bunches Swiss chard, about 1 ½ pounds

1 15-ounce can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

3 tablespoons lemon juice

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (plus more for drizzling)

1 clove garlic, finely minced

2 teaspoons soy sauce

⅓ cup scallions, thinly cut on the bias

1 tablespoon drained, chopped capers

1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Separate chard stems from leaves. Stack and roll leaves, cigar-style, into ½-inch strips. Cut stems crosswise into ⅜-inch-wide crescents. Wash in lots of cool water. Drain.

Put stems in a steamer basket over 1 inch of boiling water in a large saucepan. Cover and cook 5 minutes. Add leaves and cook 3 minutes more. Drain and gently squeeze out any excess moisture from the leaves.

Put chard in a bowl with beans. Combine remaining ingredients in a small bowl, stir to combine and pour over chard and beans. Toss and chill for at least 1 hour before serving.

John Ash is a Santa Rosa chef, teacher, James Beard award-winning cookbook author and radio host of KSRO’s “Good Food Hour” airing at 11 a.m. Saturday. He can be reached through his website, chefjohnash.com.

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