Greens grow wild in various climates, conditions, and terrains all around the world. Valued as food, and medicine, in various cultures, and traditions, where plant tops are only one aspect of edible plants that offer healing properties through root, stalk, seeds, berries, and other plant features. Common greens cultivated in the US. include collard greens, turnips, rudabega, and mustard greens. Other edible varieties, such as dandelion, watercress, chard, and kale also offer unique nutritional values. Greens seem to catch more attention around the holidays, or in southern cuisine.
Where to Buy Collard Greens
You can buy bunches of greens at grocery stores, farmer’s markets, roadside stands, and mobile vegetable trucks. They are available throughout the southern united states year-round, and enjoyed indiscriminately throughout the population. In northern climates, there is a shorter window for cultivation, with exception to hot-house growers. They do not have nearly the status, and demand as in the southern region.
Tips on Purchasing, and What to Look for
The most tender greens are winter greens, grown in cold temperatures, above 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Grocery stores market greens in varying ways. I have seen collard greens, mustards, and turnips in small bunches, comparable in size to bunches of cilantro, or parsley. This does not do justice to the shoppers visual sensibilities. All stores do not display small bunches, nor do they all display greens such as turnips, removed from roots. They are likely, however to stock prepackaged turnips, or collard greens, cleaned, and cut-up. Road-side stands, mobile retailers, and farmer’s markets are more likely to sell larger bunches, with roots, due to direct connections to local farms, and retail environments where greens are kept fresher, longer.
Collard Greens are Living Foods
Skip the canned greens. The best way to buy greens is by the bunch. Of the four most popular varieties, collard greens stay fresh longer, followed by rudabega, then turnips. Mustards have the shortest shelf life. Collards contain higher concentrations of calcium, as noted by their stronger stalks, and denser leaves. Rudabega greens, also known as northern turnips, also have dense leaves. Their leaves, and shoots are characteristic of both collards, and turnips in appearance. When selecting bunches, briefly look at the center of the bunch, to check for any mold. This is not necessarily a frequent occurrence, though not uncommon. Always select bunches with green leaves.
Mustard greens, (curly leaf variety)
The stalk will allow you to keep bunches fresh prior to using them. The stalk of the plant connects the bunch to the root. Try Placing a bunch of collard greens in an up-right position in a 5-gallon bucket of ice water, 1/5 full, and watch the leaves perk up, just as a flower in a vase of water. You can trim the base of the stalk at an angle, as you would the stem of a rose. This will allow for better hydration of the whole plant. On bunches with roots, you can also place them upright, root fibers will absorb the cold water, and deliver it to the leaf.
When fresh from the farm, greens will need a good rinse to remove any traces of dirt, or silt. This can be done easily outside, using a nozzle attachment and hose. Remove the rubber band from the bunch, and use cold water, with a medium force shower setting. You can place the bunch over a bucket, or lay it across a patio table. Wash the bunch from the tops, down. Collard greens are the easiest to clean. For greens with roots, you can use a scrub brush or your hand to rub away stubborn grit that accumulates in crevices, and on the surface of the root. For pre-cleaned greens, as many store-bought bunches are, you can make sure they are free of grit by filling a large bowl, or pan of water, soaking and draining the leaves as you go. Watch that grit settle to the bottom!
Cutting the Leaf
To prepare greens for easy eating, one of the best ways is to shred them. You can either remove the stems, or shred greens with the stem. To remove stems, lay one leaf on a cutting board, cut around the stem, then place the it to the side. You can cut, and cook stems, separately, or freeze them, for later use. Fold the leaf in half, then roll it. Slice across in strips, about 1/2 in. to an inch wide. Continue slicing from one end to the other. You can stack 4 leaves at a time. Line them up, de-stem, fold, roll, and shred. After you cut across, you can go back, and cut them vertically, for bite-size greens.
The key to enjoying food is cooking for your self, and valuing each ingredient. Instead of thinking in terms of flavoring greens, aim to compliment them. What you add to your recipe should not smother, or overwhelm these natural flavors. Rudabega roots are not starchy, or heavy, as baking potatoes are. They contain the similar spicy, bitter, sweet flavor of the tops. If you enjoy turnip greens, rudabega tops are a sublime alternative. Mustards are generally grown, and marketed in two varieties, slick leaf, and curly leaf. The flavor is similar, though curly leaf mustards are even more delicate. Mustards lend a delightful, mildly horseradish like spice, and tanginess. Turnip, and rudabega greens add that bitter, sweet flavor, and their roots pack more flavor punch. Collard greens have a milder flavor. They are botanically closer to the cabbage plant, and can easily blend, and compliment other greens.
Cooking with Pot Liquor
The major benefit of boiling greens in water is that you can re-use that deliciously nutritious flavored water, or (pot liquor), to cook an easy accompaniment such as steel-cut oats, brown rice, barley, or noodles. If you can’t decide on which variety of greens to cook, try more than one. Add 2 sliced jalapeño peppers, and 3-4 small segments of garlic to a pot of greens. You can add *smoked fish after the greens are cooked, such as smoke chub, herring, or salmon. Or you can opt for an organic, tender cut of meat. You don’t have to trim the fat to make a healthy dish. As long as the fat does not steal the show.
*Please note, when selecting smoked meats or fish, naturally smoked methods are more harmonious to the human digestive system than chemical processes. Additives used in chemically processed smoked meats, such as nitrates, are also used in the manufacture of fireworks, and explosives. They can create an explosive response in the digestive system, and therefore, promote negative associations about eating greens.