A commitment to eating seasonally leads to a kitchen full of fresh ingredients, but in the cold winter months, the menu may get a bit repetitive. While not as abundant as the summer harvest, winter offers hearty and nutritious vegetables, including greens. From classic collards to the trendier kale, each winter green has a distinct flavor and texture that makes it ideal for specific recipes. Finding innovative ways to prepare greens can liven up winter meals and offer a rich source of nutrients.
Dark leafy vegetables provide both long and short-term health benefits. Antioxidants in kale protect cells and are shown to help prevent skin, breast, and stomach cancer. Additionally, the high levels of folate promote heart health, while the calcium and vitamin K protect bones from osteoporosis and inflammatory diseases. The insoluble fiber in greens can aid digestion. However, because of their vulnerability while growing, greens are often chemically protected from pests. Wash greens thoroughly before cooking, or purchase them organically grown.
Especially here in the South, the first dish that comes to mind when talking about greens is the big boiling pot of classic collard greens. Finding new ways to prepare greens and working them into a balanced diet can be a challenge. Now that New Year’s Day is behind us, it is time to move on toward fresh preparations for this food group. The principles of cooking those classic collards are key to preparing other winter greens. All greens recipes essentially come down to a few necessities: a fat, preferred seasoning, heat, and the leaves themselves.
Fat: Pork tends to be the meat of choice to accompany collards. Whether the bacon is fried in the pot before adding other ingredients or the whole pot is boiled with a ham hock, the meat adds a rich fat to the vegetables. Other forms of fat, such as butter and olive oil, can be used in greens recipes in place of pork. These options are used to prepare lighter recipes.
Leaves: Because winter greens are tough, preparing them properly is what separates a tender vegetable dish from a choking hazard. Before cooking the greens, remove the strong, woody stems that support the leaves. This can be done by holding the stem in one hand and swiftly pulling the leaves through the other hand, separating them from the stem. Alternately, fold the leaf in half and cut the leaves from the stem.
Just as arugula is different from romaine lettuce, so too are winter greens different. Collards and mustard greens are relatively smooth but tough, almost leathery. Kale is not quite as tough, and the texture of curly and dino kales make it great for holding onto sauces and dressing. Dismissing all greens because of one variety would be a mistake. Trying different types of winter greens and different preparations may open the door to a new favorite food.
Heat: As mentioned above, winter greens can be very tough and bitter. To make them more enjoyable, they need to be broken down by boiling, sauteing, or roasting. Boiling is traditional, but each technique brings out a different enjoyable quality of the green. This makes the greens easier to eat and releases some of the bitter flavor.
Seasoning: Preparing the seasoning allows the most personalization in cooking greens. Adjust to the preferred amount of salt and spice. Greens could be peppery, spicy, garlic forward, or acidic. When creating the ideal combination of flavors, consider hot sauce, garlic (either cloves or powder), onion, salt, pepper, soy sauce, and other available ingredients.
Beans and Greens Soup
8 ounces of turkey sausage
1/2 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
1 teaspoon of oregano
2 teaspoons of parsley
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup of dry white wine
4 cups of broth (vegetable or chicken)
1 cup of beans, canned, fresh, or dried
2 cups of greens, stems removed and chopped (any greens will do, but collards hold up well through the long cook time if using dried beans.)
Fresh beans will undoubtedly offer the best flavor and texture, but they may not always be accessible. In that case, canned or dried beans will also work. For dried beans, soak them in cool water for at least 6 hours before making the soup.
In a saucepan over medium heat, cook sausage, onion, garlic, oregano, parsley, salt, and pepper until browned and aromatic. Pour wine into pan and stir to deglaze. Add broth, beans, and greens, and bring the soup to a boil. When the soup reaches a boil, lower to a simmer and cover until beans are cooked through. For canned and fresh beans, this will happen as soon as the beans are warm. For dried beans, it will take about 1 hour.
Massaged Kale and Fruit Salad
4 cups of curly kale, stems removed and chopped
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 avocado, diced
1 cup of pomegranate seeds
1/2 cup of slivered almonds, toasted
Instead of using heat to cook and tenderize the kale, this recipe uses massaging to break down the tough texture. Place kale, olive oil, salt, and pepper into a bowl. Massage the oil into the kale leaves using your hands. After about a minute, the leaves will begin to wilt. Continue massaging until they are the preferred texture. Peal the grapefruit using a paring knife and cut out the sections. Put the sections into the salad and squeeze the remaining pulp over the massaged greens. Add the remaining ingredients and toss to combine. Serves 2.
Spicy Greens Breakfast Bowl
1 tablespoon of butter
Salt, to taste
Paprika, to taste
1 bunch radishes, leaves and bulbs separated. Stems removed from the leaves and chopped. Bulbs thinly sliced
Hot sausage, cooked and crumbled
Melt butter in a frying pan over low. Add salt and a dash of paprika to taste. Toss radish greens into the pan and saute until tender. This will not take long. Once they are wilted, remove from pan. Plate the greens and top with browned sausage, goat cheese, thinly sliced radishes, and an egg cooked to your preference. Sprinkle extra paprika on top for added color and spice. Tip: Serve with a slice of toast to soak up any butter or egg yolk left. Serves 1.
Winter Harvest Collards Wrap
4 leaves of collard greens
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 butternut squash, peeled and cubed
1 teaspoon of rubbed sage
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 cups of lentils, cooked
4 teaspoons of tahini
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Toss full collard leaves into the pot and cook until bright green, about 30 seconds. Transfer the leaves from the boiling water to a bowl of ice water to halt cooking. When cool, dry each leaf and lay flat to fill. Blanching the leaves softens them and makes them perfect wraps. The leaves can be stuffed with any filling, such as barbecue, chicken salad, or vegetables. This recipe uses hearty winter vegetables for a warm comforting vegetarian wrap.
In a skillet, heat olive oil, salt, pepper, and rubbed sage over medium-high heat. Once the skillet is warmed, add cubed butternut squash. Let the squash brown and get a bit caramelized before flipping. Once squash is cooked, add cooked lentils and tahini and stir until warm. Taste and season further if desired.
Place the squash and lentil mixture onto the leaf. Fold the tip and the stem side of the leaf in and roll the leaf, securing the filling within. Makes 4 wraps.
For a crispier approach to greens, a quick roast in the oven will create kale chips.
2 cups of curly kale
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1/4 teaspoon of kosher salt
Preheat oven to 250 degrees F. Toss kale in olive oil and salt. Because kale is thin, do not over season it. Lay pieces of kale in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes, flip the chips and bake for another 10 minutes.
Fresh basil, the key ingredient in traditional pesto, can be hard to come by in the winter months. Kale serves as a good replacement in pesto and is a great way to sneak this nutrient rich vegetable into a meal for those who might otherwise turn their nose up at the green.
2 cups of red Russian kale
1/2 cup of walnuts
1/2 lemon, zested and juiced
1/2 cup of olive oil
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 garlic cloves
1/4 teaspoon of sugar
Salt, to taste
Place all of the ingredients in a food processor and blend until finely combined. Adjust the flavor to personal preference. Toss with pasta or spread across toast.
Tropical Kale Smoothie
When the winter months start to feel mundane, a quick trip down the frozen fruit isle can provide inspiration. In this sweet, creamy smoothie, the kale flavor fades away to make room for the bright pineapple and citrus flavors.
1 cup frozen pineapple
1 ripe banana
1 cup of kale
1 cup of coconut milk
1/2 cup of orange juice
Use a blender to combine all ingredients until smooth. If the smoothie does not taste sweet enough, add a teaspoon of honey.