Back to Basics: Garlicky Greens
Spinach, kale, chard, collards, beet greens, etc. etc. etc. We’re supposed to eat lots of them. They’re called “cooking greens” to differentiate them from the tender greens that are more commonly eaten raw.
Greens are not my forte. Carbs and protein are my jams. But hey, hardy leaf matter is necessary for a hardy body, so we’d better make it taste awesome and — this is the important part — more likely to get into all of our meals. That’s where these garlicky greens come in.
This was another genius suggestion from Tamar Adler, aided by pinches and dashes from various sources on the internet, poking my brain to do it. I discovered, after wilting down an entire two-pound bag of spinach to about a cupful of soft vegetal matter that, since it was already cooked, I would think nothing of putting a big last-minute spoonful into whatever I was cooking. At first it was obligation: I should really use this spinach, and I need more greens in my diet anyway. I kept the jar in my refrigerator door so I’d be more likely to see and use it. But then, slowly, it became about the slight bitter verdant taste that seemed to go so well with nearly anything I put it in.
Soft scrambled eggs. Brothy soup. Noodles. Sandwiches. Boy, this stuff sure can go on everything. And it does! Once you’ve already cooked them down, they become less an ingredient (that requires washing, drying, chopping, and cooking to become a part of your meal) and more like a condiment. Making a sandwich? Here’s some mayo, and here’s some garlicky chard. They take exactly the same amount of time to add to your turkey-and-cheese.
- Fill your sink with cold water and drop in any greens you’re using. (You can get a good idea of the kinds of greens you want here.) Swish them around, remove them to a colander, and drain your sink. Repeat this process at least once more.
- To dry the greens, spin them out in a salad spinner or just lay them out on paper towels and pat them dry.
- Separate the leaves from the rigid stalks if you’re using greens like kale or chard. You can chop the stalks and add them to soups, braise them, or use them for making broth. If your leaves are quite large, you can chop them very roughly — just one or two passes of the knife.
- Mince a good amount of garlic. I like about three or four big cloves for about two pounds of greens.
- Find your biggest skillet and place it on medium-low heat. Add a tablespoon or two of some kind of fat. Olive oil, butter, rendered bacon fat — your choice. Bacon fat goes well with collards and butter makes spinach especially silky.
- Toss about a clove’s worth of garlic in the skillet and let it bubble for a few minutes, until just starting to turn golden. Then add a few big handfuls of greens and a pinch of salt. You can really pile them on, as they’ll wilt quite a bit. I can usually get about a third of a 2-pound batch in the skillet at one time.
- Stir and toss with tongs until just wilted. This will only take a minute or two for spinach, much longer for hardier leaves like kale. Remove the cooked greens to container and let them cool while you repeat the process for the rest of your greens: more oil, more garlic, more greens.
- Once the greens are cool, you can pack them up in an airtight container and store them in the fridge. They’ll stay good for about a week, but you’ll probably have used it up by then.
- Eat them as-is, heated up, as a side dish for any protein.
- Mix into any pasta dish.
- Make a gratin: mix with béchamel sauce, top with cheese, and bake.
- Add to stir-fries.
- Add to soups and ramen.
- Add to sandwiches and wraps.
- Use them to top pizza or focaccia.
- Make eggs florentine: stack a toasted English muffin, a big spoonful of whatever greens you’ve got, and a poached egg, and top with hollandaise.
- If all else fails, a piece of toast with a good amount of greens, a slick of olive oil, and perhaps a piece of cheese makes a hearty lunch.
Music to cook by: Holland, 1945 [Neutral Milk Hotel // In the Aeroplane Over The Sea]