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.
Bok choy, an Asian green that is frequently served cooked, has a surprisingly fresh flavor when served raw. To illustrate that point, Louis shares a recipe for Tender Boy Choy Salad with Chicken and Orange.
“Bok choy is … like celery, but more tender,” she said. “So it’s a really lovely thing for a salad.”
Mizuna is a peppery and pungent green native to China that is also popular in Japan, where its leaves have traditionally been pickled.
“It’s a little lemony and bright,” she said of the feathery green. “So I did a recipe for salmon tartare, which is a really good, light meal or appetizer.”
Mustard greens — known as the wasabi of greens for their sharp, pungent flavor and lingering, Dijon-like bite — can be eaten raw, dried or cooked. The chef showcased their unique flavor in a recipe for Mustard Green Pancakes with an Asian dipping sauce.
“I love that recipe,” she said. “That is basically your Chinese scallion pancake, but I substituted other greens in there. You can pack them all in and get a little char.”
That recipe also illustrates Louis’ food philosophy of thinking outside the box and making substitutions with greens that are already in her produce drawer.
Her cookbook, which recently won an award from the International Society of Culinary Professionals, was co-written by Louis’ friend, Kathleen Squires. Teaming up with a professional writer freed up the chef from worrying about editing and research and allowed her to focus on the recipes and the message she wanted to get across, which is to expand what people are eating from the garden.
As an experiment, she suggested that home cooks branch out and try one unfamiliar green a week.
At Ray, which has been open for a little over a year, Louis enjoys drawing upon the various ethnicities found in Israel, a small country that grows some of the best produce in the world.
“It’s a super healthy way to eat, and it’s a joyful way to eat,” she said. “Israelis are diverse, because the country has over 200 different cultures in it from all over … it addresses lots of different dietary restrictions, such as dairy-free, gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan … and it’s a little less formal. There’s a lot of sharing and a lot of big flavors.”
Eating food from a different culture, including one you may not know a lot about, can often help you understand the people as well, she said.
“When you open your mouth to something that you are apprehensive about, and you find you like it,” she said. “Then you become open-minded to the world.”
The following recipes are from “The Book of Greens” by Jenn Louis, published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.
Charred Cabbage with Miso and Lime
Makes 4 servings, as a side dish
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tablespoons red miso
1/2 cup neutral vegetable oil, plus more as needed
1 green cabbage, about 11/4 pounds, cut into 8 wedges with core intact
— Kosher salt
1 lime, cut into wedges
— Flaky sea salt
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
In a small bowl, mix the butter and miso until combined. Set aside.
Over high heat, warm 1/4 cup of the oil in each of two large cast-iron or other ovenproof sauté pans. When very hot, place half of the cabbage wedges, cut side down, in each pan. Do not overcrowd the pans.
Leave the cabbage wedges in the pans without turning until the cut sides are charred and lightly blackened, about 3 minutes. If the oil is absorbed by the cabbage and the pan appears dry, add more oil, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the pan is lightly coated.
When lightly charred, turn the cabbage wedges cut side up and spread the miso butter on the cut sides, dividing it evenly.
Cook for about 3 minutes, or until the color matches the first side. When seared on both sides, place the pans with the cabbage in the preheated oven. Using a spoon, baste every 5 minutes with melted butter from the bottom of the pan. After 10 minutes, season lightly with kosher salt on both sides. The total roasting time should be about 20 minutes, and the cabbage should be very tender and charred. Remove the cabbage from the oven, sprinkle with the flaky salt, and squeeze the lime wedges over the top. Serve immediately.
Makes 4 to 6 servings, as a side dish
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 large yellow onion, cut into 1/2-inch dice
4 ounces sopressata or bacon, coarsely chopped into 1/4-inch pieces
8 ounces green or Savoy cabbage, trimmed and finely shredded
8 ounces Russian kale without stems, cut into 1/4-inch ribbons
1 cup whole milk
— a few gratings of nutmeg
— Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
13/4 pounds russet potatoes
Preheat the broiler.
In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sopressata and stir to combines. Add the cabbage and kale and cook until both are tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the milk and season with nutmeg, salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the greens are soft but not browned, about 15 minutes.
While the greens are cooking, peel the potatoes and cut into 1-inch cubes. Put the potatoes in a saucepan, add enough cold water to cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Decrease the heat to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork, about 15 minutes.
Drain the potatoes and place in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Add the kale and cabbage mixture and gently mix on low speed until the potatoes are mashed and evenly mixed with the greens. Season with salt and pepper.
Spread the mixture in a broiler-proof baking dish and place under the broiler until lightly browned on top, about 5 minutes. Remove from the broiler and serve immediately.
Mustard Green Pancakes
Makes 4 pancakes, 4 servings
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup boiling water
1/4 cup toasted sesame oil
1 ounce thinly sliced mustard greens
For dipping sauce:
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon thinly sliced green onions
1/2 teaspoon peeled and grated fresh ginger
2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 cup neutral vegetable oil
— Kosher salt
To make the pancakes, put the flour in a food processor. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in 3/4 cup of the boiling water. Process for 15 minutes.
If the dough does not come together, drizzle in more water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until it just comes together. The dough should be neither sticky nor dry. Transfer to a work surface and knead a few times to form a smooth ball. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rest for 30 minutes at room temperature.
Divide the dough into four equal pieces and roll each into a smooth ball. If sticky, lightly dust each ball with flour. Working with one ball at a time, roll out into a disk about 8 inches in diameter.
Using a pastry brush, paint a very thin layer of sesame oil over the top of the disk. Roll the disk up into a cylinder, then then start at one end and coil the dough like a snail’s shell. Flatten gently with your hand and roll again into an 8-inch disk.
Paint with another layer of sesame oil, top with an even layer of one-quarter of the sliced mustard greens, and roll up into a cylinder again. Again, coil like a snail’s shell, flatten gently, and reroll into a 7-inch disk. Repeat with the remaining dough and mustard greens to make three more pancakes.
To make the dipping sauce, combine all of the ingredients in a small bowl, mix well, and set aside at room temperature.
Heat the oil in an 8-inch nonstick or cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, after 2 to 3 minutes, carefully slip one pancake into the hot oil. Cook, shaking the pan gently until the first side is an even golden brown, about 2 minutes.
Carefully flip with a spatula or tongs and continue to cook until the second side is an even golden brown, about 2 more minutes. Season with salt and cut into six wedges. Serve immediately with the sauce for dipping. Repeat with the remaining pancakes.
Staff Writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or email@example.com. On Twitter @dianepete56.