June is time for … green!
It’s June, and … everything is green!
After a dry May, June rains made the grass green. The trees’ light early spring sheen has now become a bright, full summer green.
Farmers’ markets and farm stands are full of green! So many greens to choose from. There is, of course, the ubiquitous spinach. There are many varieties of lettuce.
Other greens that may be less familiar to some. Swiss chard, with its bright, thick stems, is a cousin to spinach. So is callacoo — Jamaican spinach with somewhat tougher stems. Beet greens can be cooked or eaten raw in salads. Spicy, tender arugula is delicious in salads. Sweet pea shoots are great in salads as well as stir-fries — but add them at the very end.
And then there are those greens we usually throw out — radish tops and turnip greens. Cook with them as with other greens. They can replace spinach in so many dishes. Even carrot tops can be used; they have a mild flavor.
Greens are superfoods. They contain many phytonutrients that may offer health benefits like disease prevention, reduced cancer risk, improved cardiovascular health and longevity. Most greens are high in lutein, which helps prevent age-related macular degeneration and may keep your heart healthy by preventing cholesterol from sticking to blood vessel walls.
Greens are high in nutrition and low in calories. They have lots of fiber, many antioxidants, minerals like magnesium, potassium, calcium, iron and copper, and vitamins, especially A and C. The darker leaves have a higher concentration of beta carotene (vitamin A).
Stronger-flavored greens — stronger than lettuce, that is — have a bad reputation for bitterness and a leathery or slimy texture. That is because plain, unseasoned, limp greens on a plate neither look nor taste good. The trick to releasing their bountiful bouquet of flavors is in seasoning and cooking — just enough, but not too much. Cooking breaks down their fibrous texture, and seasoning mellows their strong flavor.
One way to prepare strong-flavored or tough greens is to braise them. Cook in a little fat first (like olive oil or bacon drippings) with onions and garlic. Then add just enough liquid (broth or water) to cook until tender. The bitterness can be offset with flavorings like hot peppers, or sharp cheese; acids like wine, vinegar, tomatoes or lemon juice; or sweeteners such as apples, raisins or beets. Nuts, ham or cooked beans added at the end of cooking can offer interesting accents. The finished product will be tender, flavorful and succulent — as well as a nutritional powerhouse.
Greens like radish tops, beet greens, turnip greens, spinach, callaloo, chard, collards and kale are great sauteed with onion and a touch of garlic, or with sausage or bacon. Fold them into eggs for omelets, quiches, frittatas. Stir steamed greens into casseroles. Fold them into rice or pasta dishes like vegetable lasagna. Toss them with cooked pasta, sharp cheese and tomatoes. Stir them into skillets, stir-fries, soups and stews.
Greens are mostly water and will shrink considerably when cooked — so you’ll need a lot! To prepare, separate the more tender leaves from the tougher stems that will need to cook a bit longer (or be put in the compost in the case of collard and kale stems). Rinse in abundant water to remove clinging dirt. No need to spin them dry; the water clinging to the leaves will aid in cooking.
Greens and Sausage Skillet
1/4 pound breakfast sausage
a few garlic scapes, or 1 clove garlic, minced
4 ounces sliced mushrooms (optional)
1/2 to 1 pound fresh greens
1 to 2 cups diced tomatoes
1/4 cup sharp shredded cheese
In skillet, cook sausage to brown. Add onion, garlic, and mushrooms to drippings, and cook 5 minutes. Add the greens, cover, and cook 5 to 20 minutes, until tender. The time will depend on the type of greens you’re using: Some are more tender; others need longer cooking. Stir in tomatoes, and cook a couple of minutes more. Serve over pasta, rice or potatoes. Serves 2.
This is a good dish with spinach, caliloo, beet greens or chard. Tougher greens are good, too, but will need to cook longer, so add more liquid.
1 bunch fresh greens
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon turmeric (optional)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 Tablespoon tomato sauce, optional
2 to 3 Tablespoons sharp shredded cheese
1 Tablespoon bread crumbs
1 cup diced tomatoes, optional
1 strip bacon, or a half-tablespoon of butter or olive oil
Wash greens. Remove tough stems.
Place a quarter-cup of water or broth in the bottom of pan, add greens, cover, and simmer about 5 minutes, or until tender.
Cool slightly and chop coarsely. You can do this right in the pan or on a cutting board. You should have about 1 1/2 to 2 cups.
Beat eggs in a bowl; add seasonings, cheese, bread crumbs and tomato sauce. Stir in greens and their liquid. Option: Stir in 1 cup diced tomatoes.
In a large skillet with a tight-fitting lid, cook bacon until crisp (or coat the skillet with olive oil or melted butter). Remove bacon to paper towels; leave the drippings in the pan.
Pour contents of the bowl into the hot fat and spread to coat evenly. Lower heat, cover tightly, and cook until set. Top with the crumbled bacon, if using. Serve with boiled potatoes or a fresh baguette. Serves 2 to 3.
Author of the award-winning cookbook “Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market,” Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be found at www.yvonafast.com and reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook at Words Are My World.