"I am in urgent need of recipes for dark leafy greens--mustard, chard, kale, beet greens and turnip greens," a reader writes. The problem, she says, is that the texture and taste of these items differs greatly from their distant cousin--spinach--which requires more gentle treatment than these hearty variations.
The vegetable category called "greens" is a generous one, ranging from those that are cabbage-like in texture to extremely tender varieties to those that are simply the tops of root vegetables like turnips and beets. The best-known kinds are spinach, kale, collards, turnips, beets, chard, mustard, broccoli leaves, chicory, endive, escarole, dandelion, cress and sorrel. Many can be used interchangeably in recipes; just be sure to substitute similar textures or adjust cooking times appropriately.
Most greens are classified among the cruciferous vegetable family. These include kale, rape, collards and mustards. Dandelion greens, which surprisingly are often found growing wild in one's lawn, as well as escarole and endive, are part of the daisy family. Chard and beet greens are from the beet family.
High in Vitamins and Minerals
Most are high in vitamins and minerals, with collard greens ranking highest for calcium content--a whopping 236 milligrams per half-cup serving--whereas the calcium in kale and turnip greens averages about 200 milligrams per half-cup.
Greens can be boiled, steamed, braised, sauteed or microwaved, and some can be eaten raw. They should be used within one to two days of purchase, and after cooking they freeze quite well.
Kale and collards are most similar in texture. They are rather coarse, with firm, curled leaves. They are best when used the same day of purchase since they quickly begin to lose their nutritive value. To prepare either variety, cut or tear the leaves from the heavy stalks, discard the stalk, thoroughly wash and cook in a small amount of liquid with onions and desired meat such as a beef or ham bone, salt pork or lean bacon slices. Rape, or broccoli di rapa, can also be prepared in this manner and topped with a light cream or cheese sauce, but it is most often served sauteed in olive oil until tender.
Texture Similar to Spinach
The tender young leaves of dandelion greens and Swiss chard are similar in texture to spinach and can be cooked alone or with other vegetables. They are also suitable simmered gently in savory soups or chopped and incorporated into fritters, omelets and even quiche if a piquant flavor is desired. Dandelion greens are well suited for use raw in salads, but be sure to choose the young plant since the older ones display more bitterness.
Chicory, endive and escarole are generally regarded as members of the lettuce family, lauded mostly for the variety they lend to salads. They are, however, tasty when braised slightly. Chicory, with its rather bitter flavor, used in this manner serves well as a potherb.
The following recipes were chosen from "Farm Journal's Best-Ever Vegetable Recipes" by the food editors of Farm Journal (Doubleday: $14.95, 278 pp.) and "A World of Vegetable Cookery" by Alex D. Hawkes (Simon and Schuster: $24.95, 283 pp.). The Farm Journal cookbook includes detailed descriptions of vegetables, including seasonality, selection, storage, preparation, yield and serving suggestions. Plus, it features a microwaving chart and illustrations of each vegetable. A chapter on garnishes and some color photography supplement a large selection of recipes.
"A World of Vegetable Cookery" gives botanical information, suggestions for use and storage and some recipes. It provides illustrations of most vegetables. Plus, there is information on some new and unusual species like Hawaiian breadfruit and Japanese udo. BRAISED GREENS WITH RED PEPPER
1 bunch young, tender mustards
1/4 cup butter
1 medium sweet red pepper, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
Wash greens well and drain. Trim tough stems. Coarsely chop greens.
In 10-inch skillet over high heat, bring 1/4 inch water to boil. Add greens and cook, covered, 1 minute or until greens are wilted. Drain and set aside.
In same skillet over medium-high heat, melt butter. Add red pepper and garlic and cook until tender. Stir in greens, salt and pepper. Cook, covered, 3 to 5 minutes or until greens are tender. Makes 6 servings.
PER SERVING: 96 calories; 3 gm protein; 5 gm carbohydrate; 8 gm fat; 297 mg sodium; 321 mg potassium. USRDA
Protein 04% Riboflavin 10% Vitamin A 113% Niacin 03% Vitamin C 149% Calcium 14% Thiamine 06% Iron 13%
CREAMED KALE AND ONIONS
2 pounds small white onions, peeled
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 pounds kale, washed, trimmed and coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
3/4 teaspoon dried rosemary leaves
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup milk
3/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce