Our oﬃce is full of leafy green lovers and we are always on the prowl for new ways to prepare these nutritious dynamos. Wild About Greens, a new book by Nava Atlas, delivers just that and will resonate with anyone looking to incorporate more greens into a daily diet. This book oﬀers a comprehensive collection of scrumptious, ultra-healthy recipes that demonstrate their versatility and highlight the goodness of greens. We chatted with Nava to learn a bit more about her love of greens.
OLDWAYS: You have been a longtime proponent of plant-based diets. How did your passion for all things green begin?
NAVA: I’ve always been a big fan of veggies, but the proliferation of leafy greens really seemed to burst forth in a bigger way about a decade ago. My family belonged to a CSA, and I was just as befuddled about how to use up all these leafy greens as anyone. I appointed myself the CSA newsletter person, and invented what everyone came to call the “CSA Soup,” as a way to really cook down huge batches of greens when they were no longer welcome in the fridge.
Fast forward a few years; my husband started a garden and one year there was an explosion of chard. Once again, I found myself perplexed as to how to deal with all of it. Resources were fairly scant and sometimes unreliable. Then came the national love aﬀair with kale, and I thought it was time for an up-to-date, comprehensive guide to this group of powerhouse vegetables.
OLDWAYS: One thing that is not often touched on, and we just love it, is the idea of freezing greens (especially when they are in-season and in great abundance). Can you share a bit about how to go about prepping and freezing greens?
NAVA: I agree that understanding the techniques for freezing greens are important for gardeners and CSA members, but truth be told, it’s my choice of last resort. In Wild About Greens, I share lots of ways to use large amounts of greens at a time (which isn’t all that hard to do, as the
The basic steps go like this:
- Stem, chop, and wash greens very well. Bring a pot of water to a boil.
- Have a large bowl of very cold water nearby.
- Immerse greens into boiling water quickly. Cook brieﬂy, depending on the type of green (30 seconds or so for tender greens like spinach and arugula; 2 to 3 minutes for collard greens; and anywhere in between for kale, chard, mustard greens, broccoli rabe, and Asian greens), just until bright green and barely tender. This step is called blanching.
- Drain the greens into a colander, then plunge them into the cold water. Drain well again.
- Pack the greens into small containers, with as little air as possible; or into freezer bags, pushing out excess air. If you’d like, aﬃx a label with the date the greens were prepared, and freeze at once.
Another method is to stir-fry clean, chopped greens using as little oil as possible (you can add chopped garlic), until tender-crisp. Let the greens cool, uncovered, then pack and freeze as in step 5, above.
With either method, when ready to defrost, thaw the greens in the refrigerator, or thaw partially and add to stews or soups to completely thaw. Frozen greens are best used within 6 months of preparation.
OLDWAYS: What are some common mistakes you see that people tend to make when it comes to preparing greens?
NAVA: I’ve heard a lot of people say that they like the idea of using kale raw in salads, but they ﬁnd it kind of tough and occasionally bitter. That’s because they’ve skipped the easy step of massaging it ﬁrst! Massaging kale is easy to do — simply cut clean kale into bite-sized pieces, then place in your salad bowl. Rub a little bit of olive oil on your palms and literally massage the kale for 30 to 60 seconds, and you’ll see it turn bright green, soften, and wilt down. The kale is now more tender and palatable and ready to receive any other salad ingredient you might like to add. There are other ways to massage kale, but this is the basic one.
The other mistake is to overcook them in any way. Greens are at their most palatable when you cook them just enough, and not a moment more. They stay bright green and retain their ﬂavor.
OLDWAYS: There are so many wonderful ways to prepare greens whether you are steaming, sautéing, blanching, or braising. Is there a particular method that people shy away from that is actually a wonderful way to prepare greens?
NAVA: I’m not sure if there is any one technique or another that people shy away from, but there are a couple of ways to prepare certain greens that surprise people. Green smoothies are all the rage, but there are still plenty of people who are surprised that raw greens can taste so good in smoothies. Kale and collard greens require a high-speed blender, and are delicious combined with bananas, apples, berries, and other fruits. A regular blender can manage raw spinach, and a handful adds so many beneﬁts to a smoothie, without adding any assertive ﬂavor.
Another technique that surprised me was how well collard greens take to stir-fry. Collards look big and intimidating, and older books always say to boil them for 20 minutes — yuck! Much better is to stem them, stack the leaves, roll them up from one of the narrow ends, and cut into ﬁne ribbons. This is a popular technique in Brazilian cuisine, I’m told. Then, simply stir-fry with garlic and olive oil for 3 or 4 minutes, and that’s it. Season with salt and pepper and serve as a simple sided dish, or combine with a noodle dish. I also love to combine this with spaghetti squash plus fresh and dried tomatoes and a fresh herb.
OLDWAYS: We often talk about the idea of allowing an ingredient to shine so we love your simple recipe for seared baby bok choy. Could we share this recipe with our readers?
NAVA: I’ve nominated baby bok choy as “most adorable vegetable.” Because I don’t always have access to it, it’s extra-special when it’s available. Here’s how to make seared baby bok choy:
Cut each baby bok choy in half so that the widest part is exposed (leave the stem end intact). Heat a shallow layer of olive or other vegetable oil in a large pan; when really hot, place the bok choy halves cut side down on the skillet, cover and cook over high (but not highest) heat for 3 minutes or until nicely browned. Serve with a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Or if you want to add anything else, a sprinkling of sesame seeds and a drizzle of soy sauce (instead of salt) work well, too.