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Cooking Greens for Greens Haters


From arugula to turnips, fall is the season for beautiful and nutritious cooked greens. Is there someone at your house who hates greens? The 10 ways to cook greens outlined here may convert them! Even if they are not swayed by Sicilian-style polenta with kale or Swiss chard strata, we greens lovers can always use fresh ideas to make fall a little more flavorful. 

Alton Brown's 2005 Good Eats episode called Field of Greens includes a killer recipe for Mustard Green Gratin, various versions of which get gobbled up fast at my house. Indeed, mixtures of cooked greens, eggs, milk, cheese and a little flour (which "set" when baked in a 325 degree oven) can be poured into a pie crust to make quiche, or you can stay crustless with a Spanish-style frittata.

A casserole bound together with egg and stale bread, called a strata, is easy and delicious when made with greens. Layer stale bread with chopped wilted greens, caramelized onions and fontina (or another nice melting cheese) in a buttered casserole dish. Pour in a mixture of 3 eggs and 1 cup milk, with a little cheese and bread crumbs on top. Bake until bubbly and set, and you have a great one-dish meal.

Making the most of the soft texture of cooked greens, Italians often enjoy them over polenta. My version of polenta – a half and half mixture of grits and coarsely ground whole cornmeal, cooked in lightly salted water until it stiffens – makes a fabulous bed for a mound of greens, roasted sweet peppers and grated hard cheese.

Medium-sized leaves picked from chard, kale and some types of mustard can be used as wrappers for not-really-cabbage rolls. Make a mixture of rice and meat, or rice and beans, or bulgur and mushrooms (you get the idea), roll it up in trimmed greens leaves, and place the rolls seam side down in a greased baking dish. Cover tightly, bake for about 45 minutes, and serve with a spicy-sweet condiment or mustard.

Speaking of condiments, fruits like apple, pear, raisins or currants make great flavor companions for cooked greens, or you might serve homemade chutneys with your greens. When making warm dressings for wilted salads, use balsamic vinegar to add a touch of sweetness.

When you're short on time, try one-pot pasta or rice. Have a bowl of clean, chopped greens ready to stir into hot pasta or rice just as it gets done. Put on the lid, let it steam a few minutes, and add additional ingredients (like chopped olives or roasted walnuts), maybe some salad dressing, or simply top with feta cheese and maybe some crisp crumbled bacon.

My last tip (please add more in the Comments section below!) is to gob on the garlic. Three big cloves is not too many – you may want 4 or 5 when seasoning a large pot of greens or a casserole. Don't want garlic? Try a half teaspoon of fennel, dill or anise seeds instead. In addition to adding flavor, they tame the aroma of simmering greens, which is greatly appreciated by people who hate them.

Above: Why not mix and match your greens? Chard, turnips, arugula, mizuna and other greens can be chopped and cooked together in endless combinations. Photo by Barbara Pleasant.

norman delorey
12/31/2011 2:58:12 PM

Two great recipes you must try! Portuguese Kale and Potato Soup, which is a classic in the old country as well as places with a lot of folks of Portuguese heritage, like here in New England. One typical recipe: On the fresh side, try a quick salad of finely sliced kale leaves, chopped red pepper, toasted sesame or sunflower seeds, and a simple dressing of rice vinegar, toasted sesame or olive oil, sugar, salt, and pepper to taste. Hideously nutritious!

anna hackman
12/31/2011 5:34:43 AM

@Maria, Russian Kale isn't bitter. It is a biannual plant for me. One year it grows, next year it goes to seed, and following year new kale. It can spread pretty quickly. My favorite greens recipe is really easy. Garlic, soy sauce, and mix of greens. You can add broccoli and/or cauliflower if you want. So amazing. See the recipe here:

maria hamilton
12/30/2011 8:23:53 PM

I would like to grow kale in my garden if I could find a good recipe to eat it. Are there any varieties that aren't so bitter? I would also like to keep from cooking any green "to death" if I can help it.

patricia campbell
12/30/2011 7:08:33 PM

A couple of years ago I grew collards so vigorous that they overwintered and continued for a second year. My kids don't like collards, so I chopped them and "snuck" them into stir fry, spaghetti sauce, turkey burgers, stews, and even macaroni and cheese. I got no complaints.

12/23/2010 1:18:12 PM

Good tips, thank you. I like to cook collards with a tiny bit of bacon grease, a good splash of vinegar, and a ham hock. I cook them for a good, long time until they are very tender. Add a dash of red pepper flakes and most folks forget they don't like greens.