This column originally ran in 2005. I haven’t seen Trish in a long while, but the message is still useful today. Celebrate the Martin Luther King holiday Monday with a down home Southern specialty that will boost your energy and immune system.
A checker at the grocery store who knows her vegetables — alleluia! I had this happy experience recently at the Weis store on South Atherton Street, when Trish was ringing me up. I was not paying close attention, instead gazing at the freezing rain that was icing up the parking lot. I noticed she slipped in an error sheet to take something off the bill — romaine lettuce for $3.06. What I had really purchased, and she realized as they slid through her hands, was collard greens, and the cost for a like amount was $1.34. She scanned my kale, about 3/4 of a pound for 73 cents, and my turnip greens, about a quarter of a pound for 22 cents. So for less than I would pay for salad for four people, I had purchased a powerhouse of vitamins and minerals, roughly six times more than in that comparable amount of romaine.
Salad days are over, it’s time to cook the dark nutritious winter greens. Add some beans and rice or grits or cornbread, and you have a soul-satisfying meal that is easy on the wallet. But the real reason to eat these greens is that they taste so good.
Collard greens are the classic “green” though there are many other interesting textured and flavored varieties. Collards, Brassica oleracea acephala, are a tall kale or open-headed cabbage. Their broad smooth leaves resemble flat cabbage leaves. Kale, from the same genus, is another vegetable that deserves more attention than as a sturdy garnish on buffets or in the fish case, separating species. Turnip greens, Brassica rapa, are far more nutritious than the root they support. Mustard greens, Brassica nigra, are equally high in vitamins and minerals and the leaves have a more delicate, and peppery quality. Even that fetching red and white “salad savoy,” as it is sometimes called in the stores, is really a flowering kale that is extremely nutritious.
How nutritious? Try 130 percent of your vitamin A in one serving, 130 percent of your vitamin C, up to 8 percent of your calcium and 6 percent of your iron — when you mix up the greens and use several varieties together. Compare that to the romaine that provides 20 percent of your vitamin A, 4 percent of your vitamin C and 2 percent each of calcium and iron.
As their name implies, these members of the Brassica family are just that — bold, brassy and better tamed by heat and salt. Ham or bacon makes a nice flavoring agent, or use some soy sauce if you prefer a vegetarian alternative. Simmering for a long time, at least 30 minutes, relaxes the cellulose in the plant and improves the flavor — just be sure to serve the “Pot likker” or cooking juices as well.
Greens, like all cruciferous vegetables, have been shown to have a cancer-inhibiting effect. With 35 percent of all cancers possibly being diet-related, it is time to get proactive and take up the cruciferous crusade to eat more leafy greens during these dark days of winter.
Anne Quinn Corr is the author of “Seasons of Central Pennsylvania,” of several iBook cookbooks (“Food, Glorious Food!” “What’s Cooking?!” and “Igloo: Recipes to Cure the Winter Blues”) that are available for free on iTunes. She regularly posts to the blog HowToEatAndDrink.com and can be reached at chef firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: It is critical to wash the greens very well in a deep bowl or sink because they are often grown in sand and may require several changes of water to get them clean.
4 slices bacon, minced
1 small onion, minced
1 bunch collard greens
1 bunch kale
1 bunch turnip greens
1 bunch mustard greens
1/2 cup water or stock
1 ham hock or about 1 cup of leftover ham bits or ham bone
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Hot sauce, optional
Render the bacon in a very large pot over a low heat and add the minced onion. After the greens are clean, tear them into smaller pieces and removed the fibrous stems. They can go into the pot wet and what looks like an enormous amount will cook down quickly. Add the additional water or stock and the ham hock, split in half. Cook for at least half an hour, or you can cook for more time if you like them to really have a silky texture (which is the preferred method in the South). Season with salt and pepper and serve with hot sauce on the side for those who want a little heat.