General Description: Cooking greens is a category of dark, leafy vegetables in the Brassica family with strong, assertive flavors and often tough, fibrous leaves. Cooking greens are some of the oldest members of the cabbage family, closest to their original wild ancestor. Many of these greens are at their best in winter months and all are high in vitamin A. The older the green, the tougher and more strongly flavored it will be. These greens are cooked to break down their fibrous texture and mellow their bitterness, resulting in tender, succulent leaves with a flavorful bite.
Collard greens are very popular in the American South, where most of the American crop is grown. They resemble flat cabbage leaves.
Dandelion’s name comes from the French dent de lion, meaning “lion’s tooth,” a reference to its jagged edges. When young, the bright green leaves have a bitter, tangy flavor that adds interest to salads. When older, dandelion should be cooked.
Flowering kale resembles a giant, ruffled flower ranging in color from white to pink to purple surrounded by curly green leaves. It is used more often as a garnish because of its lovely appearance but tough texture. Kale has deep green, long, thin leaves with ruffled edges, tough central ribs, mild flavor, and semicrisp texture.
Mustard greens are a rich, dark green and have a sharp mustard flavor. They are a popular soul food in America and are also common in Indian cooking. Turnip greens are similar to mustard greens but with a purplish tint and mellower turnip flavor when young.
Tuscan kale is an heirloom green from Italy that is a winter staple in Tuscany. Distinctive looking, it has very dark blue-green, almost black leaves, about 1 foot long that are heavily curled. Its flavor is sweet and mild, particularly after frost.
Season: Collards are available year-round with peak season from December through April. Dandelion greens are available year-round, with peak season in April and May and limited from December through February. They are most tender in early spring, before the plant begins to flower. Flowering kale and kale are most abundant December through February. Mustard greens can be found on a regular basis, with peak season December through April and least in July and August. Turnip greens are at their peak October through March. Tuscan kale is in season in winter months.
Purchase: Because they’re mostly water, greens shrink greatly when cooked. Two large bunches will serve as a side dish for four people. Look for fresh, plump, crisp leaves. It’s normal for mustard greens to show a slight bronze tint.
Avoid: Reject greens with yellow, flabby, or pitted leaves or thick, fibrous stems. Sniff the bunch and avoid greens with any overly strong odor from deteriorating leaves.
Storage: Refrigerate in a plastic bag for up to 5 days. Or trim and wash, wrap in paper towels, place in a plastic bag, and store away from any direct airflow in the refrigerator.
- Cut off and discard the stems. If they are thick even up into the leaf, remove them by folding the leaves in half and ripping the stems out.
- Wash in a large bowl of lukewarm water, swishing to dislodge sand or dirt. Lift the greens from the water, allowing the dirt to remain on the bottom.
- Don’t dry the greens, as the residual water will help them wilt as they cook.
Serving Suggestions: Cook diced bacon until crispy, sauté onion in the bacon fat, then add shredded mustard greens, dandelions, kale, or Tuscan kale, cook until wilted, then toss with pasta and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Simmer collard, mustard, or turnip greens with salt pork or ham hocks and accompany with wedges of cornbread to soak up the juices. Add Tuscan kale to Italian vegetable and bean soups.
Flavor Affinities: Aged grating cheese, bacon, corn, cornbread, curry, garlic, ham, hot sauce, lemon, onion, salt pork, smoked turkey, vinegar.
from Quirk Books: www.quirkbooks.com