Pick the right greens for salads, sautes, stir-fries, scrambles


The sun is finally out after a very rough Central Texas winter, and the markets are bursting with greens and color again. Nearly all winter, we’ve had hardy winter leaves, such as kale and collards, to help us survive the coldest months, but with the warmer weather come some of the best local greens.

Lettuces, more varieties of brassicas and edible weeds can help you push past the kale to make sure you’re still getting a daily source of vitamins, including iron, calcium, fiber, vitamin A and vitamin K. But those green leaves are not all alike. Some take much longer to cook and are best for stir-fries, sautes and scrambles, while others are tender enough for salads. Here are some recipes and tips to help you get to know greens a little better.

Spinach: With a quick cooking time, spinach is one of the more flexible greens our Texas spring offers. Use it in salads, add to pestos if you are short on basil, and add ribboned handfuls onto your spring stews for a bright green pop.

Flavor/Texture: Fairly neutral and as it gets warmer out, lightly sweet

Pairs well with: Dairy (butter, cheeses, cream), eggs, potatoes, mushrooms, lemon, basil

Good for smoothies: Yes

Kale: The tougher texture of this green is an asset if packing salads in advance. The greens hold up well even when dressed for at least a couple of days. Slice very finely, similar to slaw, if you are looking for a finer texture and for easy adds to scrambles and cooked foods.

Flavor/Texture: Relatively mild taste with a tougher texture.

Pairs well with: Citrus, vinegars, potatoes, smoked flavors, garlic

Good for smoothies: Yes

Bok Choy: Blanched in broth is my favorite way to eat bok choy. Saute both the stems and greens in peanut oil with lots of garlic for a great addition to your bowls or over steamed rice.

Flavor/Texture: Sweet with crisp edible stalks and tender leaves.

Pairs well with: Garlic, ginger, nut oils, peanuts, cashews, chilis, soy sauce, ferments like miso and kimchi

Good for smoothies: No

Collards: These hearty greens are best simmered, but the smaller leaves are more tender. Slice collards into thin ribbons for quicker cooking times.

Flavor/Texture: Mild flavor with leathery texture (similar to green leaf cabbage).

Pairs well with: Smoked paprika, roasted peanut oil, toasted sesame oils, coconut milk, garlic, ginger, butter, whole wheat pasta, potatoes

Good for smoothies: No

Chard: A bit bitter when raw, chard is a chameleon when cooked, taking on whatever flavors you decide to pair it with.

Flavor/Texture: Mild to slightly bitter, with texture similar to spinach.

Pairs well with: Onions, garlic, lentils, grains, basil, cilantro, cumin, ricotta, queso fresco, eggs

Good for smoothies: Yes

Dandelion Greens: These easily foraged greens have a surprising amount of moisture in the thin leaves, which make them a great base for pestos. Really yummy sautéed, but the green from the leaves does bleed into other food.

Flavor/Texture: Mild and grassy with delicate leaves.

Pairs well with: Citrus, vinegars, pumpkin seeds

Good for smoothies: Yes

Escarole: Similar to cabbage or radicchio, escarole is easy to shred and use as a compliment to other greens in your salads or bowls. A quick sauté helps to ease the bitter.

Flavor/Texture: Slightly bitter with texture of a much thicker lettuce.

Pairs well with: Beans, pasta, olive oil

Good for smoothies: No

Arugula: Eat this first when you get home from the market as it has a very short life. In salads is best, but can make for a really exciting pesto base.

Flavor/Texture: Peppery bite and very fragile leaves.

Pairs well with: Earthy flavors like mushrooms, beets and tubers; pasta, saltier cheeses

Good for smoothies: No

Mustard Greens: These cook down quickly compared to other brassicas so they make for a great weeknight side. Try mixing with milder greens like spinach and kale for a slightly less aggressive flavor if eating fresh.

Flavor/Texture: Strong and spicy

Pairs well with: Peanut oil, sesame oil, ginger, chilies, garlic, peanuts

Good for smoothies: No

Green Ice Cubes

This is a great way to use up entire bunches of kale or chard. Use the green ice cubes in your smoothies and juices right away. Save them for stir-fries and soups in the summer when greens are harder to come by and more expensive.

1 bunch of greens (kale, chard, dandelion greens, spinach, etc.)

Water or juice

Wash and stem entire bunch of greens and place in blender. Puree, adding water (or juice) a 1/4 cup at a time until consistency is thin enough to pour. Transfer mixture to ice cube tray and freeze. Once frozen, store for 3 to 4 months in airtight freezer bag or container.

— Nelly Paulina Ramirez

Curried Collards

Unlike the classic southern collards that many grew up eating, these take their flavor cues from northern India. Add a can of rinsed chickpeas during the simmer for added protein.

2 tablespoons grapeseed oil or light olive oil

1 teaspoon coriander

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1 large garlic clove

1 tablespoon of your favorite yellow curry powder

1 serrano, sliced (optional)

1 large bunch of collard (6-8 large leaves), stems removed and cut into ribbons

1 cup water

Salt and pepper

Warm a large pot over medium heat and add oil. When oil is hot, add spices, garlic clove and serrano, if using. Toast for a few seconds. Add greens and water. Stir and bring to a boil, then lower heat and cover. Cook for 30 minutes until collards are tender but still have a bit of bite. Serve over basmati rice.

— Adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s “World Vegetarian”

Dandelion Green Lunch Bowls

The good-for-you dandelion green is loaded with calcium, iron and fiber. It makes a great addition to your lunch bowls for your first foray into edible weeds. A simple red-wine vinaigrette will brighten up the taste without burying the crunch and bite of the surprisingly tender green.

— Nelly Paulina Ramirez

1/2 to 3/4 cup dandelion greens, chopped into salad-size bites

1/4 cup cooked kidney beans

1/4 cup cooked quinoa

5 to 6 strips of Quick-Fried Smokey Tempeh (see below)

Watermelon radish slices

Carrots slices

Toasted pumpkin seeds

Feta

Assemble all ingredients into a large bowl with dandelion greens at the base. Add kidney beans, quinoa and tempeh first. Add remaining fresh ingredients and red wine vinaigrette to taste.

— Adapted from Johnson Backyard Garden

Quick-Fried Smokey Tempeh

1/2 block of tempeh, sliced into thin strips

1 tablespoon of a neutral oil

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1/8 teaspoon of liquid smoke (optional)

Black pepper

Warm a skillet over high heat and add oil. When oil is hot, add slices of tempeh. Cook until browned on both sides, about 1 minute per side. Add soy sauce, liquid smoke and black pepper to taste.

Lower heat and cook until liquid has reduced and edges start to crisp. Serve warm over salads or in sandwiches in place of bacon.

Red Wine Vinaigrette

1/3 cup red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons maple syrup

1/4 cup olive oil

Salt and pepper

Whisk all ingredients in a small bowl or shake vigorously in a jar with lid secured.

— Nelly Paulina Ramirez

Bok Choy With Oyster Mushrooms

One of the routines I’ve developed as a New Yorker is wandering up and down the streets of Chinatown to check out what’s available in the market stalls there, since it is so different from what’s to be found in the humongous Union Square Greenmarket in Manhattan or the McCarren Park market in my Brooklyn neighborhood. What always knocks me for a loop is the amount and variety of the greens, especially the bok choy. This dish derives from that experience — and from the influence of Chinese cuisine on cooking in New York.

— Sam Talbot

4 teaspoons fine salt

1 large bunch (about 2 pounds) bok choy

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/4 cup (1/4-inch-thick) diagonally cut celery slices

2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons finely chopped shallot

1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger

4 to 6 ounces oyster mushrooms, thinly sliced

1 teaspoon finely chopped jalapeño chili, optional

2 teaspoons tamari

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1 tablespoon chili vinegar

1/4 cup roasted pumpkin seeds (pepitas)

1 lemon, cut into wedges

Bring 4 quarts water to a boil in a stockpot or large Dutch oven over high. Add 2 teaspoons of the salt. Add the bok choy and cook, uncovered, until bright green, about 15 seconds. Drain well, and set aside.

Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium. Add the celery, garlic, shallot, and ginger and cook, stirring often, until translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms, jalapeño, if desired, and tamari and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms soften, 2 to 3 minutes.

Chop the cooked bok choy, and add to the skillet; cook, stirring often, until tender, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the cilantro, vinegar and remaining 2 teaspoons salt. Sprinkle with the pumpkin seeds and serve with the lemon wedges on the side. Serves 4.

— From “100% Real: 100 Insanely Good Recipes for Clean Food Made Fresh” by Sam Talbot (Oxmoor House, $29.99)

Harvest Root Bowl

Beneath the rough exterior of root vegetables is rich flavor – and roasting brings out the best in all of them. This bowl gathers the delights of early autumn with aromatic herbs, deep-roasted roots and a scrumptious grain – barley. This salad is a great base for all kinds of additions. Serve with crunchy toasted nuts, or a soft cheese like feta or goat cheese.

— Nina Olsson

1 cup hulled or pearl barley

1 pound mixed root vegetables (fennel, beetroots, carrots, sweet potato), washed, trimmed and peeled

4 shallots, halved

Olive oil, for roasting and frying

Handful of fresh sage leaves, finely chopped

1 bunch of swiss chard, stems separate from leaves, chopped

For the tarragon dressing:

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon tarragon leaves

1 teaspoon honey

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1 garlic clove, finely chopped to a paste

Suggested toppings:

8 ounces feta or goat’s cheese

Toasted hazelnuts or almonds

Heat the oven to 375 degrees and line a baking tray with parchment. Cook the barley according to the package instructions. Drain and set aside.

Chop the root vegetables into even chunks to ensure they roast uniformly. Put all the veggies and shallots on the lined baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle over the sage and salt. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes.

Bring a saucepan of water to a boil, then turn down the heat to a simmer. Cook the stems of the chard for 90 seconds, remove and rinse under ice cold water. Blanch the leaves of the Swiss chard for 30 seconds, remove and rinse under ice-cold water.

Blend the ingredients for the tarragon dressing and set aside until ready to serve. Divide the barley, roasted roots and Swiss chard between four serving bowls. Serve with the tarragon dressing and cheese or nuts.

— From “Bowls of Goodness: Vibrant Vegetarian Recipes Full of Nourishment” by Nina Olsson (Kyle Books, $27.95)



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