Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Battle of the Leafy Greens

The Battle of Leafy Greens
Spring and fall crop share boxes are a steady stream of leafy green stuff.  It comes in a variety of sizes, and often times with yummy things attached to the bottom of it.  Beets, for example.  Or the kohlrabi you made a couple of days ago.  This week, we saw Swiss or rainbow chard in our boxes.  Lettuce is another staple seen often this time of year.  Southern traditional cooking has myriad tasty ways to prepare leafy green stuff.  Many involve bacon, which in my book isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Okay, having it every day, or even alternating days between bacon and salt pork, probably isn’t what the local cardiologist wants to hear about. But geez, bacon makes lots of things tasty.
My wife is vegetable-phobic.  Don’t get me wrong, she loves broccoli.  Adores it.  Pretty much anything other than broccoli, however, I’d need a pile driver to get down her throat.  (Alright, alright, since she’s probably reading this, I’ll be nice from here on out.  Or do my best to anyway.)  She’ll enjoy a salad with most types of lettuce, and eat her broccoli, but anything else I have to get really creative to get her to eat it.  When I first started getting a crop share, one of the first boxes had beets, greens attached, and collards.  I started simple, and there on the table they sat.  Determined, I would make greens she’d eat.  Grrrr…  So I put on my war paint and my toque.
Yes, I actually have a toque.  My godson gave it to me for Christmas one year.  No, I don’t ever wear it.  Ever.  But the white jacket is awesome and since I’m messy, it covers more than an apron.
I dug around looking for dishes using greens and having strong flavors.  Is there anything out there that uses half the spice drawer?  I stumbled across this.  I loved it.  My wife?  Not so much.  She has an aversion to anything with a strong vinegary taste.  So I dissected the recipe a bit.
It involves wilting the greens (chard, beet, almost anything will work), using a particular spice palette, and finishing with a dressing.  In the case of the above recipe, the spices are North African in origin:  cumin, paprika, harissa.  Let’s see how we can modify that.  She likes Greek cuisine.  A Greek palette would have some combination of oregano and dill, garlic, and lemon juice.  Modifying our basic recipe, a dash of dried oregano and dill, a little garlic sautéed in the oil before wilting the greens (briefly, garlic cooks quickly and remember light brown = good, black = bad).  Sprinkle some cardamom in too, and maybe nutmeg.  We’ll skip the hot sauce.  For the dressing, a Greek dish would commonly use lemon juice.  Sprinkle a touch of crumbled feta cheese on top and…
Holy cow, she ate it!
And that was fun!  Sprinkling something extra on top can definitely kick it up a notch.  The feta would give a wonderfully salty flavor to greens.  If you like the North African spices, try some raisins and toasted pine nuts.  (That’s essentially this recipe, which she also ate.)
Hmm… shall we try another?  Something a little farther afield?  French, perhaps?  Awesome!  First off, what are the three main secrets to French cooking?  Butter, butter, and… butter.  Seriously.  Instead of olive oil, we’ll wilt the greens in a bit of butter.  Herbs de Provençe usually contains marjoram, oregano, thyme, and rosemary.  We’ll use that.  Season with salt and pepper too.  Instead of strong white vinegar, try a bit of Balsamic.  Very nice!
What I’m trying to condense here is several years of my life spent screwing things up in the kitchen, and countless hours reading cookbooks of all sorts.  This is the approach I use to “branch out” recipes.  First, figure out what palette the seasonings come from.  Switch to a different palette, and use the same techniques in the recipe.  Give this a try with any recipe you’ve prepared often enough to be very familiar.  Pick a different region’s flavors, and you’ve just invented something new and fresh.  Trust me, there will be plenty of, “Uh, yeah, that particular combination doesn’t work and let’s not do that again.”  By and large, experience will be your teacher but only if you give her a chance.

If you modify one of your recipes, post a link to the original in the comments and tell me what you changed.  I can’t wait to see how creative you can be.  Happy cooking!

No comments:

Post a Comment