Field of Greens

The Kitchen

GUEST: Mean Green

[AB watches a recreated scene from a Godzilla movie on his television]

    Ha, ha, ha, ha. Hard to believe it, but this movie scared the bejeebers out of me when I was a kid. Of course back then, my friends and I had an entire hierarchy of scariness. For instance, Dracula was scarier than Frankenstein because Frankenstein was kind of slow-moving and slow-thinking. Things from space were generally scarier than things that weren't. But nothing—nothing—haunted us like the vegetal apparition that we called "Mean Green".

MEAN GREEN: [enters the room behind AB and begins to sneak up on him]

    Mean Green was a composite monster built out of our collective fear of all foods dark, leafy, and green. Of course, our fears were well-founded. These foods were supposed to be healthy. And of course, they tasted terrible, bitter, earthy, composty. Bleachhh. And lastly, our moms cooked them for days, creating a texture that we were certain could exist only in swamps.
    Luckily, these unsavory leaves gave off such a stench during their long stewing sessions that you were tipped off to the nature of the evening's meal long before you got home. This gave you time to hatch an avoidance scheme, such as dinner at a friends, or an appendectomy, or running away to join the French Foreign Legi ...

MG: [pounces on him]

    [jumps, but is not scared, pats monster on the hand] But I've learned a thing or two since childhood, about vegetables, cooking, and monsters.

MG: [sits on the couch with AB]

    And I'm pleased to say that the creature formerly known as Mean Green, is in—my house at least—referred to now as Deep Green. And he's a good friend of mine, not to mention, seriously ...

["Good Eats" theme plays]

The Kitchen

GUEST: Deep Green (formerly, Mean Green)

[AB and Deep Green share a hot beverage]

    For the sake of this program, we are going to divide the green and leafy world into two distinct groups: tender, and hearty. Now, tender greens like beet greens [pulls off examples from Deep Green] wilt quickly when exposed to heat, as do young mustard greens, spinach, and Swiss chard. Hearty greens, like, for instance, kale which is certainly the curliest of this bunch, collards—they're the toughest, for sure—turnip greens, and mature mustard greens all require longer exposure to heat in order to soften. It is these hearty greens with their strong flavors and concentrated nutrition, that we will focus on here today.
    Now I realize that most of us don't have a monster here at home to pick things off of, so we must go to  ...

Harry's Farmers Market: Marietta, GA - 9:35 AM

GUEST: Deb Duchon, Nutritional Anthropologist
            Prehistoric Man

... the megamart. Now, kale, mustard, turnips, and collards are Brassicas, that is, they are the same botanical family as cabbage. But here's the difference: all of these greens bear the scientific moniker acephala, which means ...

AB & DEB DUCHON: ... "headless"

    Did you call for a nutritional anthropologist, because I know I didn't call for a nutritional anthropologist.

DD: Alton, did you know that the word "collard" comes from the Anglo-Saxon term "colewart", which just means "cabbage plant".
AB: You don't say.
DD: And collards are very old.
AB: How old?
DD: Well, let's say that this megamart was a time machine.
AB: Well, that's just plain silly [time machine apparatus drops from above the camera shot], there's no way  ... Hey, where did you get that?

DD:  ... and if we go way, way, way, way back, the first thing that would disappear would be brussels sprouts, because they've only been around about 500 years. [pile of brussels sprouts disappear]


DD:  And then, maybe, cauliflower, and head cabbage [pile of green cabbage disappear], and kohlrabi [kohlrabi disappear], and napa, and bok choy, and broccoli [broccoli disappear].
AB: So, what you're saying is that it's conceivable that pre-historic man ate collard greens.
PREHISTORIC MAN: [jumps into shot, sniffs, smells collar greens, begins eating them, take them all, runs off]
DD: I guess so.
AB: Yeah, I guess that answers that question.
DD: If you think about it, in a lot of Europe, that must have been the only wild green and source of vitamin C that people would have gotten. And they do taste better in cold weather.

    They do. And that is because with collard greens, the sugar level goes up as the mercury goes down.

AB: Say, how do you like yours, Deb?
DD: You don't really care. You just say that when you want to get rid of me.

The Kitchen

    While it is certainly true that dark, leafy things keep better and longer when left in a whole state, it's also true that you will be whole lot more likely to use them if they are prepped and ready to go when you walk up to the old chill chest. And, clean and prepped will take up a lot less room in there.
    Now the first thing we have to deal with is this stem, which I'm certainly not going to eat. My rule is, if it is, say, an eighth of an inch to a quarter of an inch wide, I'll leave it on there. Anything more than that, and it has got to go. Here's how. Just take this, kind of lay it down, fold over the leaf, kind of like a, I don't know, a giant taco ... this one I'm actually going to cut ... and just take a knife, and just run it right down the stem. You can just pull this off with your fingers if it's a thin one, but this is pretty beefy. This [stem] we simply discard.
    Now curly leaves, you can just kind of tear up and dump in a sink full of water, thusly, okay. If, however, we're dealing with a large flat leaf, like, say this massive and rather impressive collard green, we'll go about this a little bit differently. We'll pull off the stems just as we did with the others, and we're just going to stack them up over here on the side.
    Now I realize it may seem that I'm making an awful big deal about these stems. But believe me, they're made up of a substance that is not going to dissolve when cooked. So if you aren't careful to get them out, you're going to be eating a nice pot of greens and all of a sudden you're going to have a big, kind of green dental floss thing in between your teeth, and that's not good eats. So, be diligent.
    When you get between five or ten, just fold them, roll them up. Then, hold them carefully, cut that down the middle, and then cut thusly [makes perpendicular cuts]. There we go. And move to the water.
    The ancient Meads believed that greens needed to be washed in 12 changes of water in order to rid them of their earthly associations. Personally, I think that's a little excessive. I just swish them around in deep water for about 30 seconds, and leave them alone so that the dislodged grime can settle to the bottom of the sink. The key is to keep the water deep, at least five inches, or else the sand will just resettle on the leaves.

The Laundry Room

    Letting water cling to these leaves would be a fine idea if we were going to cook these right away. But for long-term storage, or even short-term storage, bone-dry is better. Remember, wet greens rot fast. So, we've got to get these dry. You could use a hand-cranked salad spinner, but it would take all day for this amount, so I prefer to use the big electric salad spinner that I've got here in the laundry room. That's right, the clothes washer. Just fill a zip-up pillow bag or pillow cover with your greens and drop them in. Turn on the spin cycle, and come back in about a minute.
    Now, on New Years Day, when every good Southerner has a big heap of greens along with the black eyed peas, I just stand here and tear the leaves off right into the washer. When it gets about half way full, I give it a few minutes in the rinse cycle, and then give it the spin. It works great and I've never lost a leaf ... at least not as far as I know. But I'll admit, the pillow cover version is a little more civilized.

According to Hippocrates, greens were part of the Greek diet.

    [retrieves the greens from the washer] Now, we're going to move these to low-atmosphere containment.

The Kitchen

GUEST: Carolyn O'Neil, Registered Dietitian

    That is, a heavy-duty zip-top bag with most of the air squeezed or sucked out with a straw. Now this kind of bagged green is good, but there is another kind. Collard, mustard, kale, and turnip greens often come already cleaned, cut, bagged, and tagged, ready to go from your market. Although I'll use these things in a pinch, I don't trust them. I mean convenience aside, they're a big gamble because you can't really know what's going on in that bag, especially down in the middle of the greens where evil could lurk. Nah. Buying these greens is certainly better than buying no greens at all. But if you do use them, I think you better cook them the same day you buy them or stay away.
    Behold, the greens of my foremothers. You know, somewhere along the line certain southerners got the notion that greens like collards, turnips, mustard, and such, aren't worth eating unless they've been cooked to the point where you could eat them with a spoon, or in this case, maybe even a straw. This is unfortunate for a whole big bunch of reasons.
    Now let's say for a moment that we could take a leaf—say, a collard green—and blow it up thousands of times its normal size. And, let's say that we had some technology that would allow us to cut a wee little patch in the side of the leaf so we could peel back the chloroplast and look down into the cell structure inside. What we would see would not be unlike this. A lot of little boxes—these are the cells that are made up of pectin substances that are reinforced with lignin and cellulose—and inside, all kinds of structures including nutrients, like vitamins and minerals. Things that we want to get at. The problem is, they're in those cells.
    Now, cows get around this when they eat grass because they stand and they chew, and chew, and chew all day long, which is why they don't build buildings or powerboats, or supercomputers. People, on the other hand, know how to cook. And through cooking, through a combination of water, heat, and time, we can soften these walls, and get at the nutrients inside. If we cook longer than it takes just to soften, we can, actually, almost dissolve these walls to the point that the nutrients will run out into the water. And there's nothing wrong with that, as long as you like drinking the "pot liquor", as we call it in the south, and I certainly do.
    However, if you continue to cook the leaves and these nutrients, the nutrients themselves, or some of them, can begin to break down. Bad things can happen. See, when isothiocyanates cook enough, they form very strong flavors and even stronger smells in the air. In fact, that stinky, rotten egg smell that comes out of greens all too often can be toxic in large amounts. In fact, it was synthesized and turned into a biological warfare agent used in World War I called mustard gas. Of course, now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure my mother waged biological warfare on me in the 1960's. I've got to get some air.

    [Opens window] Yecch.

CAROLYN O'NEIL: Smells like somebody's wasting perfectly good isothiocyanates in there.

    Why look, it's Carolyn, my Dietitian neighbor.

AB: How so "good"?
CO: Well, isothiocyanates are powerful plant nutrients. We call them phytochemicals. And we love them because they're like hit men against evil carcinogens. Not only can they help prevent their damaging effects, such as causing tumors, they can actually help remove them from our bodies. But you know, you don't have to overcook them like that.
AB: Go tell my mom, would 'ya?
Okay! [Leaves]
AB: Ahm ... Just ... She's going to have a long walk. [Closes window]

    Before we get busy not overcooking our greens, we need to consider a flavorant. Now greens are strong stuff, physically, and flavorant-ly ... Anyway, they need strong partners. Here are your best options:

    Pungent as in garlic. Acidic as in vinegar and citrus. Creamy as in, blue cheese. And finally, smoky. Now smoke is my favorite, because there's something about dark, leafy greens that reminds me of scotch, and good scotch is always aged in smoked cherry barrels.


    Now my favorite smoke injection system is smoked turkey legs which are available at most major megamarts. They impart just the right amount of smoky goodness without overwhelming the natural flavor of the greens with a lot of, you know, extra salt and fat and what not. If you can't get smoked turkey legs, you can always go with a couple of smoked ham hocks.

    So, our pound and a half smoked turkey leg goes into our eight-quart pot, along with about a quart of water. We're going to cover this with a lid and bring it to a boil over medium-high heat, and let it simmer for about another ten minutes or so. Now that is going to render out some fat and bring some of the smoky flavor out of the meat into the water where it can be evenly distributed with the greens.

1 1/2 Pound Smoked Turkey
1 Quart Water
    Ten minutes is up. We add one teaspoon of sugar, and one teaspoon of salt. Next, two pounds—that's approximately two gallons—of cleaned, chopped greens right in the pot. And it isn't going to look like it is going to fit. You'll have to kind of coax it a little bit. Just push down on top of that turkey leg. There we go. 1 tsp. Sugar + 1 tsp. Salt
2 Pounds Collards or Turnip

    Now, we are going to cover and gently simmer so the greens shrink down and get very, very tender, about 45 minutes. Now, with that amount of cooking, you will get a little earthy smell in your kitchen as well as a pleasant smokiness. But, nothing like the noxious cloud of my childhood.

In the South, greens are eaten on New Years Day in
hopes of bringing money in the coming year.

The Kitchen

    Now, we've gone through about half of the cooking process. And as you can see, the greens have cooked down considerably from their original mass, and given up a lot of moisture to the pot. You're going to want to stir this for about every, I don't know, about every ten minutes or so until the cooking is complete just to make sure nothing burns. And I can't help but notice that the water seems to be bubbling a bit aggressively here, and yet I have my burner turned all the way down. So, I'm going to kill this burner and move this off to a smaller, simmer burner for the remainder of the cooking time.
    When it comes to serving, I like to keep things simple: just a few dashes of hot sauce to add a little bit of heat and up the acidity, give it a little bit of brightness. I'm partial to the kind with the little chiles in the bottle.
    Now speaking of liquid, just take a look at what has accumulated here in this bowl. Now here in the south, we southerners call that "pot liquor". [begins a southern accent] And given a choice between the leaves and the liquor, well, we'd probably just have the liquor. [Drinks] Ahhh, that's good eats.
    Now I eat this kind of stuff, once, twice a day. Heck, three times if there's cornbread in the house. But before going through the whole batch, I'm very, very careful to set some aside for a green-less day. That's because in this state cooked], they are very freezable. [holds up a freezer bag with cooked greens inside]

To thaw frozen greens, submerge the sealed bag in cold running water.

    Although here in America hearty greens are most often associated with long, slow cooking methods, in Asia, greens such as turnip greens, mustard greens, and kale are often cooked very hot and very fast. Now the key to getting away with this is in technique and proper pan selection.
    The issue here is surface area. You see, we've got a big old mess of greens and if we try to cook them in too small of a pan, we'll end up stewing them and that's not what I want to do. I looking more of a sauté. So we need lots of wide open real estate, and, I don't know, I don't think the answer's up here. [Retrieves a roasting pan] Now that's what I'm talking about.

    Place your roasting pan over not one, but two burners set to medium heat. Now, things are going to move pretty fast around here so make sure you have on hand one to one and a quarter pounds of greens—I like kale—and the rest of your mise en place which we shall list by name shortly. As for the rest of the hardware, spring-loaded tongs, and one basting brush. Let's cook! 1 1/4 Pounds Kale or Mustard

    The oil goes in [he brushes it in], one tablespoon, two cloves of garlic, and we add the zest of one lemon. Next, two teaspoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice, followed quickly by a tablespoon of honey. A teaspoon and a half of salt goes on top of that, along with a quarter teaspoon of pepper. Stir that around, and then in comes the greens. Get them in all at once if you can, and you want to make sure that you get all the water that's clinging to them.

1 Tbs. Olive Oil
2 Cloves Garlic Minced
Grated Zest of 1 Lemon
2 tsp. Freshly Squeezed
    Lemon Juice
1 Tbs. Honey
1 1/2 tsp. Salt +
1/4 tsp. Freshly Ground Black

    Now I just washed these, so I'm going to bet there's probably, oh, I don't know, half a cup of water holding onto those leaves. If your leaves were dry when they went into the pan, you're going to want to add this [1/2 cup of water] because for now, it's the only cooking liquid. As these cook down and give up some liquid, they'll be less likely to burn, but the first 30 or 40 seconds, pretty critical.
    The technique here is not only to toss the greens so that they cook evenly, but you want to kind of scrub the bottom with them to get all the flavors off of the bottom of the pan.

    When the greens have cooked down almost to the consistency of frozen-and-then-thawed spinach—actually they've still got a little bit more backbone than that [holds up an example], this is perfect—I'm going kill the heat and add our final flavorants: a half a teaspoon of red pepper flake for a little "bang", and one tablespoon of sesame seeds. You can toast them before if you like. I don't. Toss. And then there's not much left to do besides just break out your chopsticks. [samples] Umm.

1/2 tsp. Red Pepper Flake
1 Tbs. Sesame Seeds

John Milton wrote, "turnip greens awaken slumbering
desire in even the most quiescent spouse."

The Kitchen

    Although I love all the dark, leafy greens, I'd have to say that mustard greens are probably my favorite, because they are so versatile. For instance, they can be used to create a nice, delicious thing that goes inside a baking dish like this. It is, in fact, a gratin.

    First step, pan prep. Butter up a two to two and a half quart baking dish, and make sure that you get the butter all the way up the sides.

Butter sides and bottom of 2 1/2 quart baking dish.

    Then, beat together three whole chicken eggs in a large bowl, and then add 10 ounces of ricotta cheese, two ounces of grated parmesan cheese—that's about half a cup—then one-half teaspoon of kosher salt, and finally a quarter teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper.

3 Whole Eggs Beaten
10 Ounces Ricotta Cheese
2 Ounces Grated Parmesan

1/2 tsp. Kosher Salt +
1/4 tsp. Freshly Ground
    Black Pepper

    A tablespoon of butter we'll put right in the corner [of the roasting pan]. We're going to let that kind of pool up in the corner as it melts. Two cloves of garlic, minced, and 12 ounces of sliced mushrooms. So just toss those with a little bit of salt—kosher, of course—over medium heat until they are brown and give up most of their liquid. 1 Tbs. Unsalted Butter
2 Cloves Garlic Minced
12 Ounces Mushrooms Sliced
Pinch of Kosher Salt
    Then add one pound of stemmed mustard greens, and toss those with the mushrooms and what not—again, over medium heat—until they are thoroughly wilted. Then, move them off of the heat, and combine with the batter. 1 Pound Mustard Greens
    Cleaned & Stemmed

    [begins to place the greens into the bowl using tongs] Now I know what you're thinking. You're thinking it would be a lot easier to simply turn this pan up and dump everything into the bowl. But, there's excess moisture in here that we do not want to bring to the party. So be patient and work with your tongs.
    [begins moving the mixture to the gratin baking dish] Don't try to pack this down into the baking dish. Just kind of smooth it into place.

    [Adds crumbled crackers to the top of the gratin] What kind of crackers? Well, I'm not going to tell you, but they look kind of like this [holds up a Ritz® cracker]. Okay? 1 Cup Crumbed Crackers
    Slide this into a 375 degree oven for 35 to 40 minutes or until the top is golden brown and delicious.


    [after its cooked] Umm. That's golden brown and delicious. Now just let this cool for a few minutes, and then serve.
    Well, as I hope you folks know by now, when it comes to dark, leafy greens, there's nothing to fear. Greens are healthy, economical, versatile, and if you don't cook 'em to death, darn delicious to boot.

AB: [to Deep Green] Well, big guy, what are you going to do with yourself now that nobody's afraid of you anymore?
DEEP GREEN: [is wearing a bowler had, hands AB a business card]
AB: What's this? [looks at card] "Salad Dressing Spokesperson!" Nice. Well, I hope that works out for you.

    As for the rest of you, I hope you'll take the dive and eat your greens. Just remember, buy them fresh. Wash, cut, and store properly as soon as you get home. Prepare them with strong flavors. And whatever you do, do not overcook them or he might give up the dressing gig, and come pay you a visit.
    See you next time, on Good Eats.

AB: [offers a plate of greens to Deep Green]
DG: [declines]
AB:  No, I guess not. Cannibalism.

Transcribed by Michael Roberts
Proofread by Michael Menninger

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010