It doesn’t matter how healthy they are, if they don’t taste good, you’re not going to eat them.
I just plowed my way through a blizzard of nutritional data and scientific studies that show greens are superfoods: super healthy, destroy cancer cells, improve your eyesight, give you energy, and a bunch of other advantages (see Resources below for details). Honestly, that’s kind of a turnoff; many folks believe that the better a food is for you, the worse it has to taste. We’ve got to get past that — greens taste good!
Spring is the season for greens. If you’re gardening, you’ll have a load of them. If you’re foraging, you’ll find a load of them. All over the world, greens are what people enjoy to break the winter doldrums of durable stored vegetables (like rutabagas, parsnips, carrots, potatoes, cabbages, carrots, beets and turnips). For thousands of years people have foraged and selected the wide range of greens we now have available.
From one family, Brassicaceae, humans selected, adopted and adapted all these modern vegetables: kale, cabbage, collards, mustard greens, arugula, Brussels sprouts, turnips, radishes, cauliflower, broccoli, Napa cabbage, bok choy, horseradish and canola (as in canola oil). In the Prescott area you can find wild edible relatives in abundance, like western tansy (Descurainia pinnata), wild mustard (Brassica papaor) and watercress (Nasturtium officinal).
Another family, Amaranthus, includes spinach, chard, beets, quinoa and amaranth. Quinoa and amaranth are grown for their greens as well as their seeds. Around here, in spring very edible versions — pigweed (Amaranthus palmeri) and lamb’s quarter (Chenopodium album) — are common weeds in vacant lots and gardens.
Before eating any wild plant, make sure it’s not poisonous. Learn the poisonous plants as well as the edible ones. Harvest greens from young plants when they are tender and sweet. As days get longer and warmer, the greens get bitter and tougher. When harvesting in the wild, respect the mother plant. Don’t take it all. Leave some for other animals and for the plant to make more seed (unless of course you’re weeding your garden).
You might have already decided that you hate or love greens. I’m here to give you a fresh look in four acts: Basic Garlic Sautéed Greens, Greek Spanakorizo, Pasta with Greens Pesto, and as the final course, Turkish Green Lemon Cake.
Here’s the basic universal recipe with plenty of room to get creative. I’m very partial to garlic (having been a garlic grower for 35 years), so just call this Garlic Sautéed Greens.
Start with two large bunches of greens, your pick, mix or match. Rinse them and chop coarsely. If they have a big central rib, cut that out and slice finely. Set aside. In a wide skillet heat 3-4 tablespoons of oil (I prefer olive) and pinches of salt and pepper, a couple of teaspoons of finely minced garlic, and the same of red onions. Stir, then add 1/3 cup or so of nuts (chopped, if they’re large), chopped ham, sausage or salami. Sauté and stir constantly till the garlic is golden and any meat you added is cooked through. Now add the greens and turn the heat up. Stir and turn and continue till the greens are wilted. Squeeze in a tablespoon of lemon juice and a bit of water. Mix and taste. Then add more salt, pepper or red pepper flakes as needed. Serve it as a side dish, or on good crusty toast and call it Green Bruschetta, or turn it into a meal like Greek Spanakorizo.
For Greek Spanakorizo mix into your cooked greens 3 cups of cooked rice (or quinoa), 6 ounces of crumbled feta, 1 tablespoon dried dill, and one bunch total of parsley and/or mint, minced. Stir till heated through and serve with a side of white beans. If you’re making Spanakorizo you’ll want to go light on the salt to make up for the very salty feta (especially if you added a salty meat in the sauté). Taste for that balance point between the salt and the sour lemon juice.
Or turn those basic sautéed greens into Greens Pesto Penne. This recipe is a great color and flavor contrast to traditional red-sauce pasta. It’s an amazing kid-pleaser because it tastes like mac ’n’ cheese! (I think so, at least.)
Start this recipe by making Garlic Sautéed Greens. Let the greens sit in the pan while you cook the pasta. Bring 12 cups of salted water to a boil. Add a tablespoon of olive oil and 12 ounces of short, stout pasta (like penne or rotini). Reduce heat to medium and cook 12-15 minutes till al dente (firm but cooked through). Drain, reserving the water.
Pour the greens into a blender. Add 1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese, and about 1 cup of pasta-cooking water. Buzz till very smooth, adding more pasta water to make a pourable sauce. Taste and adjust the flavors with salt, lemon juice, pepper, maybe even a few red-pepper flakes. Return the green sauce to the skillet. Add pasta, turning it over in the sauce. Serve sprinkled with more cheese and red-pepper flakes if you like. It’s surprisingly delicious, and if you close your eyes it might taste like mac ’n’ cheese!
Ispanakh Kek — Turkish Green Lemon Cake, is a lovely green sponge cake, relying on traditional Turkish ingredients of olive oil and lemons. It is dairy-free. The high egg concentration gives it a spongy texture that’s easy to slice and layer. The sponge absorbs cream, ice cream, yogurt or crushed berries. Sprinkle with toasted green crumbs. Make this cake! I took it to dinner at a friend’s house and they said it was the best cake they had ever had in their lives! Find this recipe below.
I hope you’ve enjoyed a fresh vision of greens here and it was healthy. You ate your greens and it didn’t hurt a bit!
While you enjoy that Turkish Green Cake, think about making a donation to World Central Kitchen, feeding people in crisis worldwide. José Andrés is a great chef with over 30 top-rated restaurants, who organizes professional kitchens to feed people where hurricanes, wildfires, war or earthquakes hit. Visit wck.org.
Photos by Gary Beverly.
Garlic Sautéed Greens
2 large bunches greens (spinach, chard, kale, arugula, broccoli raab, turnip or radish tops, kale, mustard greens or others)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons minced garlic or red onions
Coarse kosher salt and cracked black pepper
1/3 cup pine nuts, walnuts, sunflower seeds, a bit of chopped lean ham, bacon, tofu or sausage
1/2 tablespoon lemon juice, or more to taste
Rinse greens. Cut out stems and slice them. Chop leaves coarsely.
Heat olive oil in a large skillet, over low heat. Add garlic and nuts or other additions with a pinch of pepper and salt and sauté till garlic is golden. Add greens and stems. Raise heat to medium-high. Sauté, turning greens over regularly till they are wilted. Add lemon juice and a splash of water. Stir, taste and add salt as needed.
Spanaki is the word for spinach in Greek, and rizi means rice.
3 cups cold cooked brown or white rice (made with 1 cup of dry rice)
1 bunch of green onions, finely sliced
4 fat cloves garlic, minced
3 Tablespoons olive oil
2 large bunches greens (spinach, chard, kale, arugula, broccoli rabe, turnip or radish tops, kale, mustard greens or others), washed and sliced thinly
1/4 cup fresh dill, finely chopped or 1 tablespoon dried dill
1 small bunch of parsley or mint, or a mixture, minced
juice of 1 medium lemon
Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
6 ounces feta cheese or Mexican queso ranchero (or non-dairy feta cheese), crumbled
Cooked white beans (optional)
First make the rice and set it aside.
In a wide frying pan over medium heat sauté green onions and garlic in olive oil for five minutes or till lightly browned. Add greens, a pinch of salt and pepper, dill and mint/parsley and stir till everything is wilted. Add a little water and the lemon juice. Turn up heat and cook till water evaporates. Stir in the rice and continue stirring gently till rice is heated through. Top with crumbled cheese.
Serve with cooked white beans.
Variation: For the rice substitute an equal amount of cooked quinoa.
Greens Pasta Penne
2 large bunches greens (spinach, chard, kale, arugula, broccoli rabe, turnip or radish tops, kale, mustard greens or others)
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
4 large cloves garlic, minced
Coarse kosher salt, cracked black pepper, red pepper flakes, to taste
About 2 tablespoons lemon juice, or more to taste
12 ounces dry short stout dry pasta (like penne, rigatoni, or rotini)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese, plus more for garnish
Rinse greens. Cut out stems and slice them. Chop leaves coarsely. Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet, over low heat. Add garlic and a pinch of both salt and pepper (and a pinch of red pepper flakes if desired) and sauté till garlic is golden. Add greens and stems. Raise heat to medium-high. Sauté, turning greens over regularly till they are wilted. Add lemon juice and a splash of water. Stir, taste and add salt as needed.
Let the greens sit in the pan while you cook the pasta. Bring twelve cups of salted water to a boil. Add a tablespoon of olive oil and the pasta. Reduce heat to a medium and cook 12-15 minutes till al dente (firm but cooked through). Drain, reserving the water.
Pour the greens into a blender. Add the cheese and about 1 cup of the pasta cooking water. Buzz till very smooth, adding more pasta water to make a pourable sauce. Taste and adjust the flavors with salt, lemon juice, pepper, red pepper flakes. Return the green sauce to the skillet. Add pasta, turning it over in the sauce. Serve sprinkled with more cheese and, maybe, more red pepper flakes.
Turkish Green Lemon Cake — Ispanakh Kek
Makes 1 13x9 inch pan, or 2 9-inch layer pans, or 12 cupcakes
8 ounces tender fresh greens (like spinach, chard, baby cabbage, etc.)
1/2 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
Juice and zest from 1 lemon (about 1/4 cup lemon juice)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry or white wheat flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2-pint heavy cream, whipped
Use a blender to puree the greens, olive oil, vanilla, lemon zest and lemon juice. Blend till completely smooth. Add sugar and eggs. Blend again till mixed.
In a separate bowl mix flours, baking powder, and salt. Add greens mixture and stir together.
Pour into oiled baking pan/s or muffin tins. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes (for 9x11 pan), or 20 minutes (for 9-inch diameter layer pans), or 15 minutes (for cupcakes), till a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool in the pan. Whip the cream to soft peaks and refrigerate.
For a really cool green crumb topping trim the cake (sides of the rectangle, top of the rounds, or sacrifice one cupcake). Crumble and put in a dry skillet over medium heat. Toast the crumbs till dry, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Serve topped or filled (if using the round pans) with whipped cream and garnish with the toasted crumbs.
"The Nutritional Value of Leafy Green Vegetables": piedmontmastergardeners.org
"What To Know About Green Leafy Vegetables": medicalnewstoday.com
Foraging advice: wildedible.com
World Central Kitchen: wck.org
WCK is first to the frontlines, providing meals in response to humanitarian, climate, and community crises. When disaster strikes, WCK’s Relief Team mobilizes with the urgency of now to start cooking and provide meals to people in need. By partnering with organizations on the ground and activating a network of local restaurants, food trucks, or emergency kitchens, WCK serves comforting meals to survivors of disasters quickly and effectively. We know that good food provides not only nourishment, but also comfort and hope, especially in times of crisis.
Chef Molly Beverly is Prescott's leading creative food activist and teacher. Photos by Gary Beverly.