Don’t think of this story as something that was written prematurely. I am well aware that greens are not a summer vegetable, but since our last conversation I picked up a huge bunch of turnip greens from Old Shell Market. It seemed a little early, but they were just too pretty to ignore. I made the entire mess of greens, fed on them for three days and am pleased to report they were outstanding.
Greens season is here. It’s time to pick ’em and fix ’em. When I say greens I am referring to what we can call The Big Four: kale, collards, mustards and turnips. Properly prepared, there is a wealth of health benefits associated with each, but all seem to pack a fair amount of vitamin C.
Greens are a great way to expel free radicals, align your digestive tract, build stronger bones and ward off the common cold. Greens even have cancer-fighting properties! Be careful, though. No matter which green, we all agree you can overcook the health right out of them. Greens should not be boiled. At the most you can simmer them for a bit, but steaming or sautéing is the best way to retain the healthy nutrients.
With any of these greens you should remove the tasty leaves from their thick stems and veins. Most of the time I just pull them by hand but occasionally I use a sharp knife and cutting board, being a bit more precise. I fill the kitchen sink with cold water and scrub them over and over, sometimes draining the sandy grit and starting a second bath. Next step depends on what green I am preparing.
Collard me delicious
I enjoy collards from time to time. Usually they come in second place on my list of favorite greens. I went through a phase where I preferred them but it was usually when someone else was doing the cooking. I eventually found a way to make them myself.
With collards, it is mandatory I chop them into smaller pieces. In a sauté pan they are great over a little bit of oil. They can even be done in a slow cooker or in a Gumbo Z’herbes. Lots of vitamin A in these, so prepare yourself for better vision. Collards (and fat-soluble vitamin A) need a little fat to really get the optimal absorption. Please keep the sugar away or at least to a minimum.
What the kale?
Of all of these examples, kale is the one I am most likely going to eat raw. Loaded with vitamin C, a kale salad is a healthy choice, but the dressing needs to be oil-and-vinegar based.
Don’t get me wrong. I will certainly cook this “superfood” and love homemade kale chips. Look for a spray bottle for your olive oil (cooking spray has a lot of unnecessary ingredients), usually with a pump. Finish with a little bit of the salt I mentioned a couple of issues ago.
Loaded with vitamins E and K, mustard greens help to balance cholesterol, thicken hair and build strong bones. You’ll find certain cuisines that steam them with the stem intact. A little on the peppery side, mustard greens can sometimes remind you of other greens such as arugula.
Wilt them and finish with a squeeze of lemon and serve them with fish. You’d be surprised at how many Chinese, Korean and Indian recipes there are for this underrated green.
Just fell off the turnip truck
Go ahead and call me boring, but my hands-down favorite green is the turnip. A tremendous source of calcium and potassium, turnips always make me feel better. There is something to the healing power of pot liquor. I’ve experienced it. When the cold or flu hits, I desperately need a coffee mug of that juice.
Turnips are far more versatile than I make them out to be, but if I’m buying I pretty much make them the same way every time. I start with the biggest pot I have and soften up some onions in a little oil with some sort of pork. Maybe I’ll use bacon, salt pork, ham or sausage.
After washing and picking the leaves, I shake the excess water from the bunch and pack them tightly into the pot. There’s no need to add any water. The excess is enough. Over medium heat I wait until steam begins to form, then I cover tightly with a lid, stirring every few minutes, reducing the heat to medium low.
For those of you making your first attempt at cooking turnip greens, you will be floored by how much they cook down. A bunch so large it looks as if it could make a salad for 20 becomes dinner for two in a few short minutes. If your pot isn’t full when it’s raw, you won’t have nearly enough when the cooking is done.
You may be wondering about the roots. I love the roots but prefer them when they are small. White Lady turnips have roots that are tiny and sweet and I prepare them like mashed potatoes. The purple tops need to be peeled before cooking and are great cubed in the greens.
No pot of turnip greens is complete until there is a skillet of cornbread waiting for it. For me I need the white cornbread, not at all sweet, with a little butter. Dunking a wedge of that into a bowl of greens is better than Oreos and milk.
Greens season is here. Stop wasting your time. Buy fresh, buy local but don’t forget the pepper sauce.