published Thursday, July 17th, 2014

Give greens a chance

Variety of leafy textures and tastes add interest to summer meals

By Judy Hevrdejs

You’re all over the kale trend, baking loads of leaves into crisp chips, sautéing bagfuls with olive oil and garlic. It’s time to break the hold kale has over your kitchen.

With summer’s leafy greens piling up at farmers markets, in your garden and at the supermarket, go ahead and give kale’s botanical cousins a place at your table. Pick one, any one: beet greens, collards, chard, escarole, mustard greens. They all sauté up beautifully, but their potential goes way beyond that.

They can add color and texture to, say, a garlicky white bean soup. Young, tender greens can work in salads. Wrap lightly blanched chard leaves around a savory mix of bulgur wheat, crumbled feta, diced tomatoes and seasonings, then bake them. Pick up a handful of mustard greens, stir them into a mushroom-shallot sauté to wilt, then ad a splash of apple cider vinegar before serving with pork chops.

How you prepare leafy greens depends on personal taste, of course.

Maybe your mom cooked collards with ham hocks. Or tossed escarole with pears and hazelnuts as Deborah Madison suggests in her book, “Vegetable Literacy” (Ten Speed Press, $40). Or perhaps, as a friend of Madison’s has done, you’ve tucked mustard greens cooked with ginger, garlic, tamari, sesame and chili oils into round wonton wrappers for dumplings.

With a little coaching from Laura B. Russell, you should be able to improvise with a pile of leafy greens.

Her focus is the family Brassicaceae, whose members include cabbage, kale, collards and Brussels sprouts. It is the subject of her recently released book, “Brassica: Cooking the World’s Healthiest Vegetables” (Ten Speed Press, $23). “You need only three things to make any brassica taste delicious — olive oil, garlic and salt,” she writes, before offering recipes incorporating dozens of flavors designed to balance the character of many leafy greens.

She suggests thinking about a green’s flavor profile from mild (i.e. mizuna) to stronger (collard greens, kale) to peppery (arugula, watercress) and on through pungent, such as many mustard green varieties.

Her strategies for handling the bold flavors of leafy greens include balancing them with starches (potatoes, beans, polenta, rice, pasta) or dairy (say, butter or cheese) or adding a touch of sweetness (honey, caramelized onions or balsamic vinegar). Or taking a bold stance with red pepper flakes, she suggests, or a salty element, such as bacon, capers, pancetta, soy sauce or hard cheeses such as Parmesan or pecorino.

When choosing among summer’s leafy greens, look for bright color and leaves free of blemishes; avoid limp leaves. In general, younger greens will have a milder, almost delicate flavors (like the baby mustard greens we nibbled) and tender leaves. Older greens will have bolder flavors, less tender (or more chewy) leaves that you may want to tear or cut into ribbons to lightly cook by blanching, sauteing, braising or tossing in soups. Depending on the recipe, stems may need to be removed; same is true of the center rib.

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