Cooking greens are a Southern tradition – and superstitiously thought to bring good luck for the upcoming year when eaten on New Year’s Day. They include any type of cabbage where the green leaves do not form a compact head. Collard, mustard, kale, swiss chard, and broccoli rabe are all varieties of cooking greens.
COLLARD GREENS Collards are the oldest known greens in the cabbage family dating back to ancient times because of their similarity to cabbage eaten by prehistoric people. In addition, ancient Greeks and Romans cultivated collard greens.
Collards are native to the eastern Mediterranean region and Asia Minor. In approximately 400 B.C. they were brought to Britain and France by either the Romans or Celts. The first documentation of collard greens in America was in 1669 though it is possible they were present in the colonies at an even earlier date.
Collard greens grow best in warm weather though they can withstand the cold temperatures of late autumn. Interestingly enough, the flavor of collard greens is enhanced by a light frost.
MUSTARD GREENS Mustard greens are the most pungent of the cooking greens and lend a peppery flavor to food. They originated in the Himalayan region of India more than 5,000 years ago. Like many other cooking greens, mustard can be found in many Chinese, African-American, and southern dishes. Brassica juncea, the mustard plant, is characterized by it’s crumpled or flat leaves that may have scalloped, frilled or lacey edges. In addition, this plant produces the brown seeds that are used to make Dijon mustard. Mustard greens are an excellent source of both vitamins A and C and contain several other vitamins and minerals as well as fiber and protein.
KALE Like other greens, kale descends from wild cabbage that originated in Asia Minor though it is known for it’s popularity in Scandinavia, Germany, Holland and Scotland. Kale was brought to the United States in the 17th century by English settlers. It is now a favorite in the southern United States where, like many cooking greens, it has been considered a poor man’s food. With long ruffled leaves that resemble large parsley sprigs and hues that vary from lavender to chartreuse, kale has a mild cabbage-like taste and delicate texture. Like most cooking greens, kale can grow in colder temperatures and withstand frost — which actually helps produce even sweeter leaves. Kale can also grow well in the hot weather in the southern United States and in poor soil. Kale is an excellent source of vitamin A, folic acid, and vitamin C and contains both protein and fiber.
SWISS CHARD The vegetable’s scientific name is Beta vulgaris subspecies cicla with the word cicla referring to Sicily where swiss chard first grew. Its popular name stems from the fact that a Swiss botanist determined the plant’s scientific name. Today, swiss chard is most popular in the Mediterranean. Swiss chard can also be found in northern Europe and South America. Swiss chard is extremely versatile, has a mild sweet yet slightly bitter flavor (similar to beets), and has large green leaves with ribs running throughout. The leaves can be smooth or curly and are attached to fleshy, crunchy white, red or yellow celery-like stalks. Swiss chard is an excellent source of vitamins A and C, and also contains potassium and fiber.
BROCCOLI RABE Broccoli rabe was originally cultivated in the southern Mediterranean. It was brought to the United States in the 1920’s by Italian farmers. Broccoli rabe has been most popular in the Italian and Asian communities for the past several years. Broccoli rabe looks similar to thin broccoli stalks with small clusters of buds and smooth leaves with sawtooth edges. Broccoli rabe has a somewhat bitter taste and should be cooked to help mellow that taste. It is an excellant source of vitamin C and also contains beta-carotene, fiber, and phytochemicals.
AVAILABILITY, SELECTION, AND STORAGE Collard Greens Though available year-round, collard greens are at their peak from January through April. The best collards are found in crisp bunches with leaves still intact. Collards can also be found canned. Fresh collards should be stored in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator or in a plastic bag with holes in it.
Mustard Greens Mustard greens can be found year-round though they are at their peak from December through April. Mustard greens come in many different varieties and can be found dark, light, short, fat, smooth, curly etc. In the United States, the leaves on mustard greens are typically soft, green and oval-shaped, frilled at the edges (similar to romaine lettuce) and attached to long stems. When selecting these greens, be sure to avoid those that have yellow or brown leaves, dry leaves, or coarse, fibrous stems. If you plan to use the mustard greens for salad it is wise to pick very small leaves whereas any size leaves will do if you are cooking them. Mustard greens should be wrapped tightly in plastic and kept in the refrigerator. However, they only last a few days quickly becoming faded, dry and yellow.
Kale Kale is available year-round though it is most flavorful and abundant during the winter months. It is best to select small, deep-colored kale bunches with clean leaves. Avoid kale with dry leaves as well as that with dry, browned, yellowed or coarse stems. In the marketplace kale should be kept refrigerated or on ice (or in an outdoor market in the winter). Best when kept at 32°, kale should be stored wrapped in plastic in the refrigerator crisper. Kale can only be kept for a few days.
Swiss Chard Swiss chard is available from spring through the fall with a peak from June through October. Choose swiss chard that has crisp stalks and firm, bright leaves. Like other greens, chard should be wrapped in plastic and can be kept in the refrigerator for approximately 2 days. If blanched, swiss chard greens can be frozen. Boil greens for 2 minutes, drain, chill in ice water and drain again and pack in an airtight container.
Broccoli Rabe Broccoli rabe is available year-round (with the exception possibly being June and July) though its peek season is between late fall and early spring. It is grown in Quebec, California, Arizona, and other states. Broccoli rabe can be found in a refrigerator case sprinkled with ice because it wilts very easily. When selecting this vegetable, choose firm, green, small stems with compact heads and flower buds that are tightly closed and dark green, not open or yellow. Broccoli rabe should be stored in a refrigerator crisper unwashed, either wrapped in a wet towel or in a plastic bag for a maximum of three days. To keep it longer, blanch and freeze it
PREPARATION Prior to cleaning greens, any wilted or yellow leaves should be removed. Next, dunk greens into a bowl of tepid water a few times to clean. Drain and use a salad spinner to dry greens for use in salads. For use in cooking, it is not necessary to completely dry leaves.
Traditionally, greens are boiled or simmered very slowly with a piece of ham hock for an extended period of time until they are quite soft. This softens the texture and decreases some of their bitter flavor. Greens can also be steamed, microwaved, added to soups, salads, stews, and other dishes
To decrease the bitterness of greens, blanch them in boiling water for approximately one minute prior to cooking (though this does diminish some if their nutritional value), the color, flavor and texture will be preserved. Greens can than be sautéed (do not use aluminum or iron pans), or added to various dishes during cooking.
Broccoli rabe is very bitter when raw so it is recommended to cook this vegetable.
INCLUDE COOKING GREENS IN YOUR 5 TO 9 A DAY PLAN! • Chop cooking greens and add to salads. • Stir-fry greens and add your favorite meat and Seasonings. • Sliver greens and add them to broths, stews and soups — they are great for livening up the flavor of more mild vegetables. • Chop cooked greens for use in stuffing, custards, and eye dishes. • Combine chopped greens, pine nuts, and feta cheese with whole grain pasta drizzled with olive oil. • Serve greens as a side dish. They can be served chilled with olive oil and lemon juice or sautéed with onions and garlic or other seasonings. • Don’t forget to include greens with your New Year’s meal for good luck!