How to Make Greens Taste Grand
I was literally this close to having a Cadbury Creme Egg for supper. It’s Easter, after all, which I think is a perfectly legitimate reason to do such a thing. There is something about that tooth-achingly sweet fondant filling that drips down your chin and stickifies your fingers (and keyboard, as it turns out) that I find positively irresistible.
But, I reasoned with myself – it is exam period, and I will probably have a perfectly legitimate excuse not to cook on any given day over the next two weeks. And I have a crisper drawer in my fridge groaning under the weight of luscious, fresh vegetation. So, I reluctantly re-stuck the partially unwrapped foil on my delectable creme filled chocolate treat, and whipped out my apron along with some leafy greens. And I decided I should tell you about how to make greens taste grand. Yes, grand. Not just edible, but delicious.
I really love any edible leaf, but I didn’t always. Nothing is worse than a plate full of soggy, bitter, marsh-hued greens. The first time I had kale that I liked, it was a revelation. This was me: Whaaaaaaaaa….?! That can taste like this?? And now I fill my basket (and meals) with some variation of arugula, spinach, kale, chard, curly endive, beet greens, gai lan, rapini, etc. every week.
Let me divulge a few vegetab-ular tricks:
Don’t be shy with oil – It makes a huge flavour impact, and carries the fat-soluble vitamins so that you can absorb them. I would say about one tablespoon of oil per serving – or for a big, fat bunch of greens, I would probably drizzle 3 tbsp.
Season well – Salt makes food taste good. Fact. Proper seasoning is one of the main reasons that restaurant meals taste so great! It has a bad rap, but salt added in home cooking is really not a concern. Upwards of 75% of our sodium intake comes from processed foods, so if you are eating mostly whole foods, season away. Of course, if you have hypertension, you may need to be less liberal – but there is no evidence that sodium itself causes hypertension in people with normal blood pressure. Besides, getting some activity has a far greater impact on blood pressure than the salt shaker. So shake away. Your greens will thank you. But add the salt at the end of cooking, as leafy veggies are mostly water – so if you season before they wilt, they might be too salty once the liquid evaporates.
Don’t overcook – The vibrant colour is your indication that the greens are cooked. Overdo it, and they turn an unappealing olive colour and become mushy.
Blanch the bitter – Really bitter veggies like escarole, rapini and gai lan can be relieved of their strong aftertaste by giving them a dip in boiling water for a few minutes before cooking them as you intend (3-4 for lighter greens like escarole, 5 for sturdier greens like broccoli rabe).
Nix the stems – The tough stalks of kale, rapini, escarole, and even romaine should be cut out before using. They are stringy and hard, and take much longer to cook than the leaf portion. They add much to the perceived unpleasantness of greens. Cut out the stems using a sharp knife, making a V-shape into the leaf.
Add flavour – Before you add the greens, saute some thinly sliced shallots in oil until crisp and golden. Add some minced garlic. Once the greens begin wilting, throw in a generous pinch of crushed chili. Experiment with grated ginger, honey, chili paste (like sambal oelek), tahini, different oils (like sesame, walnut, or chili oil) and/or vinegars (rice, white wine, balsamic, or apple cider vinegar), and/or soy sauce. Chopped green onions are delicious if you add them toward the very end of cooking. Try finishing with some chopped, toasted nuts or seeds (almonds, sesame seeds, walnuts – all delicious). Try to contain your veggie excitement and not use all of the above at once… But do play around. There are lots of delicious combinations. Just add flavours in small doses at first and progressively add more as you taste.
For dinner tonight, I started with sauteed shallots and garlic, added kale and curly endive, and flavoured them with crushed chili, soy sauce, rice vinegar, honey, sesame oil, green onions and toasted sesame seeds.
The pan I used to cook the greens doubled as a panini press for some delicious grilled sandwiches! Dessert, of course, was a Cadbury Creme Egg. Oliver’s dessert was the wrapper… oops.