Do fall and winter leave you longing for farm fresh veggies? If so, grab a bunch of fresh greens next time you’re at the market. Greens — from collards to kale to mustards — are in season right through the coldest winter months. Choose your favorite and add a healthy (they’re chock full of fiber, iron and Vitamins A & C) and tasty component to soups and salads or enjoy them on their own.
Braising is my favorite way to cook greens. It requires only a handful of ingredients to produce greens that are crisp or tender, depending on your preference, and loaded with flavor. Traditionally, that flavor came from a smoked ham hock added to the pot and cooked slowly along with the greens. Use a piece of smoked turkey instead for an equally tasty and pork-free dish.
Unlike meats, vegetables don’t require browning before braising. Start by building your pot liquor (or pot likker if you’re gangsta), the wonderfully rich and smoky juice that will develop as your greens cook. (Cornbread is a must for sopping up the pot liquor.)You can start with water or chicken stock — be sure to use a reduced sodium version to prevent greens from ending up too salty. I like to toss in a chopped onion and a teaspoon or so of crushed red pepper flakes, but add whatever you like or have on hand (minced garlic, other herbs or spices). Stir in your greens, cover the pot and let them simmer until they’re as crisp or tender as you like.
TIPS for Cooking Fresh Greens
Don’t season your greens too heavily in the beginning. The flavor will intensify as the greens cook and heavy salting at the start will give you over-salted greens in the end.
Clean greens thoroughly. Rinse them well even if you buy the cut, pre-rinsed and bagged variety. If you’re buying fresh, uncut greens, rinse them well under running water then let them sit for few minutes in bowl of cold water. Dirt or sand will sink to bottom. Drain greens on paper towels and pat dry.
For fresh greens, remove the woody stalks and tear them into smaller pieces or chop them with a sharp knife. A dull knife can bruise leafy greens, giving them a dark, oily appearance around the edges.
Garnish cooked greens with hot sauce, diced tomatoes or chow chow.