Every time I walk through the produce section of the grocery store, the wavy plumes of leafy green vegetables beckon to me, begging to be bought. Invariably, I wind up in a wrestling match with those too-small plastic produce bags, because I can't resist picking up an extra-large bunch of crisp, curly kale, a frilly thatch of mustard greens, or a clasp of the new electric-hued "Bright Lights" Swiss chard. The truth is, these greens not only look beautiful, but they're also incredibly satisfying to cook with (and, yes, really good for you, too: they're high in vitamins A and C, as well as folic acid and calcium).
"Wilt" tender greens; braise heartier ones
I used to get home and wonder what in the world I was going to do with all those greens, but not any more. Working away in my warm kitchen on chilly days, I've developed a little repertoire of recipes (side dishes, soups, and light suppers) for cooking these cool-weather greens. In the process, I've discovered that greens have different personalities. Some—like beet greens, Swiss chard, and spinach—are so tender that they need only a touch of heat to be cooked. Overcooking them, in fact, tends to alter their flavors in an unpleasant way. While these greens are best "wilted," the heartier greens, like kale, mustard, collards, and turnip greens, will be tough and leathery unless patiently simmered. The assertive flavors of these greens also mellow with cooking and blend with the aromatics with which they're cooked.
There are a few cooking greens that can be wilted or braised. You might think of escarole or dandelion greens as hearty lettuces best suited for warm salads, but both of these greens (especially older, larger leaves) are delicious braised or added to soups, though cooking them too long, unlike the very hearty greens, will not improve their flavor.
Use only the moisture clinging to the leaves after washing to help wilt tender greens. Toss them with tongs over the heat until they're all collapsed.
To "wilt" tender greens, pile them in a skillet (preferably nonstick), turn the heat on, and toss the greens with tongs until they're all collapsed and moistened. If your greens are very dry at the start, you'll need to add a tablespoon or so of water to your pan, but usually the little bit of moisture left clinging to the leaves after washing is enough. Even then, some greens (like spinach) will give off a lot of moisture when wilted, and you'll need to drain them in a colander before proceeding with your recipe so that water doesn't dilute your finished dish. For the simplest dishes (like Wilted Tender Greens with Orange & Ginger), I take the drained, wilted greens and add them back to the skillet, where, in the meantime, I've sauted a few flavorful tidbits in a little oil or butter. Tossed together, the result is delicious. Wilted greens are also a handy base for baked gratins, pasta fillings, or quiches and tarts.