Growing up, the start of the holiday season meant a pot of collard and mustard greens simmering on the stove with a ham hock. The bitter, mild and nutty flavors mingled with pork to create a symphony when eaten slowly during dinner. As my parents grew more health conscious the pork and water was replaced with chicken stock but the flavors of the greens seemed to marry even more when less was added to the pot. With the start of the fall frost there seems to be a winter green explosion at farmers markets around the city and in the home delivered CSAs.
Unlike spinach, most winter greens take longer to cook and, while edible, the stalks can be wooden and coarse requiring even longer cooking times. Be clear though, longer to cook doesn’t mean harder to cook. Leafy greens can be steamed, braised, sautéed and stir fried. There are many leafy green varieties ranging from mustard and turnip to beet but for this article focuses on those most commonly found at the grocery store: collard, kale and chard.
Collard greens are part of the cruciferous vegetable family and a distant cousin of the cabbage. What makes them distant is that collard greens do not form a head like other cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower. While you can usually find collard greens year around, they are tastier and more nutritious in the late fall and winter months.
Collards contain a wealth of antioxidants and are high in vitamins K, A and C as well as folate and calcium. Interestingly, Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin and is better absorbed when digested with fat, so sautéing collard greens in a little olive oil is helpful. If you choose to steam or braise collard greens, be sure to not over steam if you want to retain all of the nutrients.
Collards are a pretty durable green and can be stored for three to five days in the refrigerator and once cooked can be frozen and stored for up to four months.
Kale is also a cruciferous vegetable. High in beta carotene, vitamin K, vitamin C with a reasonable amount of calcium; kale is a hearty cooking green with a nutty and some say sweet flavor. Interestingly enough, kale makes a great salad green as it softens without getting soggy when dressed with oil and vinegar or lemon. It is great way to enjoy the crunch of a winter salad especially when paired with dry-roasted peanuts or almonds, red pepper flakes or Asian-style dressing.
There are a number of varieties of kale from curly, plain leaved, lacinato and dinosaur to name a few. These varieties are found across the globe and are part of the cultural heritages of countries such as Ireland, East Africa, Denmark, China, Taiwan and Vietnam. All of the varieties contain the same nutrient-rich base and it is fun to explore the subtle texture and flavor differences between them.
Kale also stores and freezes well and contains most of its nutrients when steamed, sautéed or stir fried. The sweet nuttiness of kale combined with slight bitter bite of collard greens is a great combination and since they have about the same cooking time these greens blend well. I personally like to add kale to my marinara sauce as it adds depth of flavor to basic pasta sauce and is also a tasty and smart way to beef up soups and stews.
Chard, sometimes referred to as Swiss chard and even called beet spinach, is a fun and colorful vegetable. The leafy portion is always green while the stalk can be white, yellow or red. Allowing your child to pick their favorite color chard is a great way to get them interested in eating this nutritional powerhouse.
Chard is the same plant species as the beet and both are part of the Chenopodiaceae plant family. It is high in vitamin A, vitamin C and rich in minerals, fiber and protein. The younger more tender leaves can be eaten raw in salads while the larger, more mature leaves can be chopped and cooked very much like spinach. Chard has a slightly bitter taste that fades with cooking. Be aware that it cooks much quicker than kale or collard greens. Raw chard is extremely perishable but does freeze well. One last note, red chard will bleed and discolor other foods. Keep that in mind if adding chard to soups, stews or when cooking with pasta.
You may have avoided winter greens in the past but if you want to up your vegetable intake with these nutritional dynamos, here are a couple of easy recipes to try. Eating Well has a seemingly endless collection of recipes and cooking tips at EatingWell.com. Take a few minutes and explore.
Kale with Garlic
The original recipe comes from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. The key to success with this recipe is using all of the oil recommended and hearty greens like kale or collards. The garlic mellows as it cooks with the greens, so if you love garlic use six cloves instead of three and the second addition of garlic. You could also substitute the second addition of garlic with ginger if you want to give it an Asian twist.
1 pound kale, collard greens or broccoli rabe with stems under ½ inch thick
¼ cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced, plus 1 teaspoon minced garlic
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
Salt and Pepper to taste
½ cup chicken, beef or vegetable stock
Lemon wedges, optional
Coarsely chop the stems and leaves of the kale. Place the oil in a large, deep saucepan. Add the sliced garlic, red pepper flakes, salt and black pepper and cook over medium-high heat for about 1 minute. Make sure that the garlic does not brown. Add the kale and the stock. Cover and cook over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes. Uncover the greens and continue to cook, stirring until the liquid has evaporated and the greens are quite tender, 10 minutes more. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed. If using, add the remaining garlic, cook for 1 minute more, and serve with lemon wedges.
Kale with Italian Sausage and Penne:
To beef up this recipe brown ¾ pound of chicken sausage and half of an onion before adding the greens and then cooked as directed. Once the greens were softened, add 1 pound of cooked penne pasta and 1/3 cup parmesan cheese. Yummy!
White Bean and Kale Soup
The original recipe for this soup was in a flyer from Whole Foods. It was a little too wholesome for it was enhanced with the addition of olive oil. You can use fresh beans but using canned beans keeps it simple. The secret to loving the soup is topping it with cheese and croutons. You can make your own fabulous croutons from leftover crusty bread but you could also use sandwich bread or whatever you have on hand. Just preheat your oven to 350 degrees; toss together cubed bread, olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread out on a baking sheet and bake until crisp, 10 – 15 minutes. Now back to the soup.
2 tablespoons olive oil
12-16 oz Chicken Sausage, sliced – use a full-flavored brand like Aidells or
The Original Brat Hans Chicken Sausage
1 large yellow onion chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
8 cups homemade chicken broth
7 cups cooked white beans (cannellini or navy), divided
Salt & pepper to taste
1 bunch kale, stems and ribs removed, leaves roughly chopped
Heat olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add sausage slices and cook until browned, about 8 minutes. Add onions and garlic and cook until onion is translucent, about 10 minutes. Stir often. Meanwhile, put 3 cups of beans and 2 cups of broth into a bowl and puree using handheld blender or place in blender and blend until smooth; set aside.
Add about 1/2 cup of broth to sausage mixture and scrape up all the browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add remaining broth to the pot and bring to a boil. Add kale, reduce heat and cover and simmer until the kale is wilted and softened, about 5 minutes.
Remove cover and add remaining broth, bean puree and more salt and pepper. Simmer for about 20 minutes. Serve topped with grated Monterey jack cheese and croutons.