By Henry Schliff
Bitter greens are among the most nutritionally dense foods that one can eat but their bitterness needs to be toned down and sweetened for most of us to enjoy them. A common way of doing this is to first boil them, drain off the liquid, and then cook them for a long time in fat back until they turn dark, mushy, and sweet. I must admit that when I first tasted collards that way accompanied by a slice of hot corn bread and pinto beans I thoroughly enjoyed them. The problem, I learned, is that a lot of the nutritional benefit goes down the drain with the cooking water and fat back can contribute to obesity and high cholesterol.
The good news is that there is another great way to cook and enjoy collards, kale, mustard greens, chard, dandelion greens, and all sorts of exotic bitter greens appearing in the fresh vegetable section of the supermarket and in local farmers markets.
The bitterness in greens can be tamed by first caramelizing onions in a small amount of olive oil until their natural sugar turns sweet, adding the greens to the onions and then steaming them covered, over low heat, in just the water which clings to them after they have been rinsed.
The following recipe that I use often for kale illustrates this simple technique and can be used successfully for all the other greens.
Kale with caramelized onions and ginger
1 large bunch of fresh kale
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 medium size yellow onion, peeled and diced
½ tsp. sugar
1 inch piece of fresh ginger
2 tsp. naturally brewed low-sodium soy sauce
Wash each kale leaf under cold running water carefully opening all the curly edges to rinse away all sand and grit. Tear the leaves off the tough part of the stems and place aside in a bowl. Discard the stems.
Heat the olive oil in a large, deep, skillet. Stir in the onions, cover the pan, and cook over low heat until the onions are soft and moist (5-10 minutes). Uncover the pan, add the sugar and cook stirring frequently over moderate heat until the onions are very soft and a deep brown color (10-15 minutes).
Peel the ginger using the side of a kitchen spoon or small paring knife and grate it or place it on a cutting board and cut it into very small pieces. Stir the ginger and soy sauce into the onions. Chop the kale leaves into bite size pieces and add them to the skillet. Toss the mixture over moderately high heat to thoroughly coat the kale with the onions and seasonings. Reduce the heat to low and cover the pan.
Continue cooking, removing the cover occasionally and stirring, until the kale wilts and softens (add a little water if the kale starts drying out). Note: caramelized onions have many different uses and are delicious on pizza, served with grilled fish, used fish cakes, cooked with beans and lentils, stirred into homemade onion dip, used in meatloaf or a topping for burgers etc.
Henry Schliff’s kitchen experience is long and varied over the past 30 years. He has been the chef of a French, Italian, and Mexican restaurant and most recently the chef/owner of the Orange Blossom Bakery in Buxton. He is the author of two cookbooks and now is delighted to share his love of cooking from his Ocracoke home kitchen.