Farmer’s markets and CSA boxes are bursting with local greens now: spinach, kale, Swiss chard, bok choy cabbage, as well as the greens atop kohlrabi, beets, radishes, and turnips—yes those attached green leaves are completely usable.
It can be overwhelming to contemplate how to use this bounty, so I encourage you to rethink greens. There are plenty of ways to use them beyond the obvious leafy salad. Whether raw or cooked, greens add a pop of color and a bomb of health benefits of your dish.
Raw: Not all raw are created equal. Spinach is soft sweet, crunchy and easy to eat raw. Other greens aren’t that easy. Kale, for example, is incredibly nutritious but its leaves are tougher and its flavor quite potent. The solution: Break them down and incorporate into dishes already packed with bold flavor.
Hummus is a great example. The simple spread or dip of garbanzo beans, garlic, lemon, and tahini is prepared in a food processor so the addition of greens boosts the health benefits without altering flavor much. Similarly, you can sneak raw greens into pesto. Again, strong flavors of basil, garlic, and parmesan dominate, making the addition of other greens almost moot. And bonus, it stretches your pesto yield while supercharging the nutrition.
Also try adding raw greens to a smoothie. They’re delicious and add a great texture to pasta or grain salads—when chopped and allowed time to marinate in the dressing, even tougher greens mingle well. A great combination: chopped greens, quinoa and/or wheat berries, and dried cranberries.
And if the humble salad is indeed what’s for dinner, there are a few tricks to incorporating those raw greens. What makes or breaks a raw kale salad? A gentle massage (not for you, for the kale). Coated with olive oil and kneaded almost like bread dough, kale softens and literally brightens before your eyes. It then becomes much more palatable, ready to be tossed in your favorite dressing.
Add chopped greens to almost any sauce, soup or stew (greens in jambalaya are fantastic). Simply throw them in just before removing the pan from the stove, and let the residual heat do the work.
Cooked: One of my favorite ways to use all these seasonal greens is simply sautéing them. With just a little oil (or butter), garlic, salt and pepper, all greens are transformed into a very different, versatile ingredient that can be incorporated into many delicious options.
The key is to cook them to their sweet spot. You want them wilted but not cooked beyond recognition. My go-to example is to watch the color. Once they wilt a bit and the color brightens, call it good. If left on the heat too long the color goes from bright to murky. And the process happens quickly. One or two minutes is all that’s needed to reach perfection. Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a sauté pan, add garlic and cook 1 or 2 minutes, then add greens. Move them around in the pan a bit and watch. Season with salt and pepper and remove from heat.
You could eat sautéed greens as they are or cool them first. Or store them in the refrigerator for later use.
Whether raw or cooked don’t forget dessert. From kale brownies to spinach muffins, baked goods are another way to sneak in those greens, but don’t tell my kids.
Need ideas? Here are 14 common dishes into which you easily can incorporate sautéed greens:
• Your favorite quesadilla
• Morning egg scramble or omelet
• A favorite sandwich wrap
• Meatloaf or meatballs
• On fish or a burger
• In taco meat
• Pasta sauce
• On pizza
• Inside a grilled cheese sandwich
• On top of rice, quinoa, wheat berries, pasta, risotto, etc.
Easy One Pot Curry
This is one of my favorite ways to make curry because the list of ingredients isn’t super long or full of obscure spices. The recipe originated as a Thai-inspired sloppy joe that used ground lamb and spinach, and has evolved over time. Here, I’ve made it with all vegetables, but this curry can be a base for all sorts of combinations of meats and vegetables. Try others as they become available at market. The original recipe called for brown sugar, but I used maple syrup for another local component.
1 cup thinly sliced scallion (white and green parts) plus extra for garnish
2 Tbsp. red curry paste
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. turmeric
2 Tbsp. maple syrup
2 16-oz. cans coconut milk
16 oz.-can diced tomato
2 Tsp. fresh thyme, rough chop
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 cups diced bok choy (separate the leaves and add them to other greens)
2 cups diced carrot
1 cup diced broccoli
2 handfuls greens, tough stems removed and coarsely chopped
Juice of half a lime
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat oil in heavy bottomed pot over medium heat. Stir in green onion, curry paste, ginger, turmeric, maple syrup, salt and pepper. Heat until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add coconut milk, tomato and thyme. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes or so. Add bok choy, carrot, and broccoli. Bring to a boil then simmer over medium heat until vegetables are cooked (about 10 minutes). Stir in greens and lime juice. Remove from heat just when greens wilt and brighten. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.
Serve over rice or noodles, and garnish with fresh tomato, green onions and maybe a little yogurt.
Note: I used green onions because they’re in season. You could use regular onion, and certainly add garlic, fresh ginger, and shallot—whatever you have on hand.
Also, curry pastes vary in spiciness. You might need more than 2 Tbsp. because some brands in large grocery stores are much milder than curry pastes found in Asian markets.