Peak Pick: Winter Greens


Green Kale in the field - Oxnard CaliforniaI love Greens.There are few meals more comforting in the winter than a simple bowl of sautéed greens served with brown rice, and maybe a small piece of fish or chicken. Mustard is my favorite variety of green by far but I’m not picky in the winter - the cool weather makes the mustard greens supply a little harder to come by but it’s worth the trouble if you can find them. Winter greens grow slower and the cool weather gives them a deeper color and more robust flavor.

Super sized Collard Greens- grown by Spanky Rawls in South CarolinaGrowing up in the South, greens were always on the menu at my house. Turnip greens were the main attraction then — slow cooked for hours in a giant pot with a lump of salt pork. These days peanut and toasted sesame seed oil have replaced the salt pork (and the cooking time has gone from hours to a brief sauté) but my love of greens has not diminished.

Rainbow Chard - Watsonville, CaliforniaI have other reasons for loving greens — every time I buy a bunch I feel a surge of pride in the organic growers who produced, harvested, and packed the product in a way that sets the standard for quality in the industry. Greens are also a staple commodity produced in season by local farmers, large and small, throughout the U.S.

A WFM wet rack in the Southeastern US – 100% of the product in this picture is organically grownIf you are looking for a place in your local produce department that showcases the success of the organic industry, the wet rack is the place and cooking (and salad) greens are the commodities. No other product category maintains a higher average percentage of organic products annually and nowhere is the quality of organic production more evident or the care in which the product is handled in post harvest. Your local wet rack also a measure of how well a grocer cares for their produce — a well maintained greens section is as much an art as it is a science.

Red Kale – Watsonville, CaliforniaGreens are a popular crop because the same plant can produce multiple bunches and continue to add leaves even after several cuttings. Greens are also very hardy and prolific, growing well in a wide range of climates all over the U.S. This makes them a consistent income crop for large and small growers alike and as winter gives way to spring (and spring into summer) large scale production out of Florida and California is replaced by regional and local farming. Greens can also weather moderate freezes with little damage in most cases — this extends a local farm’s season in parts of the U.S. that get early cold snaps.Cooking green varieties change depending on the time of year and area of the U.S. where they are grown. Here are a few of the more common varieties:Swiss chard: Red, green, and rainbow Swiss chard is similar in texture to spinach and has a mild pleasant flavor. High in Potassium, vitamin E, and beta carotene, chard is best cooked for a short period of time.Mustard: Generally considered the strongest “flavored” classes of green, mustards have a sharp “peppery” flavor. Green mustard can be either flat leaf or curly and there are several varieties of Asian mustard (like Mizuna) that are milder. There is also a very delicate variety of red mustard that is sometimes seen in farmers' markets.Collard: An extremely popular green in the south, collards have broad, flat leaves and a mild distinctive flavor. Collards are high in calcium and vitamin C.Dandelion: Available in both red and green varieties, Dandelion greens are an excellent source of dietary calcium and vitamins A and K.

Lacinato KaleKale: The most popular cooking green, kale will get sweeter the cooler the growing conditions get. The most common variety is green kale but there is also a Red Russian, flowering (purple and white), and the more recently popular narrow leaf Lacinato kale.You can steam, sauté, braise, roast, or slow cook greens. My favorite method is a simple sauté:Take one bunch of your favorite greens, wash thoroughly and remove the large stems. Tear leaves into small, bite-size pieces.In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons olive or peanut oil over medium high heat (I also add a teaspoon of toasted sesame oil for flavor). Add greens and sauté until you reach a desired degree of doneness- add a dash of soy sauce at the end right before serving. I like mine full-flavored so 8-10 minutes is good for my tastes but the flavor softens the longer you cook them so I encourage experimentation.Here’s a more traditional southern recipe courtesy of Dana Peters, our Southeastern U.S. field team member:1 bunch of greens (collards, turnip, mustard)3 strips of range fed pork bacon -- lean1/2 teaspoon salt1 teaspoon sugarWash and cut greens in the direction of the main stem (removing the largest stems). Chop into small pieces and place in a large pot with 2” of water. Add bacon, salt, and sugar and bring to a boil; reduce to medium temperature and cook for one hour. Dana also suggests combining greens for different flavors.There are many other types of greens (and endless ways to prepare them). What is your favorite?Many thanks to Dana Peters, John Walker, and Bob Flood for contributing to this post.

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