The world of greens is vast and sometimes overwhelming, including everything from the easily recognizable (spinach and lettuce) to the less well-known (tat soi and purslane). Somewhere in the middle are greens like kale, Swiss Chard, mustard, collard and dandelion that share not only rising popularity but also a similar flavor and texture. The great thing about these dark leafy greens, and also what can take some getting used to, is that they taste as if they were ripped from the earth only minutes before you bought them. Theses greens are deliciously earthy, wild, pungent and sturdy. The studies proving their health benefits only confirm what your palate intuitively tells you when you’re chewing a mouthful of kale – this stuff is healthy.
As bold as they are, dark leafy greens are incredibly accommodating when it comes to cooking methods and additional flavors. They can be prepared raw, sautéed, briefly boiled, simmered in soups or cooked down for hours with animal fat. They can stand up to hot peppers, raw onions and a fatty piece of pork or transform into an elegant salad when dressed in little more than a drizzle of olive oil and shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
The first recipe here is a smoky, garlicky dressing that tastes especially good with the bitter, peppery bite of raw dandelion greens, kale, arugula and spinach. Spiked with garlic and laced with sweet, smoky paprika, it’s dressing with attitude. Raw greens soak the dressing right up, becoming softer, fattier and more satisfying.
The second recipe is rich and meaty, thanks to crispy chunks of bacon and a vinaigrette made from warm bacon fat, vinegar and shallot. Greens can be quickly sautéed in the dressing so they maintain some crispness or cooked longer for a soft, silky texture. Sturdy greens like collard, mustard, kale and Swiss chard are a great choice whenever bacon is involved.
Both recipes illustrate how easy it is to turn greens into a satisfying side dish or salad. The trick is simple: add a little bit of fat, a little bit of acidity (from lemon or vinegar) and a bold flavor (garlic, red pepper flakes, anchovies, spices) and any green you find at the market will shine.
Tips for Preparing Greens
If you’re planning to heat the greens, don’t worry about over-buying; what looks like a huge bunch wilts down into a mere one or two servings when cooked.
Thoroughly wash greens by immersing them in a sink or bowl of water. If pre-washing your greens before refrigerating, make sure they dry completely before you refrigerate them. Stored loosely packed in a Ziploc bag or sealed container with a paper or cloth towel, dark leafy greens will keep 5-7 days and salad greens 3-5 days in the refrigerator.
When buying greens like kale and mustard, smaller leaves mean a milder flavor and more tender texture.
Keep in mind that greens with thicker leaves and stems like kale, mustard greens, chard and dandelion usually require some trimming no matter how you cook them. Tearing or cutting the leaves into thin strips will help keep them from being so chewy. Whether you eat the entire stem or not is personal preference. The thicker the stem, the tougher it will be. Either chop the stems up very thinly or discard the thickest parts entirely.
Even after trimming, if you’re worried about a particular type of green being too tough then plunge it into boiling water for 3-5 minutes, drain and then gently squeeze out excess water. You can do this before sautéing or stir-frying greens.
Raw Greens with Garlic Paprika Dressing
1 – 2 bunches of greens
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon finely chopped/mashed anchovy fillets
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/4 teasopon kosher salt
2/3 cup olive oil
Optional: grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Whisk together vinegar, lemon juice, anchovies, garlic, paprika and salt. Let this mixture sit while you clean and trim the greens. Cut or tear greens into thin strips. Dry greens in a salad spinner or shake off water and pat with a towel.
Slowly pour olive oil into the vinegar/lemon mixture, whisking as you go until the oil is fully incorporated.
Pour as much dressing as you desire onto greens. Toss well. Top, if you like, with grated cheese.
Wilted Greens with Warm Bacon Dressing
1 large or two smaller bunches of greens
1/2 pound bacon, cut into small pieces
1 shallot, finely chopped
1/4 cup sherry or red wine vinegar
Sea salt or black pepper to taste
Cut greens into thin strips. Stems can be removed or chopped up as well.
In a large skillet, cook bacon pieces over medium heat.
Just as the bacon starts to get crispy, raise heat to medium high and add the shallot. Sauté about 30 seconds then add the vinegar. Simmer vigorously for one minute so the vinegar bubbles and reduces just a bit.
Add the greens. Mix the greens as they wilt so that everything gets coated in the dressing. The greens can be cooked just a few minutes or much longer, depending on your preference of tenderness. If you end up cooking the greens more than five minutes, turn the heat down a little.
Add sea salt and/or black pepper to taste. Serve warm.