AS THE WEATHER changes it can feel like there’s nothing local left to harvest. But a peek at any area P-patch is probably all you need to discover that we grow braising greens remarkably well around here. Stands at local farmers markets are brimming, and at Montlake Elementary School, for example, the collards in the garden are taller than many of the students!
The greens are ready just in time, too. We bundle up to keep the chill out and dream of great big pots of hearty, healthy food bubbling on the stove, and braising greens fit the bill: They can withstand the heat of cooking without melting, and they’re a great source of vitamins. Plus they’re high in fiber but low in calories.
Traditionally they include dark greens with thick, rough skins such as kale, collards, mustard greens and Swiss chard as well as beet and turnip greens and mizuna. Even if the leaves are tender, as long as they have enough flavor and structure that will hold up, they’ll make delicious braising greens. Bok choy, for example, is a staple stir-fry ingredient, and few greens braise more beautifully than an intact head of endive.
Collards and kale are popular winter greens because they actually become more flavorful after being exposed to a frost. Collards have large, smooth, thick leaves with pale ribs. Red Russian kale has smooth, flat leaves that are more tender than curly kale varieties. Cavolo nero (also called lacinato or dinosaur kale) has blue-green leaves and is often used in Italian cooking. Its flavor and quilted texture hold up well in stews. Swiss chard has shiny ribbed leaves, and the ribs come in bright shades of red, yellow and orange. Young chard is tender and mild, but gets tougher and more bitter as it matures. Mustard greens generally have a stronger flavor than the others.
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Because braising greens are often slightly bitter and can be quite pungent, they can stand up to all sorts of flavorful additions such as anchovies, garlic or vinegar. One of my favorite ways to prepare chard is to cut out the ribs, chop them and sauté them with plenty of onions until they’re soft, add the leaves cut into ribbons, season, and braise the mixture with sweet golden raisins. Just before serving, I add salted, toasted pine nuts. The Patty Pan Grill often includes braising greens in the grilled vegetable quesadillas they sell at local farmers markets. At the Vios Cafes, Thomas Soukakos’ braised greens are so popular they never leave the menu.
Vios Cafe Braised Greens
Makes 4 servings
¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
A pinch to ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 pound braising greens, roughly chopped (Vios uses chard, mustard and lacinato kale)
Kosher salt, to taste
¼ cup cold water
Lemon juice, to taste
Heat ¼ cup of the olive oil in a large pan over high heat. Add the garlic and pepper flakes and sauté for 30 seconds just to infuse the oil with flavor and soften the garlic. Add the greens and sauté until they begin to wilt, about 2 minutes. Season with salt, add ¼ cup cold water, stir to mix and cover tightly.
Reduce the heat to medium and cook until the leaves are as tender as you like them, at least another 2 minutes but for as long as 5. Remove the lid and continue to cook until any excess liquid has evaporated. Add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and the remaining tablespoon of oil, and serve right away.
Leora Y. Bloom is a freelance writer and author of “Washington Food Artisans: Farm Stories and Chef Recipes.”