Going for the green
By Steve Grant
Hartford (Conn.) Courant
They're delicious, packed with nutrients and fiber, and they cook in a flash. Shoppers all but ignore them.
Over there at the edge of the supermarket vegetable section are the greens, the bundles of leaves such as kale, spinach, Swiss chard, escarole, and beet and turnip tops. They tend to come in big, floppy bunches, an armful sometimes, and they have an undeserved reputation as being tricky to cook. And even if they aren't hard to cook, people wonder, what do you do with them anyway?
A very easy and tasty introduction to greens is to slip them into a soup, where they are magnificent. Kale and chard are featured in many European soups. Bok choy and watercress float in clear Asian broths.
"Using greens in soup is a great opportunity to get greens into the diet because many people say they don't like greens or they don't know how to prepare them," said Melanie R. Polk, a registered dietitian and director of nutrition education at the American Institute for Cancer Research in Washington.
Deborah Madison, author of "Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating From America's Farmers' Markets" (Broadway, $39.95) and "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone" (Broadway, $40), likes to cook greens any way.
In the spring, Madison takes fresh spinach and fresh peas and cooks them together quickly, creating a culinary complement to the first wash of color over the landscape. "It will be the most brilliant green. That itself I think is remarkably appetizing," she said.
Consider blending different kinds of greens in a soup so that no single flavor or texture predominates. Cooks sometimes chop or shred greens and add them to soups as a last step. Sometimes soups are pureed after the greens are added and cooked.
Classic soups with greens include the Portuguese kale creation caldo verde ("green soup"), made with shredded kale, sliced potatoes and linguiça. Greens love to mingle with potatoes, and they are a natural foil to beans, as well. They blend easily with pastas in soups, and they enliven a simple broth.
At Casa Lisboa, a Portuguese restaurant in Hartford, Conn., kale soup is on the menu year-round. Chef Adelino De Sousa has been making it for 40 years in restaurants in Europe, Africa, New York and now Hartford.
His advice: Don't overcook the kale. That is so important that, at his restaurant, kale is cooked periodically through the day and added to the soup base as customers call for it, all to keep some texture to the kale.
Most greens are easy to cook and take little time to prepare, but home cooks who didn't grow up eating them may be intimidated.
"I think they are a little bit scary for people. I don't know why. They shouldn't be," Madison said. "Everyone is so afraid greens take so long to cook. Kale is 7 to 10 minutes. I wouldn't say that is long."
This may be because all that some people know about greens is the Southern technique of stewing them until they're gray with rich meats salt pork or fatback. But that's just one approach, and, though delicious, probably not the most healthful. The same greens can be cooked for much less time, and many more tender greens flash to done in minutes.
Here's a breakdown from the excellent book "Great Greens" by Georgeanne Brennan (Chronicle, 2003):
Sturdy greens: Chard, kale, cabbage, collards, mustard greens, dandelion, beet or turnip greens, bok choy and the other Chinese greens, and the chicories (radicchio, escarole, curly endive or frisee and Belgian endive), mustard greens. Trim these well and steam, braise (cooking in liquid over medium-low heat until tender), sauté or soup them. Mustard, dandelion, beet and turnip greens have pungent flavors and should be used sparingly in a mixture more tender-flavored types, or together in dishes assertive flavored with ingredients such as garlic, anchovies, vinegar and red pepper flakes.
Tender greens: Lettuces, arugula, spinach, mache (corn salad), watercress, sorrel, lovage and "wild" greens such as amaranth, lamb's quarter, ruby orach and purslane, sometimes found in farmer's markets in rural areas, or in salad mixtures. These may be eaten draw or lightly steamed or thrown into a soup, braise or sauté at the last minute. They generally need only be washed. You can actually take those "spring greens" or "wild greens" package mixtures you see in the grocery store and saute them briefly in butter or olive oil for a nice side dish.
Here are Madison's techniques for the simplest preparations. The first recipe is for very fresh, very sweet young greens. Fresh shelled peas or pea pods are a nice combination with these and can be prepare right in with the greens. Both these dishes pair well with grilled meats or grilled tofu as they take about the same amount of time to prepare as the grilling process.
Simple, Tender Greens
- 1 to 2 pounds greens, any course stems removed
- Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
- Olive oil or unsalted butter
- Lemon wedges or vinegar
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Wash greens while it's heating.
Add salt to taste to the water, then plunge in the greens all at once. Cook until just tender mere minutes then scoop into a colander and drain 2-5 minutes.
Toss with olive oil or butter, season with salt and pepper and serve with lemon wedges or a splash of good vinegar.
Pungent Greens with Garlic
- 1 pound or more cooking greens
- Sea salt
- Olive oil
- 1 or 2 plump garlic cloves, chopped
- 4 anchovies (optional)
- Pinch of red pepper flakes
- Red wine vinegar
Wash greens well. Remove any tough stems or ribs. If any of the greens seem particularly tough, parboil briefly, just until bright green.
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a saute pan over medium heat with garlic, anchovies and pepper flakes. Mash anchovies with a fork until they disappear into the oil Before the garlic colors, add the raw or half-cooked greens, raise the heat to high and saute, turning frequently until tender. Taste for salt. (If the greens seem tougher than you thought, add water in 1/2-cup increments and allow to steam until done.)
Pile the greens onto a platter and douse lightly with vinegar.
Here's a caldo verde. Note that the greens go in at the last minute. And take note, too of the technique for making julienne (fine strips): Wash and trim leaves. Stack them on top of each other. Roll up like a fat cigar. Slice crossways as thinly as desired. Kale and collard greens also are frequently added to Hawai'i's favorite Portuguese bean soup; in the old days, "Portuguese cabbage," an open-headed cabbage with tender, large, light-green leaves, was used. This cabbage is still found in some old Hawai'i gardens.
Casa Lisboa's Kale Soup
- 1 onion, minced fine
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 6 potatoes, peeled and sliced thin
- 2 quarts cold water
- 2 1/2 teaspoons salt
- Ground black pepper to taste
- 1 pound kale, washed, trimmed, rolled up and sliced into extra fine shreds
- 6 ounces linguiça, sliced thin
In a large saucepan, saute the onion and garlic in 3 tablespoons of oil for about 3 minutes. Add the potatoes and saute, stirring constantly for 2 to 3 minutes. Add water, cover and boil gently over medium heat for 20 minutes, until the potatoes are mushy. When the potatoes are soft, remove from the heat and either mash them in the pan with a masher or puree them. Add the salt and pepper. Return to medium heat, cover and simmer 5 more minutes.
In a separate plan, boil kale and simmer until tender. Pan-fry the sausage in a medium skillet over low heat until crisp. When ready to serve, add the shreds of greens and simmer uncovered for about 5 minutes, until they are tender and the color of jade. Mix in the last tablespoon of oil, taste for seasoning, ladle into soup plates and add the sausage.
From Casa Lisboa Portuguese restaurant, Hartford
This soup freezes well. Store in individual microwave-safe containers and defrost for a quick and filling lunch or dinner.
Curried Lentil Soup with Spinach and Mushrooms
- 8 ounces chopped mushrooms (about 3 cups)
- 1/2 cup chopped onion
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic clove
- 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 to 3 teaspoons curry powder
- 1 1/2 cups brown lentils, rinsed and sorted
- 6 cups water
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1/2 cup fat-free, reduced sodium chicken or vegetable broth (optional)
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- 2 cups (half a 5-ounce bag) lightly packed baby spinach leaves, chopped
- 1/2 cup low-fat plain yogurt
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill or cilantro
In a large, wide saucepan, over medium heat, cook mushrooms, onion and garlic in oil, stirring, until sizzling. Reduce heat to low and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms are tender, about 10 minutes. Uncover and cook, stirring, over medium high heat, until moisture has evaporated and mushrooms begin to brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in curry powder.
Add lentils and water; heat to boil. Cook, covered, over low heat, until lentils are tender, about 30 minutes. Stir in tomato paste until blended. If thinner soup is desired, add broth. Add salt and pepper. Stir in spinach; cook, stirring, until spinach is wilted, about 5 minutes. Ladle into bowls. Swirl 1 tablespoon yogurt in center of each serving and sprinkle with dill or cilantro. Makes six servings.
Source: American Institute for Cancer Research