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
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.