Autumn is abundance season for leafy greens, and there will be days when your harvest basket is overrun with arugula, beet greens, chard, collards, kale, spinach, or perhaps some frilly mustard. Then it will happen again a few days later! Greens are on the table almost every day at my house this time of year, which poses creative challenges. Here are some of my favorite ways to make it fun to eat more greens, which contain more nutrients per bite than any other garden crop.
1. Green Crusts for Casseroles
You can double the vitamins in a pan of baked macaroni and cheese by lining the baking dish with fresh garden greens. Oil the dish first to prevent sticking, lay down a few layers of arugula, beet greens, chard or spinach, and top with any casserole-type filling, for example baked pasta or scalloped potatoes. You can go green with crusts used for quiches, too. You may need to slit the stem ends of raw chard, collard or kale leaves to flatten them, but once filled with an eggy filling and baked, the greens form an elegant, gluten-free crust. Try this technique with baked polenta, too. The high-contrast green and gold layers are lovely, and each piece of polenta comes with its own little base of greens.
2. Creamed Greens
Steaming-hot cooked greens will go from boring to great in one minute with the addition of cream, or you can use a chunk of melted cream cheese. Add some fresh chopped garlic if you like, or perhaps a crunchy topping of croutons or French fried onions. Chard, kale and spinach are especially wonderful when coated with cream.
Many mustards are slightly bitter, which becomes an asset when they are used in rich frittatas containing pasta, eggs, and milk or cream. It’s always a good idea to tame strong-flavored mustard greens by blanching them in boiling water for a minute or two before adding them to creamy baked dishes. Squeeze the cooked greens with your hand to eliminate excess moisture before adding them to the mix.
3. Saag and Other Sauces
Indian restaurants in the US use spinach to make the rich green sauce called saag, but you can substitute chard, beet greens or turnip greens if you like. Saag is often served with paneer cheese, cut into chunks, or sometimes potatoes, and always rice. The basic recipe goes like this: Stir fry a big bowl of chopped greens in 3 tablespoons butter until soft, about 5 minutes. Push the greens to the edges of the pan, and add 2 cloves of chopped garlic, one tablespoon chopped ginger, and about 1 teaspoon each of cumin, turmeric, coriander, and salt. Cook 5 minutes more, so the greens and spices can meld. Puree with a food processor or immersion blender.
You also can make an interesting mustard sauce with cooked mustard greens pureed with a little olive oil and Dijon mustard. It’s an excellent dip for pretzels or other sturdy breads.
4. Spicy Condiments
Perhaps the easiest way to eat more greens is to make big-flavor condiments by mixing cooked, chopped greens with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, or perhaps sesame oil and lemon juice, and expanding from there. Raisins or other dried fruit will evoke a fresh chutney, and hot peppers can turn up the heat. You can add chopped garlic, ginger, or green onion, too, or maybe some caramelized onions for extra sweetness and depth. Chopped olives or capers? Pickled peppers? There are endless ways to fine-tune condiments made with garden greens so that they fit perfectly with the rest of the meal.
5. Immunity Soups
Soup season is coming on fast, and there is nothing like a handful of greens to raise the health quotient and eye appeal of soups and stews. I like to freeze a nice supply of chopped cooked greens in silicone muffin pans, and then combine them with other garden goodies like dried tomatoes and frozen peppers to make what we call Immunity Soup. It’s one of my favorite ways to eat more greens.