Greens Triage, 2012

Greens! What to do with them

Julia Harrington Reddy, CSA@ Ansche Chesed Core Group

Greens are plentiful at the beginning of the CSA season, because they like cool wet weather and grow fast.  But when you get several different types of greens at once, it can be overwhelming.  Most people whose pre-CSA experience has been chiefly with spinach try to simply sautée all greens, but disappointment follows when the greens are too tough, or too bitter, to eat.  While you're waiting for inspiration, they are taking up half the fridge.  How to cope? Here are some principles and ideas to make it easier.

#1. Strategize.  Decide what your objective is.  Are you going to cook the greens immediately, or prep and store them for future cooking? 

Often, when I get back from the CSA (in the evening, after working hard all day), I don’t have the energy to cook a full meal.   Indeed, with vegetables that take quite a bit of prep, I may never feel as if I have the time—when I do cook, it has to be relatively fast.   Cooking with CSA produce also has the feature that one can’t plan in advance what to cook: one has to be creative with what’s available.  The mental energy required may be greater than the physical energy!  Which brings us to...

#2. Be your own prep cook.  Washing and chopping doesn’t take any mental energy, and simply knowing that things are already washed and chopped makes cooking later much more appealing. 

For these reasons, it makes sense to separate the prep from the cooking.   On CSA night, the objective is to canvass everything and get in the fridge, under some kind of control.  (When the crisper drawer is so full that one can’t see what’s in there, it’s a recipe for finding soft and moldy radishes and turnips weeks later. )  Also, if you’re about to go on vacation it’s satisfying to preserve the share for use in the future, and even more satisfying to discover later frozen vegetables that you’d forgotten about.   A tidy little freezer bag of chopped greens isn't distressing like a big bushy mass going yellow in the fridge.  Instead, it’s like going to store without spending any money. 

#3. Cut them down to size. 

Greens take up a lot of space because they aren’t very dense.   Fitting greens in the fridge, much less consuming them, means coming to grips with all that volume.  

A key place to start with most green is to separate stems and leaves.   Stems are usually much tougher than the leaves, and therefore need to be treated as a separate vegetable, with different properties. 

Stripping the leaves off the stems  not only reduces the size of the greens but is a first step to conceptualizing what you’re going to cook, since you can think about the leaves and stems separately.   Exceptions are tender lettuce and arugula, and baby beet, radish, and turnip tops.  A rule of thumb is that if the leaves don’t strip off easily by hand, i.e if the stem comes with them, then the stem is leaf-like enough to be treated as a leaf.

For kale, collards, and most chard: you can strip the leaves off the stems by hand.  This is much faster than using a knife.   For braising greens and broccoli rabe, you want to cut off the lower part of the stem that’s really tough.  Distinguish between stems that are just hard, like broccoli, and those that are fibrous.  Hard stems can be cooked soft and used all kinds of ways.  Fibrous stems should be composted.   The best way to tell is just by biting into a small piece of stem.  The difference between crunchy and fibrous is obvious. 

#4 Blanching/parboiling

Let's face it: if all greens were as tender as spinach, life would be easy.  In his book on Mario Batali, Bill Buford quotes Batali as saying, in reference to some greens, "You've got to boil the hell out of them so that you can actually chew the fuckers” (see the Batali recipe involving cauliflower greens at the end of this handout).  Notwithstanding the salty language, it's good to be reassured that celebrity chefs use tough greens; the problem with is not with the greens per se, but with how we cook them.

Once you've separated the stems from the leaves, they should be cooked separately, unless you’re following a recipe that specifies otherwise.  Even the toughest leaves don't require boiling for more than a few minutes (i.e. fewer than 10).  If you're going to freeze the greens, two or three minutes in boiling water is enough—it’s ok for them to be not quite tender enough to eat after this initial blanching, because they will get cooked further at a later time.  Do yourself a favor and chop the leaves after they've been boiled and cooled -- they'll be easier to chop after parboiling, and easier to fish out of the pot if they are whole.   

Officially, blanching includes plunging into icy water after removing from the hot, but in my experience there are no grave consequences if one skips this step.   Yes, you do lose some water-soluble vitamins when you boil in water.  The main loss is of vitamin C (see the table at  If you’re really concerned about conserving vitamins, you can also steam them, or cook them in a very small amount of water in a pressure cooker.  Or, use as little water as possible for the blanching, blanch multiple greens in the same water, and use the same water for boiling stems.  When you’re done, you can either drink the water (seriously—tastier than wheatgrass juice), or use it for cooking rice, couscous, or another grain that will absorb all of it (you can get a lovely effect if you’ve cooked beets in the water: red or pink rice!)

This is where we emphasize that just about every green is edible. If you get a bunch of beets, radishes, or turnips, twist off the stems and leaves and cook them first; they will go bad much sooner than the root vegetables they're attached to. This is an extension of the principle of treating different parts of a vegetable like different vegetables. 

If you’re going to freeze the greens, wait until they are cool (spread them out of a dishtowel and wait a few minutes), and squeeze as much water out of them as possible before freezing.   Use (and re-use) real freezer bags; they protect the vegetables much better.  Freezing doesn’t have to be for months, it can just be for a week or two, until another bunch of the same green turns up at the CSA, or until you are cooking something in which you can use what’s frozen.  Freezers are a great resource for CSA members because often you don’t get everything you need for a meal from the CSA, or you get elements you can’t easily integrate in a single meal.  Freezing gives you time to think and plan.  Just be sure to label freezer bags clearly. 

#5 Boiling or Pressure Cooking for Stems 

Those who are really hard core (pun intended) can cook with the stems.  The toughest stems –all but the really stringy—will succumb if you simmer them long enough.

Once the stems and leaves are separated, chop the stems into short lengths or chunks.  Then you can store them neatly in a bowl or plastic container until you’re ready to cook them.

Blanching—the brief plunge in boiling water described above, is also good for stems before freezing, and if you blanch them they will last longer in the fridge.

A pressure cooker is very handy here—in less than ten minutes, you can transform a hard stem into something soft enough to be delicious with a little salt, pepper, and butter or olive oil.  Fish them out with a strainer with a handle.   Chopped, cooked stems can also be incorporated into soups, casseroles, or curries. 



CRISPS:  this works for all greens, even, surprisingly, lettuce.   Tear (or don’t tear) the leaves into pieces (not too small because they shrink a lot), lightly coat with oil and sprinkle with salt and/or pepper.  Ten minutes in the oven at 350 turns them into a snack of ethereal crispiness.   As with many greens recipes, though, it’s important to separate tough stems from the leaves.  Limitations of this technique are that the chips are very delicate and they lose crispness if stored.  Also, they much too fragile for dipping.  Bitter greens  are still bitter after crisping, although they are so thin that they aren’t unpleasant.

PESTO: you can make pesto out of more than basil—arugula (rocket), for instance.  Or you can use a combination of greens.   Strong-tasting greens are preferable, although you can ramp up the taste with garlic (not too much, because the pesto doesn’t get cooked, just mixed with warm pasta).   Also I wouldn’t recommend this with really fibrous greens.  Once can compensate for fibrousness with extra time in the food processor, but the texture won’t be as smooth.  Also, one may need to add water while processing, because a fibrous green has less moisture in it, in contrast to basil which buzzes down to green liquid quickly.  (I never promised this would be easy J) 

SAAG dishes:  most people know saag dishes from Indian restaurants, the most common being saag paneer (spinach with cubes of cheese).   There are dozens of recipes on the internet.  When these dishes are made with spinach or tender mustard greens, they don't need to be pureed.  However, when using tougher greens, different greens in combination, or when incorporating stems, use of a food processor is essential.  Saag dishes can be quite spicy, and some incorporate yogurt or cream, so it doesn't so much matter what greens you use because you can control the taste and texture. Experiment!

 Five ideas for leftover greens (from Deborah Madison, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone)

1.     Toss them with chickpeas, pasta, diced tomatoes, and freshly grated Parmesan

2.     Toss with boiled diced potatoes and mix in a little grated Gruyere. Or stir them into mashed potatoes

3.     Mix finely chopped cooked greens with cooked rice, barley, quinoa, or pasta

4.     Add greens to potatoes, lentil, and bean soups at the  end of cooking

5.     Chop and combine greens with feta, ricotta salata, or Gruyere, black olives and capers and use them to fill empanadas or spread over toast


Barley and Kale Gratin (From Deborah Madison, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone)

2/3 cup pearl barley, rinsed
Salt and freshly milled pepper
1 large bunch kale, about 1 ¼ pound, stems entirely removed
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 ½ cups milk or stock
¼ teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
½ cup grated Gruyere or provolone

In a saucepan, add the barely to 1 quart boiling water and ½ teaspoon salt and simmer uncovered until tender, about 30 minutes.  Drain. While it’s cooking, cook the kale in a skillet of boiling salted water until tender, about 10 minutes.  Drain, then puree with ¼ cup of the cooking water until smooth.

Preheat the oven to 375 F.  Melt the butter in a small saucepan, whisk in the flour, then add the milk.  Cook, stirring constantly over medium heat, until thick. Season with allspice, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Combine all the ingredients, check the seasonings, then transfer to a lightly buttered baking dish or ramekins.

Bake until lightly browned on top, about 30 minutes.  If you’ve used ramekins, run a knife around the edges, then unmold them by giving them a sharp rap on the counter.  Present them browned side up. 


Swiss Chard and Their Stalks with Chili and Parsley  (From Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers, River Café Pocket Books:  Salads and Vegetables)

1 pound Swiss chard leaves with their stalks
1 dried red chilli, crushed
3 tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley
3 garlic cloves, peeled, 2 finely sliced, 1 whole

Extra virgin olive oil.

Cut the stalks from the chard leaves, trim the edges and cut each stalk across the grain into 1 in pieces.

Cook the leaves in boiling salted water until tender, remove from the pan and chop roughly.  Add the whole garlic clove to the pan and bring the water back to the boil. Test for saltiness, then add the stalks.  Cook for 6 minutes, then drain.

Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a thick-bottomed pan, add the sliced garlic and fry until golden.  Add the chard stalks, chili and season. Stir the stalks around the pan to absorb the flavours.  Add the parsley and continue to fry for 1 minute.  Remove from the heat and add the chard leaves.  Toss together and serve warm. 


Fresh Borlotti Beans and Rocket (From Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers, River Café Pocket Books:  Salads and Vegetables)

3 pounds fresh borlotti beans
(if you use dried, use only 1.5 pounds)
2 garlic cloves peeled
4 sage leaves
4 tbs red vinegar
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
150 g Rocket leaves, washed and spun drive
Olive oil

Cover the beans with cold water in a medium thick-bottomed pan.  Add the garlic and sage.  Bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until soft.  Drain, adding 2 tablspoons vinegar and 3 tablespoons of olive oil.  Mix with rocket and season with mustard and oil.


Any Stems Curry (Originally ‘Banana Stems Curry’, from Andhra Gumagumalu, by Vijayalakshmi Reddy)

2 pounds of stems (broccoli, chard, or green beans, cut into small pieces).  Pressure cook with water, salt and turmeric.
Fry in oil:  3 curry leaves
1 tsp mustard seeds
Pinch of asafoetida
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp urad dal
2 tsp channa (yellow split peas)
Add: 12 green chilies, diced
4 tablespoons tamarind juice
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 tsp jaggery

At the end, add the cooked stems to the fried seasonings.  May add ½ cup grated coconut. 

Greens and Quinoa Pie,  Adapted from the Vegetarian Times (8 servings)

½ c. quinoa, rinsed and drained
1 large bunch chicory*, cut into bite sized pieces (see note below about greens)
1 head romaine*, shredded
3 Tbs. olive oil
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
2 green onions, thinly sliced
¼ cup fresh dill, chopped
¼ c. crumbled feta cheese
¼ cup grated hard goat or swiss cheese
3 eggs, lightly beaten

  1. Place quinoa in small saucepan and toast over medium heat 2-3 minutes or until almost dry.  Add 1 cup water and season with salt.  Cover and bring to a boil.  Reduce hat to medium low and simmer, covered 15 minutes.  Remove from heat and transfer to a large bowl.
  2. Heat large pot over medium heat. Add chicory and cook until wilted stirring frequently or tossing with tongs.  Add romaine and continue to cook until all greens are wilted and crisp tender. (See note below for cooking times based on variety of greens.) Transfer to strainer and squeeze out excess moisture.  Chop into small pieces.  Add to bowl with quinoa.
  3. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Heat 1 Tbs oil in skillet over medium high heat.  Add onions and sauté 10 minutes, or until golden brown.  Add onions to bowl.  Mix in green onions, cheeses and dill until well combined.  Add eggs and mix again.  Add salt & pepper if you like.
  4. Place 1 Tbs. oil in 9” pie plate (or equivalent volume baking dish) and heat in oven 5 minutes.  Put veg mixture into pan and smooth with spatula.  Bake 20 minutes then drizzle last Tbs. oil over top and return to oven for another 20-30 minutes until top is golden brown. 
  • These greens are a spring version.  Collards, broccoli rabe, braising greens, swiss chard, kale – any combination of these autumn/winter greens works very nicely.  Collards take a little longer in the steaming process – I usually cut them into very thin strips to help them cook faster.  They will need about 8-9 minutes.  Braising mix , broccoli rabe or kale about 7 minutes; chard about 5 minutes .  Chicory takes about 4-5 minutes, the romaine only a couple.  You just need to keep your eye on it and toss frequently.  Note – there is no oil in this part of the process – the water in the greens themselves is what steams them. They do not need to be completely tender as they cook a little longer in the pie.


Beet and Beet Green Risotto with Horseradish, from Gourmet, Sept 1998

1 small onion
1 pound red beets with greens (about 3 medium)
4 cups water
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
1 cup Arborio or long-grain rice
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan (about 1 1/2 ounces)
1 tablespoon bottled horseradish

Finely chop onion and trim stems close to tops of beets. Cut greens into 1/4-inch-wide slices and chop stems. Peel beets and cut into fine dice. In a small saucepan bring water to a simmer and keep at a bare simmer.

In a 3-quart heavy saucepan cook onion in butter over moderate heat until softened. Add beets and stems and cook, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes. Stir in rice and cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute. Stir in 1 cup simmering water and cook, stirring constantly and keeping at a strong simmer, until absorbed. Continue cooking at a strong simmer and adding water, about 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly and letting each addition be absorbed before adding next. After 10 minutes, stir in greens and continue cooking and adding water, about 1/2 cup at a time, in same manner until rice is tender and creamy-looking but still al dente, about 8 minutes more. (There may be water left over.) Remove pan from heat and stir in Parmesan.

Serve risotto topped with horseradish. Serves 4.

Frittata (from Bruce Soffer, Ansche Chesed's Resident Caterer)

1 medium onion diced and sautéed in 2 tbl butter
1 pound of wilted spinach or other green
1 cup of heavy cream
1 cup of shredded cheese
4 eggs
Bake in sprayed pan 40 minutes

Mario Batali’s Pennette with Cauliflower Ragu (from Molto Gusto: Easy Italian Cooking) by Mario Batali and Mark Ladner

  • 1 medium cauliflower (about 2 lbs.)
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium white onion, cut into 1/4-in. dice
  • 3 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
  • Maldon or other flaky sea salt
  • 1 1/2 to 2 tsp. hot red pepper flakes
  • 6 tbs. unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 lb. pennette
  • 3/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus extra for serving
  • 1/2 cup coarse fresh bread crumbs, sautéed in 1 tbs. olive oil until golden brown
  • 1 1/2 tsp. minced fresh rosemary

Halve cauliflower. Remove leaves and cut out core and reserve. Cut cauliflower into small bite-size florets, reserving stalks. Chop core, leaves, and stalks.

Combine oil, onion, garlic, and cauliflower core, leaves, and stalks in large pot, season with sea salt, and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until leaves are just beginning to wilt, about 3 minutes. Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring frequently, until leaves are just tender, 18 to 20 minutes.

Add cauliflower florets, red pepper flakes, and 1 cup water and bring to simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to gentle simmer, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until cauliflower is almost falling apart, 22 to 25 minutes. Add butter, stirring gently until it melts; season well with sea salt. Remove from heat.

Bring 6 quarts water to boil in large pot and add 3 tbs. kosher salt. Drop in pasta and cook until just al dente.

Drain pasta, reserving about 1/3 cup pasta water. Add pasta and 1/3 cup reserved water to ragu. Toss over medium heat until pasta is well coated (add more pasta water to thin sauce). Stir in cheese.

Transfer pasta to serving bowl, sprinkle with bread crumbs and rosemary, and serve with additional grated cheese. Serves 6.