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Leaf Tips

March 21, 2001|DEBORAH MADISON

* What you need to keep in mind when it comes to greens are their various cooking times. Kale and collards don't take long, about 10 minutes at most. Tough arugula takes about three minutes. Mustard greens take longest to mellow, as long as 45 minutes if you're cooking them very slowly. If you are mixing greens in a recipe, cook each type separately before combining them. Or at least allow that extra time for the mustards.

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* Judge doneness by tenderness, not taste. Greens should fall apart as you're eating them. By the time mustard has reached that state of succulence, its aggressiveness has all but disappeared. Taste greens as they cook to ascertain the moment they're done, then remove them or keep on cooking them, if you like. Long cooking often transforms and deepens their flavor.

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* Vinegar and lemon bring out the flavor of greens, which is why a bottle of pepper-vinegar is so commonly seen on Southern tables. Pepper flakes are also a fairly ubiquitous ingredient in recipes for greens.

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* Kale and collard leaves need to be removed from their ropy stems. Mustard green stems can just be lopped off at the base. Arugula is always more enjoyable to eat if its stems are removed at the base as well. If using great big arugula leaves, you'll want to separate the greens completely from their stems.

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* Produce in supermarkets is constantly kept moist in order to keep it from drying out. That's especially true with greens. It's quite possible that the greens you buy will be sopping wet, as mine were last week. If so, dry them when you get home, unless you're planning to use them that night. A wet bunch of greens, particularly mustard greens, will immediately start to deteriorate in its plastic bag. What looked vibrant on Saturday will be funky on Sunday if not properly cared for.

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