When many people think of green vegetables in the cold-weather season, the image often is of simmering pots of collards, kale, mustard greens or turnip tops flavored with salt pork or smoked ham. A poor person's dish, many of us think.
Greens have long carried with them the stigma of poverty, anthat has kept them from being universally appreciated. Fortunately, the recent interest in American regional cooking and in ethnic cuisines has brought greens onto the menus of chic restaurants and into the kitchens of experimental cooks.
The Italian method of sauteing escarole and Swiss chard in olive oil with garlic (and sometimes pignoli and raisins) can be used with other greens as well to produce a delicious hot or cold side dish. Steaming or braising tougher greens such as kale and collards makes them tender and flavorful. Chopped spinach can be stirred into soups and omelets or pureed for souffles.
Curly-leafed kale is the main ingredient in the Portuguese green soup named caldo verde and in the caldo gallego of Spain. Ethiopian yegomen kifto combines spinach with buttermilk curds. No self-respecting Brazilian feijoada completa is complete without chopped collards. In Chinese cooking, Peking cabbage, bok choy, choi sum (flowering cabbage) and ong choi (water spinach) may be stir-fried and then flavored with oyster sauce. And sweet and sour spicy cabbage salad is a Thai favorite.
Nutritionally, leafy greens are a great value for their price. Most are good sources of vitamins A and C, folic acid, calcium, iron and potassium. And greens are a dieter's dream, with a filling cup of cooked vegetable containing between 20 and 50 calories, depending on the type.
BABY BEETS, OR TURNIP TOPS PLUS
A chef, whose name is long forgotten, told me he had been discarding the tender tops of the baby turnips and beets he used to garnish his plates. Then one day he decided to saute them as a vegetable. Other leafy greens may be substituted.
1/2 pound pancetta or 4 strips bacon, cooked and diced
8 whole shallots or 1 whole head garlic, skin on
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 tablespoons bacon fat or olive oil
tops from 12 bunches baby turnips and/or beets, chopped salt and pepper to taste
Cook pancetta or bacon, drain and dice. Roll shallots or garlic (or a combination of the two) in olive oil and bake in a 400-degree oven 10 minutes or until tender but still somewhat firm. Squeeze to separate skin from shallots or separate garlic into cloves and squeeze out pulp. In a large skillet, heat bacon fat or oil, add shallots or garlic and saute 1 minute. Add greens and saute 5 minutes. Add diced bacon and season with salt and pepper.
I used to think steamed head cabbage tasted good but nobody else in my family did. Then I tried sauteing it with garlic and onions and they eagerly joined me in eating this healthy vegetable. The recipe is simplicity itself but the dish takes cabbage from the realm of the commonplace into the rare.
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 onions, thinly sliced
2-pound head of cabbage, thinly sliced
salt and pepper to taste
Heat oil in a non-stick skillet. Add garlic and onion and saute until onion begins to brown. Add cabbage and saute until cabbage browns and softens. Cabbage should be tender but still firm. Season with salt and pepper. Serves four.