It ain’t easy bein’ greens

It’s funny to me that my most requested dish for potlucks is greens. After all, they are vile, disgusting and your parents MADE you eat them when you were little, so you ended up slowly plastering layers of them to the underside of the dining table and surreptitiously feeding them to the dog who either ate anything or quietly mouthed them and then let them slip to the floor coated in drool.

Even now, when people actually believe that their parents might have been right and that greens might be good for you in some undefined kind of way, greens STILL have a bad reputation – the geeky, ugly, unloved cousin who shows up unwanted and is reluctantly accepted in very, very small doses.

So I am justified, I think, in being proud that people want my greens. People request my greens. People even actually EAT my greens. So what’s the secret?

Well, first there isn’t really one. Once people start eating greens they realize that not only are they really, really good for you, but they taste really, really good too. If we are getting all excited nowadays about blueberries, pomegranates and broccoli and anti-oxidants and bioflavinoids and so on, just think what they’d find if they looked at greens for anti-oxidants and bioflavinoids!

Plus, Jared Diamond, best-selling author (of Guns, Germs and Steel and Collapse) and deep-thinker about society says that our hunter-gatherer ancestors lived on a diet of up to 70 different kinds of gathered plants a day – many of which were some form of greens – and in many ways enjoyed better digestive health than we do today.

So, however you come to the conclusion, it is established that greens are good FOR you. Now comes the hard part – how to make them flat out good so that your children happily agree to eat them and even sometimes ASK for them. Here are the deep, dark secrets…

First, debunking a couple of myths. It is a Southern tradition to make your greens with sugar and lots of pork fat. These greens are edible it is true, but they go a long way toward removing any health benefit. And more importantly, they aren’t as good as the much healthier greens described below. It is also a Southern and just about everywhere else tradition that you need to cook your greens for a long time to make them soft and tender and with a good (foodie jargon alert) ‘mouth feel.’ Also not true.

What you DO need however are salt to bring out the flavor and high heat to cook them fast. The same basic technique applies to all greens but it is a good idea to think about the time taken to cook the stalk versus the leaf. For example, collards have hefty, tough stalks. They DO need more cooking than the leaves. On the other hand, chard has big but relatively soft stalks – all you have to do is add the stalk parts first before the tender leaf tips. I also have to confess that the one green I cannot face is the dandelion – they are just flat out bitter.

The Best Greens Ever

You need the following: a bunch or more of greens, soy sauce, lemon juice, olive oil, a big skillet, frying pan or wok. Optional extras include garlic, ginger, cumin, coriander, chilli, onion, spring onion and bacon (pork fat may be bad for you but it does taste good…)

Wash the greens thoroughly and shake ’em dry. Chop them up roughly in strip about three quarters of an inch wide across the leaves (at right angles to the stem). Chop the stalks as well but push as much of the stalky bits as you can to one side. Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in your pan until hot (but short of smoking). Add the optional seasoning elements and let them cook a little. Now add all the stalky bits and stir them in thoroughly so they are coated and cooking hard. Keep the heat high throughout. Once the stalks are starting to soften (longer for collards, no time at all for spinach) add the rest of the leaves in two stages, stirring them in thoroughly after each stage and letting them start to settle in the pan. Once both sets of leaves are in, stir again and once the leaves start to soften, add a tablespoon of soy sauce and a tablespoon of lemon juice (adjust oil, soy sauce and lemon juice upward if making a larger amount of greens and also to taste with experience). Stir in thoroughly and cook just until all the greens are soft. Remove from heat and serve immediately.

There are other great things to do with greens as well. The softer and more highly spiced greens like spinach, arugula (rocket), mustard greens and some of the asian greens can be cooked in with some stock and then blended with a little cream and flavorings to make fantastic creamy soups (see arugula, spinach, sorrel soup with smoked oysters). I also like to make pesto-like sauces from them and finely chop them into salads where they add huge, heaping explosions of flavors.

So there you have it – greens are good and even though Kermit the Frog was right, he shouldn’t have been. It should be easy being green.


  1. owen – about how long does the entire cooking process take? just trying to get a feel for how quick this is. thanks!


  2. I like southern style greens (though I don’t cook mine utterly to death), and I like Asian style greens, and have finally convinced my husband that he likes greens by cooking the Asian ones for him.

    I do garlic, ginger and sometimes scallion, as well as either Cantonese char sui (bbq pork) or lop cheong–sweet sausages, cut into a tiny dice or matchstick slices. I fry the pork or sausage a bit, to flavor the oil, add the ginger and garlic, and sometimes a chile pepper, and fry until fragrant. Then, I add the greens, and just as they start to go limp, I add a splash of Shao Hsing wine, some chicken broth, and a tiny splash of light soy sauce and a sprinkle of honey or sugar. Then, a few drops of sesame oil, and it is done.

    Very tasty. If it is a bitter green, like kale, I will add the tiniest bit of rice vinegar, too.

  3. Pork fat bad for you? Where you gettin’ this “information”?
    Add it, smile and move on. You cannot have greens without it.


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