Beet greens, collards and kale, dandelion greens, mustard greens, spinach, Swiss chard, and turnip greens are collectively called greens. They are gaining popularity throughout the country - and for good reasons. Along with being delicious, versatile, and low in calories, greens are packed with vitamins and minerals. An important component of southern soul food, greens are creeping into other cuisine as well. Many of the greens complement each other and can be exchanged in recipes, but each has its own distinctive taste.
Collard greens and kale originated in eastern Europe and western Asia and have been eaten for thousand of years. Kale, also called borecale, has been considered a healthy, hearty winter vegetable in Europe. The Scots are probably the biggest fans, followed by the Germans and Scandinavians. Kale was among the first European plants brought to North America by the colonists. Resembling a giant specimen of curly parsley, kale may be light, dark, or bluish green. It has a mild cabbage taste that is sweetest when the plant is harvested after the first frost. Even if Kale actually freezes, the texture holds up.
Collards have a taste similar to that of Kale but milder. This dark green vegetable has a large, smooth leaf with a slightly ruffled edge and a relatively tough central rib that's usually discarded. Collards spread from Africa to Europe centuries ago and were brought to North America by slaves. They've been popular ever since in the American South. Collards and kale can be cooked like spinach, but they normally require a longer cooking time. Southern cooks often add a bit of bacon, ham, or salt pork to the greens for flavoring, sometimes serving them with pepper sauce or vinegar. Collards and kale may also be added to soups and stews, especially those that contain beans and spicy sausages.
Except for dandelions, which tolerate heat, most greens are cool-weather crops.
- Kale: available year round but most abundant from December to April.
- Collards: most plentiful from October to May, although sometimes found at other times of the year.
- Dandelion greens: in season from March to December.
- Spinach, turnip, and beet greens: generally available year round - especially spinach. All are plentiful in the spring.
- Mustard greens: generally easier to find in the spring.
Except for dandelion greens, whose younger leaves are tangier, the rule of thumb is that the smaller and younger the greens, the milder and tastier they are. Always choose leaves that have good fresh color with no signs of limpness or wilting. Yellowed leaves or leaves that show traces of wet, dark slime on the edges are old.
Greens still attached to their roots will keep better than cut greens. Never wash greens until you're ready to use them; washing causes them to break down more quickly. To store, wrap the unwashed greens in a dampened paper towel, place in a plastic bag, and refrigerate, preferably in the crisper drawer. Greens are best used within two days of purchase, while they're still fresh and at the peak of flavor.
Greens - especially kale, collards, and spinach - must be washed carefully because their crinkled leaves can hide a lot of sand. Soak in tepid water, then either run under the tap, or use a salad spinner. Pick over the leaves and discard any that are wilted or yellow. Unless they're very young and tender, strip out and discard the central rib from kale and collard leaves.
Remember that raw greens cook down to a fourth of their volume - so gets lots of them. And remember that tender, delicate leaves cook more quickly than large, coarse leaves.
To sauté collards or kale, blanch them first in boiling water, remove, drain, and dry with paper towels; they should be completely dry before sautéing. Sauté them in a bit of oil, then add a small quantity of water or chicken or vegetable stock, cover, and simmer until tender. Collards are most appetizing when cooked in seasoned broth for ten to twelve minutes, while kale will cook in half the time. Kale and collards can be treated like spinach - lightly cooking and using them as a bed for shepard's pie or poached eggs or as a filling for omelettes and crepes.
Dandelion greens are often used in salads or cooked like spinach. Some people like to slice, cook, and serve them in a little chicken broth. Blanched or coarsely chopped raw dandelions greens are excellent in cheese omelettes, and they can be substituted for spinach in a variety of dishes, including eggs Florentine, quiches, and frittatas.
To steam spinach or other tender greens, place them in a pot, cover, and put on very low heat. Don't add water - the moisture that clings to the freshly rinsed leaves is enough. Spinach and beet greens cook very quickly, so they must be watched carefully. After the leaves have steamed for a minute or so, turn them so that they will cook evenly (use tongs or a pair of forks). Replace the lid for another minute, them turn the greens again. Continue to check and turn the greens frequently to avoid burning and to cook the leaves evenly; if desired, season them with salt, a little sprinkle at a time, each time you turn them. Spinach and beet greens are done when all the leaves are wilted but are still nice and green; depending on the quantity, it should take less than five minutes. Check and adjust the seasonings and add a squeeze of lemon juice or a dab of butter and a grating of nutmeg if desired.
Small quantities of greens are easily sautéed in a bit of butter or oil..
Jimi Quick's Mixed Greens
Mixed Green Salad with Dandelion
Other recipes from Produce Pete.