I have a love/hate relationship with leafy greens. I *love* salad greens -- all of them, even the bitter ones like frisee, arugula and radicchio. The soft ones, Bibb, Boston, oak leaf, limestone lettuces ? Love 'em. The crunchy ones, Romaine, Cos, even humble old Iceburg...yeah, love them too. Leafy, soft, bitter, crunchy, they all find their way into my salad bowl, my tacos, my burgers, and my meatloaf sandwiches. Love cabbage, slaws are one of my favorite veggie side dishes, and I even have a warm spot in my heart for cooked cabbage.
Even as a child, I loved spinach (yeah, I was a weird kid). I loved it even more when I grew up and discovered mid-20th Century spinach salads. But then, what's not to love about a salad with a dressing made with hot bacon grease? That would make a pair of sweat socks taste good....
But the "hearty" greens ? Yeah. Not so much. Part of my hesitancy to embrace them was that I didn't grow up with them. Collards, kale, chard, mustard/turnip greens were not something that ever entered the culinary radar of my Mom's kitchen, so I wasn't exposed to them. I have vague memories of eating hearty greens cooked Indian-style, at restaurants, and when co-workers would bring in home-cooked food for me to sample. But they were never something I sought out on my own, or would ever dream about ordering in a restaurant. Actually, not 100% true...on a trip to Atlanta, we ate at a "traditional" Southern restaurant, and of course, collards were on the menu. I was...not impressed.
So, fast forward to about 8 months ago. I'd been toying with the idea of joining a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) group for a while, and found one that seemed (and is) a good fit. My first share arrived in September last year, and it was fabulous. Of course, since it was the tail end of summer, there were tons of tomatoes, a windfall of fresh figs (swooooon), herbs, lettuces, zucchini, all the bounty you'd expect from a September harvest. I was in heaven.
Summer faded into Fall, and thence into Winter, as it has a habit of doing. And, even with our mild climate and year 'round growing conditions, the offerings in the box were decidedly, well, less varied and succulent than that first box in September had been.
Greens. Lots of hearty, leafy greens. And hard squashes, with which I also had some *issues*, but that's a whole other story. I got collards, I got kale, I got chard, I got mustard greens, I got bok choy (which I actually knew how to cook !). Occasionally, I got some cabbage (yay !), or some broccoli (double yay !), but I got a lot of greens. A WHOLE lot of greens. And I had vowed when I joined the CSA that I would use my entire share each time, no matter how much I thought I didn't like something, or how foreign it was to me. I would not just let it slime in the crisper drawer until it was disgusting enough that I could throw it away with a clear conscience.
So. I had to learn to face the "hate" part (or rather, the "ambivalent" part) of my relationship with leafy greens.
And....and....you know what? They're pretty damn good. Now, I wouldn't put collard greens in the 10 ten all time favorite foods of mine, but they're...OK. I can enjoy them, and I made a great pot of them (with the pot likker) along with some Hoppin' John and cornbread for a totally traditional, Southern New Year's meal. I used mustard greens in an Indian dish similar to saag (which is very cooked down, highly seasoned spinach, which I love). I used Swiss chard as a taco filling (pretty good, not stellar, but pretty good), in a pasta dish with some olive oil and Parmesan, and just quick sauteed with some garlic, chorizo sausage and red pepper flakes. I even, willingly, saved the beet greens from the beets in last week's share and had them as a side dish to my Good Friday fish.
The most successful has been this dish with the Swiss chard, which is a riff on dolmades, or stuffed grape leaves. I served it with a couscous pilaf, and quartered cherry tomatoes. It's a very easy dish, done in less than an hour, and totally open to all sorts of individualization. The first time I made it, I used ground turkey and ground pork. The second time was all ground pork, and the last was all ground beef. All the combinations worked, so use what makes sense to you and your palate. I wouldn't use all ground poultry though; it would be too dry. (As an afterthought....ground lamb would totally make the Middle Eastern vibe even stronger. I bet that would be best yet. *Mental note* to try that next time.)
Southern California Stuffed Chard
1&1/4 pound ground turkey, lamb or beef
1/4 pound ground pork
1 large clove garlic, chopped
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground pepper
1 tsp. salt
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/2 tsp. each dry oregano and thyme
2 tblsp. pine nuts, toasted
1/2 tsp. Tabasco-type hot sauce (or, you know what...? Sriracha would rock in this)
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup milk
15 chard leaves, lower stems removed, and reserved
2 tblsp. butter
2 medium onions, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4-1/2 tsp. dried red pepper flakes
2 cups chicken broth/stock
1/4 cup lemon juice
1-2 tblsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup sour cream or thick yogurt
Mix the filling ingredients and set aside. Blanch the leaves in boiling, salted water for 2 minutes. Drain, and lay flat on towels to dry.
Using several rounded tablespoons, depending upon the size of the leaf, fill each dried, blanched chard leaf and roll to enclose filling. It's easiest, and neatest, to put your filling toward the pointed end of the leaf, roll over once or twice, then fold in the sides to enclose the filling. Then continue rolling to the wide, base of the leaf. Put the "seam" on the bottom to keep the bundle closed.
Finely chop the reserved stems. Melt the 2 tablespoons butter in a saute pan over medium heat. Saute the stems, onions, garlic and red pepper flakes until the onion is soft. Chop any excess chard leaves, and add them after the onion is done, and stir to incorporate. Top the veggies with the chard bundles. Add the stock, and sprinkle with lemon juice. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and drizzle each bundle with a little of the olive oil.
Cover the pan, and let simmer for about 35 minutes, or until the filling is done.
Remove the chard bundles from the pan, and set aside (cover with foil to keep warm). Don't those look pretty, (even though, sadly, the brilliant color on the rainbow chard variety fades during cooking)?
Bring the sauce back up to a strong boil, and cook until reduced by half, about 5-10 minutes. Remove from heat, and add sour cream or yogurt, and stir to blend.
Serve with rice, couscous or other grains (polenta might be amazing, actually) to absorb the tangy, creamy sauce, and garnish with additional lemon wedges to squeeze over to taste.