cuisine à la carly: leafy greens

As an avid cook and culinary experimenter, a question I get asked often is "how do you find the time to cook"?

The answer isn't exactly simple.  Like all projects worth doing - cooking starts with a considerable investment of time and effort (namely, familiarizing yourself with different techniques and buying good equipment).  But once you've put in that initial chunk of time, day-to-day cooking becomes fairly easy - it's just variations on a theme.

That said, I know the question people really want answered is : "What is a  short-cut to healthy, home-cooked meals"?  And while most people will tell you no such thing exists, I disagree.   The answer is leafy greens.

Leafy greens are great for detoxification, extremely versatile, and fast to cook.  The vast majority of my warm weeknight meals are based off these nutritious plants (kale, mustard greens, collard greens, spinach, turnip greens...) and fall into one of two easy variants : braised and soup('ed).

Braised Greens:

Ingredients: greens, garlic (onion/shallot), olive oil, salt, water/stock (+ optional extras)

1) Heat up olive oil in a pan. 2) Slice 1-2 cloves of garlic (and/or you can use shallots, red onion, etc.) and add them to the pan.  Note: if you use both an onion/shallot and garlic, add the onion first and then the garlic, as garlic burns very quickly and the onion will need to soften. 3) Wash your greens and chop into inch-wide ribbons.  Note: Do not dry the greens after washing, the residual moisture will help them wilt. 4) Add greens to pan with a pinch of salt and cover.  Note: be careful of splattering, as wet greens and hot oil can create a "spitting pan" situation.  Keep an eye on the pan.  Add extra water or stock as necessary to wilt greens without drying them out. 5) Spruce it up:

  • Catalan Greens: add golden raisins to pan (at same time you add spinach so that they plump up a bit) as well as chick peas or nuts.  Optional: squeeze of lemon or splash of balsamic vinegarNote : Chick peas can be added at same time as raisins, for nuts : add slivered almonds, toasted pine nuts, or soy nuts 1-2 minutes before you remove the greens from the pan.
  • Simple Greens: Dress with a squeeze of lemon or a tsp of balsamic vinegar.  Note : add vinegar while still over flame, so it caramelizes a bit as it cooks down.
  • Indian Greens: add curry or an Indian spice mix to the pan at the same time as the greens.  Note: you may want to add a splash of extra water to help create a "sauce" of sorts.  You can also add golden raisins and nuts, as with the Catalan version.

6) When greens are wilted and all other ingredients heated through, remove from heat and serve promptly.

Soup'ed Greens:

Ingredients: 1 bunch of greens, olive oil, garlic (onion/shallot), chicken (or other) stock (+ optional extras)

1) Heat up a small amount of olive oil in a pot. 2) Slice up 2-3 cloves of garlic (as well as some shallots/onions if you like). 3) When garlic is slightly browned, add 4 cups of chicken (or other) stock. 4) Wash and cut greens into inch-wide ribbons. 5) When stock has reached a gentle simmer, add greens, cook for 15-20 minutes. 6) Spruce it up:

  • During cooking:
    • add fresh diced tomatoes or chopped sundried tomatoes
    • add herbs and spices, such as rosemary, thyme or bay leaf or spicy red pepper flakes
    • add legumes, like white beans (northern beans, cannelloni beans) chick peas, or lentils
  • After cooking:
    • toast stale bread and add small cubes to soup
    • grate Parmesan cheese over finished soup

Once you master these two classics, you may feel inclined to add some new leafy green recipes to your regimen, so check out this list of 246 cheap, healthy leafy green recipes.