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Wednesday, July 13, 2022

A Dozen Ways to Use Up Garden Leafy Greens


My garden produces leaves, lots and lots of leaves. Turnip leaves, radish leaves, chard leaves, cabbage leaves, spinach leaves, nasturtium leaves, lettuce leaves, beet leaves, squash leaves, grape leaves, fig leaves, kale leaves, and Brussel sprout leaves. Not all of these leaves are the intended part of the vegetable for our table. We expect to eat squash, but not the leaves. We expect to eat the Brussel sprouts, not their leaves. Ditto on turnips, beets, grapes, and figs. Leaves we have not only in abundance right now, but we are still waiting for those other parts of the plants to be ready, such as the summer and winter squashes and pumpkins, the figs, and the B sprouts. So, I've been diving deep into cooking various greens using an assortment of cooking techniques. Here are a dozen ways that I've been using our leafy greens. 

One tip I'd like to offer, if you try one way of preparing a green and don't like it, give another way a try. Sometimes the issue is texture. Pureeing a steamed version of the same leaf  will skirt around the objected texture. Or perhaps the flavor is too strong. You can minimize strong flavors with the addition of other more pleasing or bland flavors, such as potatoes, cheese, ham or bacon in a pureed leafy green soup. Or perhaps using just a tiny amount, "hidden" in a highly seasoned dish like chili or a sweet treat like a chocolate cake or brownie. Anyway, these are just some of the ways I've been using our abundance of leafy greens.

  • As the main ingredient in salads - kale salad is one of my family's favorite salads. I make an orange sweet and sour dressing to top chopped kale, chopped almonds, and dried cranberries. I also make a fall kale salad with apples, pecans, celery, chopped kale and a sweetened mayonnaise dressing. In addition to using kale specifically for these salads, I also use the stems from various greens, such as turnip, kale and beet stems added to the leafy greens. In the fall, after harvesting the Brussel sprouts, I use the leaves, sliced thin in slaw-type salads.  Our everyday summer salads contain very little lettuce. Wednesday's family-sized salad consisted of beet greens, sorrel, Swiss chard, nasturtium leaves, blossoms and green seeds, chive blossoms, thyme blossoms, and a mere 3 leaves of Romaine lettuce. I try to reserve the lettuce for sandwiches and burgers, as Romaine's crispness makes a difference in those meals while other greens do well in salads.

  • Simply sautéed  -- my favorite way to sauté leafy greens is with some sliced onions and minced garlic in reserved ham, bacon, or sausage fat and just a pinch of salt. Growing up, my family ate canned spinach. I was not too fond of nights we had leafy greens as canned spinach. Sautéed fresh greens are nothing like canned greens. The flavor and texture of fresh greens, sautéed, is delightful. We discovered last fall that the leaves left on the Brussel sprouts plants were even more delicious than the actual sprouts. I picked the leaves and sautéed them to have as side dishes to meals. 

  • In egg dishes, such as omelets, frittatas, and breakfast casseroles -- I make a lot of frittatas because they just so easy to make as a supper dish and incorporate small bits of this and that. This past week we've had frittatas twice, both times with an assortment of garden leafy greens imbedded. What makes frittatas so particularly easy in our house is that the handle of our old skillet (from my husband's childhood home many, many years ago) broke off a couple of years ago. At first, I was going to replace the handle with one ordered from Amazon. However, a price of $15 put me off from that idea. I have been checking Goodwill and Value Village for a replacement skillet or a pot/pan with a handle that I could scavenge. So far, nothing yet. Until then, I'll continue using this skillet without the handle as our frittata pan. Why would a handle-less skillet be so great for frittatas, you wonder? I begin the frittata in the skillet on the stove then transfer it to the oven to finish setting the eggs. No handle means my skillet can tolerate higher temperatures. How do I move my handle-less skillet from the stove to the oven, you follow up? I use potholders to grab the skillet by both sides. If I had a camping handle (sort of a clamping device), that would also work with a handle-less pot or pan.  You can also hide a bit of leafy greens added to breakfast casseroles. I shred the greens and stir into the egg mixture. Once the casserole is topped with cheese, the greens go unnoticed.

  • Over baked potatoes. Chopped and sautéed or steamed greens tossed with a cheese sauce to serve over baked potatoes. My kids all grew up eating kale in cheese sauce on a baked potato, then sprinkled with bacon bits. I still get requests to make this simple supper dish.

  • Pureed to use in soup -- if your leafy greens are on the tough or stringy side, chopping well, steaming, then pureeing will deal with that unpleasant texture of aging leaves. Pureeing is also a good way to hide purchased leafy greens (like those on a bundle of radishes) that have wilted and no longer look appealing. Cream of "green" with cheese and potato soup is delicious and not at all a burden to have for lunch or supper.

  • Pureed as a pasta topping -- with garlic, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese -- this is a favorite of my family. Using radish or turnip leaves, I chop them, steam in the microwave, then puree the leaves with some garlic, olive oil and Parmesan cheese. I toss cooked pasta with the resulting thick sauce. The vibrant color and fresh taste is very summer-like to me. 

  • Pesto -- Much like the above pasta sauce using garden greens, pesto to have as a cold spread on a sandwich or as a dip for vegetables or pita chips can be made with leafy greens, such as radish leaves. Here's a recipe by David Lebovitz that's economical in that it calls for almond in place of the usual, pricey pine nuts to puree with radish leaves, garlic, olive oil, and Parmesan.

  • Pureed to hide in chocolate cakes, muffins and brownies, 1 or 2 tablespoons at a time. Arugula is my favorite garden green to puree and add to chocolate desserts. Just a spoonful and it oddly tastes a bit like I've added peanuts to the batter.

  • Pureed to hide in traditional spaghetti sauce, just a tablespoon or two. This trick also works in chili. Because both red pasta sauce and chili are highly flavored and dark in color, I can get away with the stronger flavored greens, such as turnip greens, collards, and kale.

  • Dehydrated and powdered to use in soups, sauces, dips, or "green" rice at a later time.

  • In smoothies, just a few leaves at a time. I used about 5 medium-sized spinach leaves in a berry and banana smoothie the other day. Aside from the slightly darker color, the leaves were undetectable.

  • Wrap sandwiches. Larger leaves can be used as wrappers for wrap sandwiches. For maximum flexibility, blanch the leaves, one at a time, in a pot of boiling water for 20 seconds. Swiss chard, collard leaves, and large kale leaves all work well as wrappers. Fill with chopped or shredded veggies, green onions, chopped fresh herbs, tofu, leftover cooked chicken or turkey, shredded cheese, chopped olives, or whatever else you can think of. Put a large dollop of the filling ingredients onto a blanched leaf, then roll up like a burrito. Add a dipping sauce, such as a Thai-inspired peanut sauce. 
Bon Appetit!

15 comments:

  1. Wow, so many great ideas here! I'll be referring back to this post more when we have an overabundance of greens to use. Those kale salads sound especially delicious! And thanks for the tip on the deliciousness of Brussels sprout leaves; I've been feeding those to the ducks so as not to waste them but had not tried eating them myself. However, I do try to feed the ducks a generous portion of leafy greens daily and figure that the extra nutrition probably makes the eggs they lay even healthier for us humans.

    A green we added this year, trying to have some to use through the hot summer months, is longevity spinach. It seems to be doing very well so far, and I've picked leaves of it for smoothies a few times.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Cat,
      I agree with you on feeding your excess greens to your ducks. You are getting back the nutrition through their eggs. I feel the same about putting some parts of the plants into the compost pile. Doing so improves the soil fertility for the next crop.

      Longevity spinach.I haven't heard of this vegetable before. Thanks for mentioning this one. I'll look it up as I think it could work for our deck in mid-summer. Thanks!

      Delete
  2. I like greens but haven't ventured too far in variety. Problem is that my family hasn't eaten them much because husband has digestive issues especially with greens as they are too fibrous for his special digestive mechanism. I remember my mom sauteeing greens and then making a thick white sauce to mix in with that and it softened the strong flavor. That would be so good on a baked potato! I love your ideas and will try several of them.

    Alice

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    Replies
    1. Hi Alice,
      I haven't tried a white sauce on leafy greens. That sounds delicious and would certainly mute strong flavors. My mom used to make white sauces for mixed vegetables. I always loved that as a kid. Perhaps she prepared these veggies that way to get us to eat our vegetables. I do love cheese sauce on greens and it is especially good on a baked potato. I bet white sauce with greens would be equally delicious on a baked potato.
      Thanks for suggesting white sauce on greens. I think I'd enjoy that.

      Delete
  3. Great ideas. I've tried a few of them, but the strong taste and texture generally put my family off from many of the non-traditional greens. Pureeing is a good idea that I'll have to remember.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Live and Learn,
      Yeah, I think pureeing solves the problem of unpleasant texture. You may have to both puree and mask the flavor to get family members who aren't fond of greens to enjoy them. Also, eating greens in salads (especially with a creamy dressing) is more palatable for some folks than eating them cooked. Bitter greens can be torn into small pieces and spread throughout a salad of mostly the less-bitter greens like lettuce.

      Even so, I think what we like and dislike in foods is hard to change. And it's better (health-wise) to eat lots of the other non-leafy veggies than to not eat any veggies at all. We all just try to do our best and accept the outcome.

      Delete
    2. My kids and I don't care for bitter greens, although my husband is more tolerant. You have some interesting solutions, Lili!

      Delete
    3. Hi Kris,
      I wonder if you have a stronger sense of taste when it comes to bitterness. Perhaps sensitivities to flavors is a combination of our unique set of taste buds (which could be influenced by genetics) and exposure. I've told my family that when I eat fish, I taste metal. My family doesn't get that and find fish pleasant. It's been this way my entire life, so I do think our taste buds affect what types of flavors we enjoy.

      Delete
  4. I love greens, and your ideas all sound delicious. I make a lot of pureed green soups. I often add a handful of cilantro to the soup in the last few minutes of cooking, which makes it even more delicious.
    One word of caution however. If you have any kind of thyroid issue, you may want to avoid eating kale and similar greens raw (cooked is fine). This is what my doctor told me.
    - Tina

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    Replies
    1. Hi Tina,
      I've heard that about thyroid and cabbage family vegetables, which would include kale. Good to know this is only for raw and not cooked. Thanks for sharing this info.
      Cilantro added to soup does sound delicious! I can just imagine a tortilla soup topped with fresh chopped cilantro. I'll make that when my cilantro is a bit bigger. Thank you!

      Delete
  5. I love leafy greens and try to use them regularly in all the usual ways. One favorite method, particularly in the summer months, is in no-cook, Asian-style spring rolls (that I like to serve with homemade peanut sauce). I can find rice paper wrappers fairly cheaply at local Asian markets -- I like to then employ a technique as explained here in this video by blogger, Kittee Berns, whereby she reinforces the wrappers with pieces of collard (other greens work too) before rolling to make them really extra strong for all kinds of healthful fillings (you can where she really demonstrates this at about the 3:35 mark)...:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jn8rbU-oz3I&t=215s

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi friend,
      Thank you for sharing that link to Kittee's video. Those collard and rice paper wraps look so tasty and fresh. That's something I will definitely try with our garden surplus of greens. Thank you!

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  6. So many good ideas on how to use the less favored, discarded parts of vegetables. I like the idea of hiding these vegetables pureed in soups, sauces and desserts. I am amazed how you are able to adjust taste accordingly, that's culinary!!

    I prefer beet tops (more than the beet), which we simply eat with mayonnaise. Radish tops are great for quick pickling. Of course, watermelon rind, as you posted recently, is versatile, like tofu, it absorbs flavors readily. We boil green onion stalks (peel off mature stalks and let the plant continue to produce), tie in knots, and serve with a miso/sugar style dressing. We have not eaten plain collard leaves in a wrap, but I may try it next time. My husband has been making collard namul to add in wraps, but the strong flavor overwhelms. I watched the video suggested above, and am surprised collards can be eaten raw (as well as plain. )My concern is the high concentration of oxalic acid in collard, which cooking helps remove. We don't have a fresh supply of collard leaves at this time, only frozen which have been blanched before freezing.

    Have a great weekend,
    Laura

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    Replies
    1. Hi Laura,
      Thank you for sharing the ways you use greens. I really enjoy beet greens added to salads. I'll have to try them with mayonnaise as a dressing. Thank you for the suggestion!

      Delete
    2. We boil our beet tops, have not tried it raw. Mayonnaise is the simplest, maybe not the best.

      Laura

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