The Eating of the Greens

OK, so far this year we’ve covered whole grains and beans.  The next basic building block for whole foods meals is leafy greens.

Greens are delicious and full of all kinds of important nutrients.  They are a great source of calcium, in a form that is easy for your body to use.  They are high in all kinds of antioxidants, which can save your vision and prevent many forms of cancer.  I am not a nutritionist, and we all know greens are good for us, so I’ll just suggest that you eat a variety of greens to get a variety of nutrients.  Don’t limit yourself to just one or two.   For more information about the specific nutritional benefits of specific greens, check out (the “World’s Healthiest Foods” website).  I think it is more user-friendly than the USDA site, which only shows absolute values of different nutrients, not how that compares as a percentage of daily requirements.

The main thing to remember about prepping greens is that they are grown very close to the ground, and are likely to be sandy.  The easiest way to wash them is to put them in a large cooking pot full of fresh water.  Let them sit for 5 or 10 minutes, then lift them out.  Do not pour the water out or you will be putting the sand back on the greens.  Lift the greens out, and then pour the water and sand out.  Fill your pot with more fresh water, and repeat the process.  Depending on your greens, you might need to do this 3 times.  I don’t think I have EVER gotten a bunch of fresh spinach completely grit-free.  Turnip and mustard greens, however, are far easier.

If you are intimidated by the sight of a pile of collard greens, never fear.  I am going to share with you some tricks I learned from an elderly woman I used to work with.  She had prepped many a mess o’ greens in her time, and didn’t have a lot of time to fool with them.

Snap a leaf off the head of collards with your weaker hand (the left, for most of us).  While holding the base of the leaf in your weaker hand, wrap your thumb and index finger of your dominant hand around the stem just above your weak hand.  Use your dominant hand to strip the leaf off the stem by pulling it from the base to the tip.  Strip the leaves directly into a sink or tub of water to wash them.  (One nice thing about collards is that, because of their longer stems, they are usually less sandy than spinach, turnip, or mustard greens.)

After washing the leaves, shake off the water, and pile them in stacks on your cutting board.  Stack about 4 or 5 leaves together, roll them up like a cigar, then slice across them, cutting the leaves into slender ribbons.  This is called a “chiffonade” cut when it is used on smaller herbs, like basil.  You might want to cut once or twice down the length of the leaves as well, to cut these strips into manageable bites.

Collards prepped this way will cook in much less time than they do when the main stem is left intact and they are cut into larger pieces.  Quicker cooking means that not only can you get dinner on the table faster,(and will be more likely to make greens from scratch), but you will get more of the vitamins than you would with longer cooking.  (You can use these same hints with other greens, but stripping the leaves isn’t so important when the stems are slimmer.)

Remember, greens reduce in size (“cook down”) a lot, so you need to buy and prep more than seems possible.  I bought a large “mess” of collards for New Years (more than a paper grocery bag’s worth), and by the time I had them stripped, cut, and cooked, it was about enough greens for six.  If you have extras, that’s just less you have to cook next time!  Greens keep and re-heat well.

If you don’t like the flavor of plain greens cooked with salt, try adding pepper vinegar for a traditional Southern touch.  The favorite greens condiment around our house is distinctly un-Southern — we like our greens with a dash of Japanese umeboshi plum vinegar.

If you like a “smoky” flavor in your greens (the kind your grandmother got from a hunk of smoked ham hock), you can add a drizzle of toasted sesame oil when serving them, or cook your greens with a spoonful of smoky-flavored Lapsong Souchong tea leaves.  You can even use tea leaves left over from making tea.  (This softens the tea leaves, and removes most of the caffeine.)

For any of the recipes below, you can substitute your favorite greens for the ones specified.  Just be sure to keep an eye on the cooking time, since this varies widely depending on the type of greens and the size and maturity of the leaves.  Also, the flavors of some greens are stronger than others, so the balance of flavors might need adjusting – you might need greater amounts of herbs and spices with strong greens, for example, and less with mild ones.

Basic Boiled Greens (Collards, Kale, Mustard Greens, Turnip Greens)

This is an efficient way to cook a large, awkward amount of greens.
adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, by Deborah Madison
Prep and Cooking Time: 15 minutes or longer, as you prefer

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add 1-teaspoon salt per quart. Drop the prepared greens into the water and cook, uncovered, until tender, 5 to 20 minutes, depending on the variety and how you like them. (Some people cook them far longer.) Drain, press out excess moisture, then toss with just a touch of olive oil, salt, and pepper. If you’re using them for a filling, rinse under cold water, squeeze out the excess water, and then finely chop.

Basic Steamed Greens (Chard, Spinach, Beet Greens)
Prep and cook time:  10 minutes

These greens are tender, sweet and cook quickly. Place washed greens in a collapsible stainless steel steaming basket in a pot with a small amount of water in it. Cover with a lid. Steam for a few minutes until done to your taste.  If using them in a filling, rinse with cold water right away, then squeeze out the excess water in a colander, and chop finely.

Indian-Style Greens
I made these for New Year’s Day this year.  They were delicious, and I feel sure they were full of good luck, too!
Adapted from
Serves 2-3
Prep and Cooking time: 20 – 30 minutes
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon whole brown mustard seed
1 1/2 teaspoon whole cumin seed
1 1/2 teaspoon fennel seed
1 medium onion, cut into 1/8″ wide slivers
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Hot peppers to taste: 1 long green chile, 1-3 jalapeños, 1 ancho, etc.
11/2 pounds mixed greens: mustard greens, turnip greens, spinach, pak choy, collards, kale, spinach or any combination of these.

Heat oil over high heat in a heavy wok or skillet. Add spices. As soon as seeds begin to pop, add garlic, onion, and chopped chiles; sauté just until onion is limp. Add greens, stir-fry until wilted. Lower heat to a simmer and cover for five to eight minutes. Serve with rice and lentil dahl.

Spicy Mustard Greens with Cumin
“This is a true culinary jewel. I am always stunned by the effect that
these slow-cooked, mouth-watering tender greens have on my guests.”
  Peter Berley

Recipe from The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen, Peter Berley
Serves 4
Prep and Cooking Time: 45 minutes
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, roughly chopped (about 1 cup)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 red jalapeno pepper  seeded and finely chopped
or 1/2 tsp hot red pepper flakes
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 large bunch mustard greens (about 2 pounds), chopped into bite size
apple cider vinegar
coarse sea salt
freshly milled black pepper

In a large pot over medium heat, warm the oil. Add the onion and
saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, jalapeno, and
cumin and saute for 2 to 3 minutes more. Add the mustard greens and
raise the heat. Stir until the greens wilt. Reduce the heat to low
and simmer, covered, for 25 to 30 minutes, until the greens are
meltingly tender.

Season with vinegar, salt, and pepper to taste. Serve hot or at room

Asian-Style Greens with Sesame, Ginger, and Soy Sauce
“These tender greens cook very quickly. Make sure you add the vinegar
just prior to serving or the greens will lose their fantastic emerald
Peter Berley
Recipe from The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen, Peter Berley
Serves 4
Prep and Cooking Time: 20 minutes

4 tablespoons light sesame oil or olive oil
2 tablespoons white hulled sesame seeds
2 teaspoons black sesame seeds, optional
4 teaspoons fresh ginger root, peeled and minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 pounds tender Asian greens, coarsely chopped
baby bok choy or watercress, tatsoi or mizuna
2 tablespoons naturally brewed soy sauce
4 teaspoons rice vinegar
splash of toasted sesame oil (optional)

In a wide heavy saute pan or wok over medium heat, warm the oil. Add
the sesame seeds and stir until they pop and become fragrant. Add the
ginger and garlic and saute for 1 more minute.

Add the greens and 1 tablespoon soy sauce, raise the heat, and cook,
covered, for 1 minute.  Uncover and saute for 1 to 2 minutes more,
until the greens are tender but still bright green.

Stir in more soy sauce and vinegar to taste, and toasted sesame oil if needed, and serve immediately.

Lisa’s Note:  This recipe is best in the early spring when the baby greens are first available.  If you can’t find them in the store, check the local organic farmer’s markets.

Mediterranean Collard Greens
This recipe gives you an easy and great tasting way to enjoy collards. Try them this way and you will be pleasantly surprised.
Adapted from
Serves 4
Prep and Cooking Time: 15 minutes

1 bunch collard greens chopped (about 8 cups)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teasoon soy sauce
2 medium cloves garlic, pressed
extra virgin olive oil to taste
salt and black pepper to taste

Separate the stems from the greens by pulling out stem. Roughly chop the greens.  Wash them well.
Bring lightly salted water to a boil in a steamer with a tight fitting lid.
Add collard greens to steamer basket and steam covered for about 7-10 minutes, until tender.
Toss with rest of ingredients and serve.
Note: Toss the steamer basket up and down a few times with cooked collard greens to drain out excess water from steaming. This will keep the dressing from tasting diluted.

Kale and Potato Soup with Red Chili

Recipe from
Serves 4-6
Prep and Cooking Time:  1 hour (plus standing time if you have it)
1 bunch kale
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium red or yellow onion, diced into  1/2 inch squares
6 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
1 small dried red chili, seeded and chopped, or  1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt
4 medium red potatoes (about 1 pound), scrubbed and diced into 1/2 inch cubes
2 teaspoons nutritional yeast (optional)
7 cups water or stock

Strip the leaves off the tough kale stems (as described above for collards).  Cut the leaves into pieces roughly 2 inches square, wash them well, and set them aside.

Heat the olive oil in a soup pot, add the onion, garlic, chili, bay leaf, and salt, and cook over medium-high heat for 3 or 4 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the potatoes and the yeast, if using, plus a cup of the water or stock. Stir together, cover, and cook slowly for 5 minutes.

Add the kale, cover, and steam until it is wilted, stirring occasionally. Pour in the rest of the water or stock, bring to a boil, and then simmer slowly, covered, until the potatoes are quite soft, 30 to 40 minutes.

Use the back of a wooden spoon to break up the potatoes by pressing them against the sides of the pot, or puree a cup or two of the soup in a blender and return it to the pot. This will make a unifying background for the other elements.

Taste the soup for salt and add a generous grinding of black pepper. If possible, let the soup sit for an hour or so before serving to allow the flavors to further develop.

Carolina Kale
Recipe from
Serves 4-6
Prep and Cooking Time:  30 minutes
Cooked until just tender, bright vitamin and mineral rich greens contrast beautifully with red tomatoes to make an appealing vegetable side dish or a topping for rice.

1 1/2 pounds kale, collards, chard, beet greens, or mustard greens
2 cups chopped canned tomatoes and their juice or 3 cups chopped fresh tomatoes
1 cup minced onions
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 garlic cloves. Pressed or minced
1 teaspoon Tabasco or other hot pepper sauce or 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/2teaspoon salt
Ground black pepper to taste

Wash the greens. Remove the large stems and any discolored leaves. Stack the leaves and slice them crosswise into 1/8- inch strips.

Combine tomatoes, onions, cumin, garlic, Tabasco, and salt in a saucepan, cover, and cook on medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the greens, cover and gently simmer, stirring frequently, for 10 to 15 minutes until the greens are tender. Add pepper to taste and serve.