Cooking time is key to preparing tasty greens

ASK THE CHEF

March 31, 2002|By Jim Coleman and Candace Hagan | Jim Coleman and Candace Hagan,Knight Ridder / Tribune

Q. I read recently how great greens are for a healthy diet. My problem is that I have never been able to make them tasty enough to make my family like them. Can you tell me how to properly prepare greens? Maybe you could use kale as an example.

A. You know the old saying, "If it tastes good, it has to be bad for you; if it's good for you, it's bound to taste bad." Although that holds true for a lot of things for me, it isn't the case when it comes to greens.

The real trick to cooking greens is the cooking time -- either very long or very short, nothing in between. You can cook them for hours with some smoked ham hocks (I grew up eating them this way), or you can cook them just long enough to soften the stems. This quick method is the way I cook greens at home now because it saves time.

But let's back up a minute and talk about buying the kale or other greens. You want to look for dark greens that have not started to wilt. Younger (smaller) heads of greens are less bitter, more tender and cook more quickly than older, larger heads. Young greens are particularly important if you are using the quick-cook method.

The way I prepare greens for quick cooking is to strip the leaves from the stems and cut them about the size of romaine for a Caesar salad. I cut the stems into quarter-inch pieces. The rest of the process is up to you. You can toss all kinds of tasty ingredients into greens.

Q. I have been told my whole life that lemon juice will help keep sliced bananas from turning brown. The problem is that they end up with an overwhelming tart flavor. Is there something else that I can do?

A. Now that we have identified the problem, let's talk about how we can fix it. We know that lemon juice works to prevent bananas from turning brown because of its ascorbic acid (vitamin C) content. A simple solution would be to use a milder citrus juice, such as orange juice, which is a lot less tart.

For professionals, or if by chance you are using a lot more sliced bananas than the average person, there is another solution. You can buy ascorbic acid in a crystallized or powdered form at most drugstores. All you do is dissolve this ascorbic acid in a little cold water and toss this mixture with the sliced bananas. Not only does this keep the bananas looking fresh, but it also adds vitamin C to your diet.

Jim Coleman is executive chef at the Rittenhouse Hotel in Philadelphia, a cookbook author and host of television and radio cooking shows. Candace Hagan is a food writer and cookbook author.

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