The Green Scene

Popeye ate spinach, collards have something to do with the South, and kale is the garnish at deli counters, stuffed in between bowls of macaroni salad and cole-slaw. Does anyone really eat this stuff?

Yes, and they actually enjoy it! To be sure, greens do have a strong flavor. If your favorite vegetable is iceberg lettuce, greens may take some getting used to. But kale, mustard greens, spinach, and other dark green leafy vegetables deserve much more respect than they currently command. The following recipes and information will get you started on experimenting with greens.

General information on greens:

  • Availability: Fall through spring are peak times.
  • Storage: Keep unwashed in refrigerator crisper until ready to use.
  • Choosing: For best quality, purchase greens the same day, or at most, a day before you’re going to use them, since they wilt quickly. Choose greens that have firm, uniformly-colored leaves –avoid wilted, yellowing or brown bunches. A small amount of discolored leaves can be removed prior to cooking.
  • Preparation: Wash carefully before using. The sandy soil in which they are grown often clings to the leaves, and careful rinsing in several changes of water is needed to remove this grit. If the stalks are especially woody, either discard them, use them to flavor vegetable stock, or peel them, cooking as you would broccoli stalks or asparagus.
  • Cooking: Cooking times depend on the green. (Kale is tough; mustard greens and spinach can be eaten raw.) A general rule of thumb is that greens can be cooked in a covered pot in the water that clings to the leaves after washing — no need to add extra. They should be cooked until tender, but not mushy. (Microwaving or steaming works well, also.) As for cooking times, many cookbooks instruct you to boil the greens for 45 minutes or more, rendering them into the slimy mush many of us remember as our first encounter with greens. However, 5-8 minutes is usually sufficient, depending on your tastes. In general, most greens can be substituted for one another in most recipes.

Greens glossary:

  • Bok choy: Often used in Chinese cooking, bok choy resembles Swiss chard, and, as with Swiss chard, the ribs can be used as a celery substitute.
  • Collards: A favorite of ancient Greece and Rome, collards are now primarily associated with soul food and the southern United States.
  • Kale: Quite possibly the first cultivated cabbage, kale is popular in Scotland and Germany, where the chilly climates are perfect for its cultivation. Somewhat tougher than other greens, kale is more suitable to eat in cooked dishes than raw.
  • Mustard greens: Like mustard seeds, the greens of the mustard plant have a strong, but pleasant taste. They have a peppery bite that goes well with other rich flavors.
  • Spinach: The origins of this well-known green are obscure; it may be a latecomer to the vegetable scene, becoming well known only a mere 700 or so years ago. If you were ever tortured with overcooked, slimy spinach, you owe it to yourself to try it raw in a crunchy salad.
  • Swiss chard: The ribs can be cooked or eaten like celery; use the leafy part as you would any other greens.
  • Turnip Greens: The commonplace turnip, and thus its greens, probably originated in Asia Minor. It has been so widely consumed throughout history (particularly before it ran into competition from potatoes) that it is generally overlooked, or considered “poor people’s food.”

Please note: Other leafy vegetables are also considered to be greens; this list includes the more common ones.

Warm Curried Greens and Pasta

(Serves 4)

Try this the next time you have leftover pasta.

  • 2 teaspoons oil (try grapefruit, orange,
  • or other fruit-infused oil, or a fruity olive oil)
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 1/3 cup vegetable broth
  • 4 cups cooked pasta (macaroni, shells, radiatore, or other small pasta)
  • 3/4 pound greens, rinsed and finely shredded
  • 1/3 cup dark seedless raisins
  • Salt and pepper to taste

In nonstick saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add curry and cook about 1 minute, until sizzling. Carefully add broth and remaining ingredients. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until greens are crisp-tender and pasta is hot, about 8 minutes.

Total Calories Per Serving: 280
Fat: 4 grams

Country-Style Greens

(Serves 4)

Most of the recipes that exist for greens call for bacon, bacon grease, or ham bones. This recipe is a nod to that basic preparation style, but of course we left out the meat.

  • 1/2 teaspoon flavored oil (try sesame or chili oil)
  • 2 green onions, finely chopped
  • 3/4 cup vegetable broth
  • 1-2 drops liquid smoke
  • 3/4 pound greens, rinsed and coarsely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons vegetarian bacon bits
  • 1 to 2 drops hot red pepper sauce (optional)

In large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions and sautŽ a few minutes until bright green. Add vegetable broth, liquid smoke, and greens. Cover and simmer 6-8 minutes, or until greens are tender. Stir in bacon bits and pepper sauce, if desired. Serve immediately.

Total Calories Per Serving: 71
Fat: 2 grams

Greens and Apples

(Serves 4)

Tart, sweet apples go very nicely with tangy greens. This dish is especially nice with mustard greens or kale.

  • 2 teaspoons soy margarine
  • 2 medium-size Granny Smith apples, coarsely chopped
  • 1/3 cup frozen apple juice concentrate
  • 1 pound greens, rinsed and finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste

In large saucepan, melt margarine over medium heat. Add apples and cook, stirring, until lightly browned.

Add remaining ingredients. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until greens are tender. Serve immediately.

Total Calories Per Serving: 140
Fat: 2 grams

Braised Bok Choy with Mushrooms

(Serves 4)

Serve this super-fast dish over brown or wild rice for a simple gourmet meal.

  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 2 cups sliced mushrooms
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 3/4 cup vegetable broth
  • 2 pounds bok choy, diagonally sliced into 1-inch pieces

In nonstick saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add mushrooms. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms collapse and give up their liquid. Uncover and continue cooking until lightly browned.

Add remaining ingredients. Simmer uncovered about 8 minutes, until bok choy is crisp-tender and most of liquid has evaporated.

Total Calories Per Serving: 70
Fat: 2 grams

Creamy Rice and Greens Casserole

(Serves 4)

Tim Lavezzo is a classical guitarist and an excellent cook, and he was kind enough to share this hearty dish with me. Well, almost. Actually, he’s one of those excellent cooks who doesn’t work from recipes and never writes anything down. This recipe is a close re-creation of one of his dishes.

  • One 10.5-ounce package silken firm tofu
  • Pinch of turmeric (optional, for color)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1-1/4 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 tablespoons teriyaki sauce
  • 1 pound greens, rinsed and finely chopped
  • 3 cups cooked rice

Coat a 2-quart casserole with vegetable cooking spray. Set aside. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.

In food processor or blender, process tofu, turmeric, salt and pepper, if desired, broth, and teriyaki sauce until smooth.

In large bowl, combine tofu mixture, greens, and rice. Spoon into greased casserole. Bake at 400 degrees about 30 minutes or until top is lightly browned.

Total Calories Per Serving: 279
Fat: 4 grams

Greens Quiche

(Serves 6)

A tofu-spinach quiche that long-time vegetarians Irene and Ron Malakowski made for a potluck picnic last summer disappeared like magic. Their wonderful dish inspired this version, which has less tofu and more greens (to reduce the fat content), but will nonetheless make for a satisfying meal. If you like, and can spare the fat, add a homemade or prepared crust.

  • Two 10.5-ounce packages silken firm tofu
  • 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 small onion, coarsely chopped
  • Pinch of turmeric (optional, for color)
  • 2 tablespoons prepared mustard
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 pound greens, rinsed, finely chopped,
  • and cooked (drain well)

Coat a 9-inch pie plate with vegetable cooking spray. Set aside. Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees.

In food processor or blender, process all ingredients except greens until smooth. In large bowl, combine with greens. Spoon into greased pie plate.

Bake quiche about 65 minutes in 450 degree oven, or until golden and knife inserted in center comes out clean.

Total Calories Per Serving: 110
Fat: 3 grams

Article from The Vegetarian Resource Center. Written by Mary Clifford a registered dietitian from Roanoke, Virginia.

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