Fall. Finally. These are the days for greens, and I don’t think I have ever enjoyed them in such abundance or prepared in so many different ways as I have this year.
My greens tasting journey actually began a month or two ago before the earth started cooling (that was only last week, after all). I wandered over to the Starkville Café for lunch, was looking over the veggie selection on the board, and saw that one of the day’s offerings was “Dancing Greens.” Intrigued, I asked the chief cook and bottle-washer what exactly that meant. His answer was something along the lines of, “I threw two kinds of greens in the pot together, let them do their thing, then put a lotta’ love into them.” Well, now. That was a pretty good description, so I circled them on my dance card and added a little splash of pepper sauce when they arrived. Definitely worth a second spin around the plate.
As the fall’s first early-morning coolness showed signs of settling in, I made my way over to the Maben Farmer’s Market and snagged a big bunch of mustard greens. Before this bunch, I can only recall cooking greens on my own about, oh, once. I love to eat them, and almost always order them when I can, but I just hadn’t had a lot of experience with cooking leaves. And it showed. In my zeal to clean them properly, I somehow overshot my mark and ruined the half-bunch that I hadn’t given to my mother. Hers turned out just fine, of course, so I can be confident that it was my technique that did mine in. I guess I should have given her the whole bunch and stayed for dinner. It was a bit sad and disappointing, but I have learned a lesson and moved on with my life.
In the final days of September we began getting weekly batches of mixed veggies from Old Well Organic Farm. The first few batches had a small bunch of varied greens – just the right size for a family with two kids who are not yet overly enthusiastic about greens on their dinner plates. Over the weeks we have seen mustards, collards, turnips, Japanese reds, and Russian kale. Talk about your dancing greens – this was a real international hoe-down. They were also just the right size for me to try some new recipes without risking another giant bunch.
The first week I used a recipe from the Food Network show “5 Ingredient Fix”. Here’s the abbreviated version (since I most likely altered it, anyway). I heated some olive oil in my pot and sautéed a little diced onion in the oil with smoked paprika and cayenne pepper until the onion was softened. Then I added a little water and the greens and cooked them down until the water was cooked off and the greens were tender. A tip: be careful to adjust the amount of cayenne pepper depending on how big a bunch of greens you have. I didn’t, but it was still within a tolerable heat range and the paprika added a nice smoky touch.
The following week was very similar, but the recipe was based on Rachael Ray’s Sweet and Sour Collards. This one reminded me a little of the Caribbean Collards I ate at the Market Café in Louisville. I started with a couple of pieces of bacon, fried until just crisp, then removed from the pot. With the remaining bacon drippings, a little olive oil, salt and pepper, I cooked some diced onion till soft – maybe some garlic, too. (I should have kept better notes.) Again, I added the greens and a little water and cooked them down until tender. Just before I took them out, I added the bacon (now chopped), a shot of balsamic vinegar and an equal shot of maple syrup. Rachael’s recipe called for white balsamic and honey, but I went with what I had in the kitchen at the time – ya gotta dance with who brung ya.
Our bag the next week included a big scallop squash, some flat-leaf parsley, more greens and a recipe for using it all. This turned out to be pretty much the same song, different verse: heat the oil and cook the onion a bit, then add diced squash, some garlic, and chopped parsley, cooking until the squash is just tender. Then add a little water, the greens and chopped parsley and cook to desired tenderness. Add salt and pepper to taste and it’s done. This sounded too simple to be as great as it tasted, but I couldn’t get enough. Go figure.
Get your greens while the gettin’ is good. Sauté them till tender, boil them to life, or just let them dance. If your kids won’t eat them, more for you.
Jay Reed is a local foodie and pharmacist. The culinary tastes expressed here are his and do not necessarily reflect the appetites of the Starkville Daily News or individual members of its staff. He welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org .