Saturday, August 3, 2013

Cookbook Review -- The Leafy Greens Cookbook

If you've been to a farmers market lately or belong to a CSA, you've no doubt got some greens that you haven't cooked with before.  While you can sauté and serve practically any green, you're  probably wondering what to do with at least some of them -- we've all been told to eat more leafy greens and it's a shame to pass them up when they're fresh and local.  The Leafy Greens Cookbook by Kathryn Anible can help sort out the confusion.

The book's subtitle is "100 Creative, Flavorful Recipes Starring Super-Healthy Kale, Chard, Spinach, Bok Choy, Collards and More!"  But don't let the hyper-enthusiasm (yes, the exclamation point is actually there...) put you off, there's not much rah-rah once you open the book.  The recipes divide into two camps:  those where the greens are the star, and those that are ways for you to add greens into other foods.  There are a lot of salads, soups, and sautés but also some unexpected recipes like savory spinach scones and pierogies and chard quiche.  The book covers arugula, beet greens, Belgian endive, bok choy, lettuce (butter and romaine), Brussels sprouts, cabbage (various kinds), collard greens, dandelion greens, escarole, kale, mustard greens, radicchio, rapini, spinach, chard (Swiss and otherwise), turnip greens, and watercress.  With 100 recipes total, that leaves just a few for each green, but I think they're a pretty good representation of preparations that don't hide the essential flavors.

Anible puts very little in the way of headers with each recipe, just a few words about possible substitutions -- you won't get folksy stories of how she grew up eating this or that.  That's not a problem for me, but after reading through the recipes I found myself wishing she had discussed them a bit.  Many of these greens are bitter even when they're cooked.  Anible's recipes have ingredients that balance the bitterness.  Sometimes it's a little sugar or fruit, sometimes vinegar, sometimes salt (or soy sauce), sometimes fat, or sometimes more than one thing, depending on the green.   It's useful information, but you have to dig for it.  Pointing these ingredients and combinations out, either in the recipe headers or in a separate introduction section, would make it easier for people to create their own recipes, and would underscore the usefulness of what Anible has done here.

Everything is easy to follow, and although there are no photographs, you shouldn't have trouble making anything in the book.  I won't claim it's exhaustive or the ultimate in recipes for greens, but you can find plenty of other books for that (like Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty or Deborah Madison's The Greens Cookbook, both very good).  Pick up this book and go to your farmers market armed with a new appreciation for the variety and abundance.

If you've only had kale as a garnish or cooked, you might not know that it's really tasty eaten raw.  The key is to stem it, then cut it into very thin ribbons.  Massage the ribbons with the dressing -- really get in there with your hands and get the kale wilted and softened a bit.  The dressing takes care of a lot of the bitterness and the salt and massaging helps break down some of those tough cell walls.  The original recipe is topped with slivered almonds, cherry tomatoes, and avocado, and I've given you a variation if you want something with fall flavors.

Kale Salad with Avocado

From The Leafy Greens Cookbook by Kathryn Anible

Serves 4

Juice of 1 lemon (about 1/4 cup)

1/4 cup olive oil

4 cups packed, de-stemmed chopped or finely sliced kale

1/2 cup slivered almonds (toasted, if you like)

1 ripe avocado, diced

1 cup halved cherry tomatoes

salt and pepper

In a large bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and a little pepper.  Add the kale and massage the dressing into it using your hands -- it'll take about a minute.  Top with the almonds, avocado, and cherry tomatoes and gently toss together.  Taste for salt and pepper.  Serve within a hour of cutting the avocado.

Fall variation:  substitute 1/2 cup chopped pecans, 1/3 cup dried cranberries, and one apple, cored and diced for the tomatoes, almonds, and avocado.

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