How to Tackle Any Dark Leafy Green

Collard Greens Panzanella with Hot Sauce Vinaigrette

It doesn’t matter what food trend is at the forefront, or which healthy diet plan is being touted by celebs, or what your doctor thinks of your current cholesterol. Everyone wants you to eat more dark leafy greens. Unless you are on a potassium restricted diet, these nutritional powerhouses are just good for you, high in fiber, low in calories, and when prepared well, delicious.

But while we all know what to do with the tender dark greens like spinach or chard, the hardier greens can pose something of a problem if you haven’t faced them before. Pebbly dinosaur kale, pungent mustard greens, or wide collards. These greens are all super delicious and can be prepared in a variety of ways to get them into your diet.

Prep your greens

First off, these greens almost never come triple washed and ready to go like your baby spinach tubs. So they are going to need a good cleaning. I start by gently removing the tough ribs from all the leaves. You can pull it off the back of leaves like collards or trim them out of other leaves like kale. Once the ribs are gone, put the leaves in a large bowl filled with cold water and slosh them around. Remove them to another bowl, empty the dirty water out of the first bowl then repeat till the water in the bowl shows no dirt or grit. Spin the leaves dry in a salad spinner or roll in a kitchen towel to remove the excess water. Then tear or chop or slice to your desired size.

Braising Is Always an Option

Many think of these greens as needing to be cooked a long time in stock to get tender. And there is no question that a large pot of simmering greens is a wonderful dish to know how to make. Whether you cook them in ham hock stock, chicken stock, or even vegetable stock, you want to just bring the liquid up to the level of the greens, with some of them poking out the top, and cook over a super low heat for a long time until they slump and get soft. I usually add onion to my stock, and if I am making it vegetarian, maybe some dried mushrooms like shiitake or porcini to up the umami, and some smoked sun-dried tomato for richness and to mimic traditional stocks made with smoked meats. Assume a minimum of 90 minutes to cook these, but they often get better with an even longer cook. The enriched stock or “potlikker” is delicious sopped up with bread.

Give Them a Good Sauté

Quickly pan-frying these greens in a little bit of fat makes for a whole new taste sensation. Think of this as almost a stir fry. You want fat, some aromatics, and then a really fast hot cook. You can use bacon grease, coconut oil, ghee, or other high smoke point oil. You can add anything from onion to shallot, ginger, garlic, or fresh chilis to amp up flavor, or bloom spices like cumin, mustard seed, or red pepper flakes in the hot oil instead. Shred your greens on the finer side and cook in the hot flavored oil until they just break down and become pliable but not mushy. They should retain a little texture and can be seasoned with just salt and pepper, or fancied up with a splash of soy or fish sauce, a dash of Worcestershire or drizzle of sesame oil, a dollop of a chili paste like harissa or a dash of hot sauce, or brightened with a squeeze of lemon or shake of vinegar.

Steaming Works Too

Steaming these greens makes them softer than a sauté, but not as tender as braising. Place your greens in your steamer basket over about an inch of boiling water and cover, and then steam them for 10 to 12 minutes until they are soft. Greens can be served hot with some butter and salt and pepper, or you can try a variation on a Japanese Go-Mae by serving chilled with a sesame dressing.

To Eat Them Raw, Break Them Down a Bit

These can make for great salads, as we know from the ubiquitous Kale salad. But they do need some extra prep. All hardy greens need to be massaged with salt and a splash of acid to tenderize them enough to make them more edible. Literally put your cleaned prepped greens in a bowl, add a healthy pinch of salt and a little splash of vinegar or a squeeze of lemon, and then get your hands in the bowl and give them a good rubdown until you literally feel them relax and get a bit floppy. Don’t overdo it, you don’t want them disintegrating, just the super tough bite removed. They will usually get a bit darker and almost translucent looking in places. Then you can add your mix-ins and dressing and serve.

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