Kitchen Focus

Preparing greens for cooking tends to take some time. I find that spending a little time preparing them in advance really helps speed things along and makes cooking much easier. And once you've started prepping greens, doing so with a large batch isn't really much more work than doing so with a small batch, so clean ahead for things like soups and stews. There are a few steps to take to prep greens for various kinds of cooking. Understanding them will mean being able to enjoy them in many different applications with only a bit of planning.
  • Cleaning Greens:
    Remove any damaged, wilted or yellowed leaves and cut off tough or stiff stems. Fill a large bowl with cold water and place greens in the water. Gently swish the greens around in the water and lift out. The dirt and sand will have settled to the bottom of the bowl. Empty the bowl and fill with clean water. Repeat the washing process. Repeat until no sediments remain on the bottom of the bowl when the greens are removed from the water. Larger leaf greens can be washed by holding under cold running water. Unfold any folded leaves to be sure to remove all the dirt. When clean, shake excess water from the greens.
  • Cooking Your Greens
    Quite often greens are eaten fresh. They are eaten on their own, mixed in with lettuce, mixed with several other varieties, or added to other salads. Although they are frequently eaten fresh, they can also be cooked using several different methods. Some of the common cooking methods used are shown below.
    • Blanching:
      Blanching is used to soften the texture of some greens and to provide a flavor that is not as pungent as when raw. A recipe may call for some greens to be blanched before the main cooking method is used, such as sautéing. Softer greens should not need blanching. Bring water to a boil in a large pot. Add greens to the boiling water. Allow to cook for 5 to 10 minutes, just until the greens have wilted. Remove from the heat source and drain the water from the greens. Allow greens to cool before squeezing moisture from them. If they are not going to be used immediately, rinse them by running them under cold water and squeeze out excess moisture.
    • Braising:
      Head-type greens may benefit from being blanched for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes before it is braised. Most leaf-type greens do not require blanching before braising. If working with a head-type green that has been blanched, cool under cold running water and then cut in half. Place the greens in a skillet and add broth until the greens are almost covered. Other flavorings can also be added along with the broth, such as onion, garlic or your favorite herbs. Cover the pan and cook at a simmer for 10 to 20 minutes until tender. Make a sauce to serve with the greens by boiling the cooking liquid left in the pan until most of the liquid evaporates.
    • Sautéing:
      For greens that have been blanched, place a small amount of oil in the pan. Nonstick pans will require less oil than other pans. Add greens to heated oil. Other flavorings, such as garlic and onion can be added and sautéed with the greens. Sauté for 3 to 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from pan and serve while hot.
    • Steaming:
      Wash greens but do not dry. The water that remains on the greens will be enough to steam the greens. Place the greens in a heavy pan. Larger, firmer greens should have 1/4 to 1/2 inch of broth or water added to the bottom of the pan. Cover and simmer over low heat until greens are wilted. Cooking time may vary from two to 15 minutes depending on the size and toughness of the greens. Greens can also be placed in a vegetable steamer and steamed over boiling water.
    • Microwaving:
      Clean greens and do not dry. Place wet greens in a microwave safe dish and cover. Microwave for 2 minutes on high. Check for doneness and microwave for 1 to 2 additional minutes if necessary. When cooking greens, be aware that they will reduce considerably when cooked. A pound of greens can be reduced down to 1 to 2 cups after they are cooked.

Okay. Now it's time for a few last minute tips before I leave you to your greens. Try to prepare your greens a few hours ahead of time to save the last minute rush. Wash and dry them thoroughly and then lay them out flat between layers of clean, dry paper towels. Place them in a plastic bag and refrigerate until ready to use.

When washing greens, do not let them soak. Swish them in cold water several times and then dry. Use the liquid that is left from cooking greens to make sauces or to add extra flavor in soups. Blanching will lessen the bitter taste of some greens. To revive limp greens, add 2 to 3 tablespoons of lemon juice to ice cold water and let the greens soak in it, refrigerated, for approximately an hour.

When adding dressing to a salad made of greens, be sure to add a little at a time and toss thoroughly. Taste to determine if more dressing is needed. Avoid adding to much dressing, which will result in a soggy salad. Do not add dressing until just before serving.

Now, before you go enjoy July's gift of salad days, here's a favorite recipe of mine featuring the season's finest greens. Enjoy.

Mandarin Zinfandel Salad

  • 2 tablespoons orange marmalade
  • 2 tablespoons Zinfandel vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons blood red orange infused olive oil
  • 4 ounces bleu cheese, crumbled
  • 4 ounces almond slivers
  • Pinch salt
  • Pinch pepper
  • 6 cups mixed greens
  • 11 ounces mandarin oranges

Combine the first three ingredients and blend well. Place the greens in a large bowl. Sprinkle with bleu cheese and almonds. Pour the salad dressing over the greens. Toss well with tongs. Season with salt and pepper. Arrange the orange slices over the top.

  • Yields: 6 servings
  • Preparation Time: 15 minutes