Cooking with Greens

Fresh from the garden and rich in flavor, this family of veggies offers delicious taste, valuable nutrients and fast cooking time. Today’s markets offer an assortment of tender young salad greens and several varieties of firmer, meatier greens, ideal for cooking. Growing almost as weeds, they have been used for millennia by various cultures and have been rediscovered by today’s great chefs and health-oriented cooks. This class offers you the fastest and most basic way to integrate greens into your diet. You’ll want to try using greens in soups, pastas, pizzas, sandwiches and as wrappers (like dolmades).

We’ll begin today’s class with mesclun, a salad of assorted, wild greens with a dijon vinaigrette. Four different cooked greens are then prepared in their common international style. Swiss chard sauteed with olive oil and garlic, doused with balsamic vinegar is a common dish throughout Italy. Spinach with toasted cashews and garam masala is a variation of a classic Indian preparation. Throughout the orient, fresh greens abound: we’ll have bok choy stir-fried with shitake mushrooms and red peppers. Finally, a lower fat version of the classic Southern U.S. dish: mustard greens, this time with a lemon-yogurt sauce.

When using greens, always remember to wash them well. Rinsing them under running water is the best way to thoroughly remove any dirt or insects that may be left on the leaves. By then putting them in the basket of a salad spinner, you can let a little water drain off, retaining what is left clinging to the leaves for steaming the greens. Most essential is that you buy the freshest available. Each leaf should be tender and crisp, not wilted or brown.


Whether fresh, stir-fried, steamed, sauteed or used as a wrapper, fresh greens should grow to constitute a large part of our diet. We all know green veggies are supposed to be nutritious (remember Popeye with his can of spinach)? Well, he was right! These dark green leafy vegetables are amongst the most nutritious. They’re rich in minerals such as calcium, magnesium, potassium and iron. Antioxidants like beta-carotene and vitamin C are prevalent as well. Greens contain a few grams of fiber per serving, too. Once you discover their velvety texture and meaty flavor, you’ll naturally include them frequently in your ever-improving diet!



Bok Choy with Shitake Mushrooms, Red Pepper and Broccoli
(serves 2 in 20 minutes)


One key to delicious stir-fry is to have all the ingredients cleaned, chopped and set out in bowls, ready to add at just the right time. Harder veggies, such as onion and broccoli need to cook longer than the more tender ones, such as the greens and mushrooms. Another important aspect to stir-fry is assembling the right colors, flavors and textures. This combination really works and is perfect for a fast dinner at the end of a hard day at the office.
Reheat rice while you stir-fry and you’ll be eating dinner within 30 minutes!

1/2 red onion, diced (~1 cup)
2 cups broccoli flowerettes, cleaned
1/2 red bell pepper, sliced into strips
1 bunch of bok choy, rinsed and sliced
1 cup shitake mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1 tablespoon ginger root, minced
3 cloves garlic, pressed
3 tablespoon canola, peanut or sesame oil
1 1/2 tablespoons tamari, mixed with 1 1/2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons of toasted cashews

1) Prepare the ingredients: Rinse the bok choy well and chop off the bottom 2 inches of the stalk and discard it. Slice the stems on the diagonal about 1/2 inch wide and set aside in a bowl. Slice the leaves an inch wide and set aside. Chop the onion and slice the red pepper and set aside together. Clean the broccoli, break into flowerettes and put it with the onions and pepper.
With a damp cloth, clean any dirt off of the shitake mushrooms, cut into big bite-sized slices and put with the bok choy leaves. Mince the ginger and garlic. Measure out the tamari and water into a small cup.
2) In large wok, heat the oil over medium-high to high heat and drop in a piece of ginger. When it sizzles, add the ginger and garlic and cook for 15 seconds.
3) Add the onion, red pepper and broccoli, tossing every few seconds for 3 minutes.
4) Add the mushrooms and continue stir-frying for another minute.
5) Add the bok choy stems and stir-fry for about a minute, followed by the bok choy leaves. Add the tamari/water mixture and toss until the veggies are done, about 3-5 more minutes.
6) Garnish the stir-fry with the toasted cashews and serve with basmati rice and gamasio, the delicious toasted sesame salt.



Swiss Chard with Garlic, Olive oil and Balsamic Vinegar
(serves 2 in 15 minutes)


This is a classic Italian dish is delicious, easy to prepare and makes a great accompaniment to pasta, baked potatoes, chicken or lamb.

1 bunch of fresh, tender swiss chard (green or red)
1 bunch of spinach
2 tablespoons olive oil
2-4 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

1) Thoroughly rinse the swiss chard and spinach under running water to remove all traces of dirt and debris, allowing any remaining water to cling to the leaves. Tear or cut horizontally into 4 or 5 inch strips, discarding the tough inner stalk of the swiss chard.
2) Heat the olive oil over medium heat and saute the garlic until it starts to turn golden.
3) Add the swiss chard first and cover with the spinach. Add the water, cover and steam for 5 minutes.
4) Add the balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper and toss the swiss chard again.
Cover for 1 or 2 more minutes, then serve.



Sauteed Mustard Greens and Spinach
(serves 1-2 in 15 minutes)

This is a variation of the traditional southern “mess of greens”, where collards, kale and mustard greens are cooked for hours with lard and a ham hock. To reduce saturated fat and yet still preserve the richness and flavor the fat provides, garlic, onions and peppers are sauteed in olive oil and toasted pumpkin seeds add a bacon-like flavor. Enjoy!

1 bunch mustard greens (3/4-1 pound)
1 bunch spinach
2 T. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1 tsp. hot red pepper (optional) and 1/4 c. red bell pepper, minced
1/2 red onion, diced
1 Tbsp. lemon mixed with 1 Tbsp. water
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
toasted pumpkin seeds

Rinse the greens well, allowing water to cling to the leaves. In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium high heat and saute the garlic, onion and red pepper until just starting to brown. Stuff in the mustard greens first and cover them with the spinach. Steam for 5 minutes. Sprinkle with the lemon water, add the salt and toss lightly. Steam another minute or two until cooked. Serve with the yogurt-mustard sauce and top with the toasted pumpkin seeds.


Yogurt-Mustard Sauce
(makes 1/4 cup)


1/4 cup plain yogurt
1/4 tsp. lemon zest
1 clove garlic, pressed
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
sprinkle of cayenne pepper

Blend all the ingredients briefly and serve over the hot greens.



Salad of Wild Greens with Dijon Vinaigrette
(serves 2-4)

1 bunch spinach
1 bunch oak leaf lettuce, red leaf lettuce or bib lettuce
handful of arugala or “rocket” lettuce,
handful of mizuna
handful of mache (or substitute sunflower sprouts)
1 “head” of belgian endive
chive or nasturtium flowers
toasted slivered almonds


Using whatever greens are available, according to your location and season, rinse and spin them dry in a salad spinner. Tear into bite-sized pieces. Cut the bottom off the belgian endive and use the tips to surround the serving plates. Toss the greens with 1 T. of the dijon vinaigrette per person.
Place the dressed greens in the center. Garnish with 1 T. toasted almonds per serving and the blossoms of any edible flowers available. Enjoy the simple splendor of this freshest of salads….


Dijon Vinaigrette
(makes 3/4 cup)

1/4 cup water
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 T. balsamic vinegar
1 T. lemon juice
1 T. dijon mustard
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 t. fresh minced basil (or 1/2 t. dried)
1 t. fresh minced tarragon ” ” “
1 t. fresh minced oregano ” ” “
1/4 t. salt
fresh ground pepper to taste


Blend all ingredients in a blender for 30 seconds and allow to sit for maximum flavor to develop. This dressing has 43 calories per tablespoon and 41 of those calories are from fat. (About 4.5 grams of fat/T.). Since most “Italian” style salad dressings have around 80 calories per tablespoon with 9 grams of fat, this is a flavor-filled winner.



Steamed Spinach with Toasted Cashews and Garam Masala
(serves 4)


This delicious, nutritious and fast Indian dish can be prepared in about 15 minutes. Allow one bunch of spinach per person. This is excellent with red lentil dahl and basmati rice.

4 bunches spinach, cleaned, stems removed and spun almost dry
2-3 T. ghee or butter
2 T. ginger
3 cloves garlic
1/2 t. coriander, ground
1/2 t. fennel
1/2 t. black mustard seeds
2 T. lemon juice
1/4 cup cashews, toasted
1/4 cup currents
1/2 t. garam masala
1/2 t. salt

Heat 2 T. ghee in a large pot (6 qt.). Once hot, add the coriander, fennel, black mustard seeds, ginger and garlic and stir for 30 seconds. Add the spinach, cramming it all in and stirring to “melt” it down. Cover and stir once or twice in the next 5 minutes. In another pan, heat 1 T. ghee and quickly puff the currents. Towards the end of the 5 minutes of steaming the spinach, add the lemon juice, and cover again for a minute. Then add the salt, cashews, currents and garam masala. Stir to mix and serve steaming hot with lemons slices as a garnish.


Garam Masala
(makes about 1/3 cup)

This is a variant of the classic moghul garam masala. The spices should be roasted briefly to bring out their full flavors. Store in a tightly sealed jar for future use.
2 t. cardamom seeds
2 T. cumin seeds
2 T. coriander seeds
1 T. black peppercorns
3/4 t. whole cloves
2 t. cinnamon, powdered (or 1 stick, 3 inches long)

Put the first 4 ingredients in a pan which has been pre-heated for a couple of minutes. Roast them over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, for about 5-7 minutes. Expect a little smoke as the seeds begin to brown and give off their fragrance, but they will burn if not attended to constantly. As soon as they are nicely browned, transfer them to a clean, dry dish and allow to cool. Add in the cinnamon and cloves and grind together in a coffee mill or mini-processor. Use wherever garam masala is called for.


Dr. Sally LaMont practices in Marin County, California and can be reached at (415) 267-7679

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