January 2, 2013

The beauty of greens

Cooking with leafy greens in the U.S. of A. used to be a 'Southern thing.' No longer.

By WENDELL BROCK, McClatchy Newspapers

Southerners think they own greens. They even romanticize collards, saying that first frost imparts a sweetness that removes their natural bitterness.

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Liana Krissoff's Autumn Turnips with Indian Spices and Brown Basmati Rice

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Birmingham, Ala., chef Frank Stitt created this side dish of Collard "Cassoulet" to go with grilled quail.

Now I love a pot of long-simmered, pork-scented mustard, turnips, collards or kale as much as anybody.

Yet there's complexity of flavors and techniques to be found throughout the world of greens.

Brazilians slice kale into chiffonade, saute it with olive oil and garlic and serve it as an accompaniment to pork-laden feijoada. Italians add greens to hearty full-meal soups and stews.

The French bathe spinach in cream and butter, an elegant treatment that suits collards and kale just as well. Just lately, baked kale leaves have been hailed as a healthy answer to potato chips.

Bet you can't eat just one.

Everywhere you look, American cooks celebrate leafy greens in ways both fresh and old-fashioned.

Atlanta's Miller Union serves kale and squash toasts. North Carolina food writer Sheri Castle's "The New Southern Garden Cookbook" devotes an entire chapter to greens, from Melted Tuscan Kale to Creamed Collard and Country Ham Pot Pie with Cornmeal Pastry.

In "The Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook," Birmingham, Ala., chef Frank Stitt offers collard green and white bean gratin, a delicious peasant dish that's kinda like a Southern cassoulet.

After cooking through a bunch of recipes for this article, I ended up with a big mess of turnips and kale. Using olive oil, bacon, onion, celery, garlic, hot pepper, vinegar and a splash of molasses, I simmered up a basic pot of greens.

I dumped in leftover white beans and chopped new potatoes and topped it off with grilled sausage.

With a little fooling around, you, too, can create a dish gives that mama's pot likker a shot of flair.

EASY KALE CHIPS

Total time: 20 minutes

Servings: 4

These chips are a cinch to make and a healthy, low-calorie alternative to fried potato chips. Feel free to doctor up with your favorite spices or seasoning salt.

1 bunch kale

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons vinegar (optional)

1 teaspoon sea salt

Rinse kale in a colander. Remove the tough inner stems. If using curly leaved kale, discard the stems and tear kale into potato-chip size pieces. If using lacinato kale (also known as dinosaur kale, black kale, Tuscan kale, etc.) remove stems with a sharp knife, leaving two long strips. Thoroughly dry the kale pieces, preferably with a salad spinner. If you don't have a salad spinner, gently dry with a soft dish towel.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Dump the kale into a large bowl. Drizzle with olive oil, and toss until the chips are evenly coated. Add vinegar (if using) and toss again. Place kale on baking sheet in a single layer. Bake for 10 minutes or until the chips are just crisp. (You may need to bake in more than one batch. Be careful not to over-bake; kale chips burn easily.) Remove from oven. Season with sea salt. Serve immediately. Store any leftovers in an airtight container.

Per serving: 39 calories (77 percent from fat), 1 gram protein, 2 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, 3 grams fat (trace saturated fat), no cholesterol, 177 milligrams sodium

COLLARD "CASSOULET"

Total time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Servings: 6 side-dish portions

By adding a bit more meat and cheese, you can turn Alabama chef Frank Stitt's collard gratin into a main dish. I found that a 1-pound bag of pre-washed collards worked perfectly; canned beans would also taste fine and save time.

1 pound collard greens, stems and tough ribs removed

5 garlic cloves, 1 crushed and 4 chopped

(Continued on page 2)

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