I discovered years ago at Taco Bell that cooked lettuce is pretty disgusting. However, there are many more greens that are really delightful when cooked. Kale seems to be the fashionable green of the season, but spinach, turnip greens, arugula, “spicy mix” salad greens, dandelion greens and radish tops are also wonderful when cooked. However, that being said, it’s really easy to over cook greens into a disgusting blob of nastyness (think creamed spinach at a 24-hour buffet restaurant). Go easy on the heat and you can cook almost any green.
I have three different methods that I use to cook greens: the hot toss, the steam and the pourover. I think any types of greens will work with any method, but you might find ways that you like better.
Method 1 – The Hot Toss.
With the Hot Toss, you make a hot, fatty dressing and toss the greens to coat and wilt slightly.
1. Wash the greens, but leave a little moisture clinging to the leaves. It helps them cook faster.
2. Prep ingredients for the dressing. The recipe cooks quickly, so make sure to have everything set out and be ready to serve immediately. For a good hot toss, you need a very fatty dressing, so use a ratio of 4 parts fat to 1 part other stuff. Fats that work well are flavorful: butter, schmaltz, bacon grease or olive oil. For other stuff, use minced aromatics (garlic, onion, shallot), salty/umami tastes (soy sauce, anchovies, fish sauce), sweet flavors (sugar, honey, moleasses) or bitter/acidic tastes (prepared mustard, lemon/lime juice). Three combinations I like are:
- 1 tsp minced shallot, 2 tsp honey, 1 tsp mustard with 4 tbsp butter.
- zest of one lemon, 1 tbsp lemon juice, 1 tsp anchovy paste with 4 tbsp butter or olive oil. (especially tasty with Lacinato kale or dandelion greens.)
- 1 tsp minced garlic, 2 tsp soy sauce, 1 tsp chinese mustard with 3 tbsp vegetable oil and 1 tbsp sesame oil.
3. Heat the fat in a nonstick skillet. Cook the aromatics (if you’re using them) until soft. Add the other flavors and whisk to combine. (This is the “hot” part.)
4. (Here comes the “toss” part.) Take the pan off the heat and add about a third of the greens, using tongs to toss them with the hot dressing. Once those greens are wilted, add another third of the greens and keep tossing with the tongs. Once those greens are coated and just beginning to wilt, add the last third and toss briefly. If the greens aren’t wilting, you might need to put the pan back on low heat to keep the dressing hot. Serve immediately.
Method 2 – The Steam
With The Steam, you steam the greens until crisp-tender then combine at the end with a simple, light sauce.
1. Like above, wash the greens and leave a little water clinging.
2. Prepare ingredients for the dressing. Unlike the hot toss, the dressing should be mostly flavorful liquids, especially vinegars and chili sauces. You can use a little fat, but don’t use very much. I don’t often use aromatics either. For each combination, use about 3 parts liquid to 1 part other stuff.
- 3 tbsp rice wine vinegar and 1 tbsp chili garlic paste or a big squirt of sriracha
- 2 tbsp mirin (Japanese sweet cooking wine), 1 tbsp water, 1 tbsp soy sauce, sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds
- 3 tbsp white wine and juice of one half of a lemon.
3. Heat the pan over medium-high heat. Add all of the greens in one giant pile. Pour the liquid (vinegar, mirin/water, or wine) over the top of the greens. Quickly cover with a tight-fitting lid. The liquid will turn to steam and cook the greens. After a minute, take off the lid and turn the greens with tongs, making sure everything is wilting. Thicker greens like kale or bok choi will take another minute to steam.
4. Once the greens are tender, turn off the heat, add the rest of the dressing ingredients and toss to coat.
Method 3 – The Pourover
With The Pourover, you make a super-rich sauce or dressing and pour it over the top of the arranged greens, letting the greens wilt with the heat and allowing lots of extra sauce to pool in the bottom of the serving dish. This ain’t healthy. Sorry.
1. Again, wash your greens. However, use the salad spinner or towels to get as much moisture off as possible.
2. Arrange your greens artfully in a serving bowl with a bottom well to collect extra sauce or dressing. You can add other salad fixings to this recipe too, making into more of a meal. Some possible additions: chopped boiled egg, bacon, croutons, finely shredded or julienne cut vegetables, green onions, etc…
3. Make a really unhealthy sauce. My favorites are:
- bacon grease with salty beef boullon (use a cube) and cider vinegar
- Burre Blanc (lemon-butter sauce. See Child, J. Mastering the Art of French Cooking vol 1, Chapter 1.)
- Hollandaise sauce (see above, same chapter)
- Basic mayo, heated gently.
4. Pour the really unhealthy sauce over the greens. Really pour a LOT of it over the top. The point is to drown the boring stuff in really tasty stuff. Be generous. Serve from the bowl, and use a big spoon to add any sauce or dressing from the bottom of the bowl back on top of the individual servings of greens.