Cooking with Greens

We seem to have a complicated relationship with leafy greens—the kale, Swiss chard, and turnip and dandelion greens that are now so prevalent in the produce section. On the one hand, nutrition experts keep telling us to eat more of them. On the other hand, many find them somewhat intimidating or have closed the door on them after eating overcooked, mushy greens.

It turns out, though, leafy greens can be delicious and fresh, and aren’t difficult to cook. So what are you supposed to do with these good-for-you greens? They usually only require about 20 minutes of your time, from washing them to putting them on the plate.

I live in a cool coastal climate where leafy greens are in season year-round, so I’ve learned to put them in almost everything, including in simple stir-fries, next to seared chicken, in salads, soups, stews, and frittatas (the Italian omelet). If you have a high-powered juicer, they are delicious, raw, in smoothies that take on their healthy-looking green tint.

What turns a lot of people off is the greens’ natural bitterness, but that can be a good thing if you learn how to balance it out with other flavors. (There are many much-loved bitter foods, by the way—think coffee, olives and beer, to name just a few.) As far as cooking times, kale and turnip greens are among the sturdiest, so they take the longest to cook. Swiss chard and dandelion greens, on the other hand, only take a few minutes to finish off.

For soups and stews, I usually first remove the stems by holding the stem in one hand and pulling the leaves with another (you can use this for all cooking methods). When the stew or soup is mostly done, I add the greens and let simmer until tender, 10 to 15 minutes.

For a weeknight stir-fry, side dish or frittata, I usually prepare greens in a very basic, easy way. After removing the stems, I soak them in a large bowl or clean sink filled with water, and let any grit fall to the bottom.

For one large bunch of greens, use a large frying pan, preferably with a lid. Place it over medium heat  and heat up 1 tablespoon canola oil, for an Asian-style dish, or olive oil, for an Italian or Mediterranean dish. Add 1 teaspoon chopped garlic and a pinch of red chile flakes (for a stir-fry, a teaspoon of chopped fresh ginger is a great addition at this point). When the garlic smells fragrant, begin adding the leaves, a little at a time, until they are coated in the flavorful oil and begin to wilt.

About halfway through, season them with salt. Continue adding the greens until they are all coated in oil, then add a splash of water, cover and allow to cook until the greens are tender; 3 to 5 minutes for Dandelion greens or Swiss chard, and 10 minutes for kale or turnip greens.

Finish them with more salt or a dash of soy sauce for a stir-fry, and a splash of wine vinegar or lemon juice to balance the greens’ natural bitterness.

At this point, you can use the sauteed greens in a frittata: simply add a tablespoon of butter to the pan, swirl it around, then add 10 to 12 beaten eggs combined seasoned with salt and pepper. Allow the frittata to cook on low for 5 minutes, then bake it until set, 20 to 25 minutes at 350 degrees.

No matter how you serve them, the greens will be delicious—not mushy at all, and still vibrantly green. If you’re like me, you’ll want to make them again and again.