A way with greens

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How does one cook greens? There are many, many ways to make an insipid, gray mess, and an equal number of ways to undercook them so one is chomping on fibrous stems, peeling them out of one’s teeth. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have them nicely cooked, with a requisite amount seasoning, and maybe — dare one hope — a roasty flavor that you get when vegetables are delicately charred?

Yes, there is a way. The problem with throwing chopped up greens into a saute pan with oil is that they are usually so moist, that instead of being charred, they steam. Good in its way, but no comparison to that elusive charred flavor.

The secret of this recipe is that one dry-sautes the greens in a hot, flat pan, with no oil in it. Do that first, until the greens are bone-dry and starting to show brown spots on the stems at least. That is where the charred flavor is hiding. Once you see that, and smell the roasty aroma, put in your cooking fat, the salt, the spices, and there is no way to go wrong.

Step 1: Collect, wash, chop the greens.

An kind of medium-hearty greens would be ideal. What that I mean by that is, not collards — they probably take too long to cook. And not spinach or arugula, since they will turn to minimal slime in no time. That leaves the broad middle spectrum of kale, mustards, rapini, chard both red and white, and some older radicchios and endives if one enjoys a slight bitterness. I know I do. Nowadays some grocery stores (of the better kind) carry a braising mix, which is a smattering of greens too old to be salad. This way with greens is ideal for the braising mix.

Wash them nicely and chop into half-inch long strips.

Step 2: Dry-saute

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Heat a wide, thick-bottomed pan on high heat. I use one of All-Clad’s saute pans, with a stainless steel interior. Calphalon will work but is not necessary, and do not use teflon. You don’t want non-stick, you want stick. The greens can go on the pan even before it has started heating up.

At first the greens will be piled high. Soon the layer at the bottom will start to wilt and shrink. Use tongs or those handy pincer-tools too turn them over every minute or so, until all the greens have had their tryst with the heat, and have wilted. The moisture from washing is also evaporating away. As they get to be bone-dry, they will start charring. If you used a cruciferous green (kale, mustard, rapini) you will start to smell that sulphuric smell of roasting broccoli, which I love.

Greens, when they are wilted:

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Step 3: Oil and seasoning.

At this point, the pan is very hot, and any oil poured on it will immediately sizzle. Clear a little spot and put in a few tablespoons of cooking oil. Before sauteing the greens in it, put in your seasoning. There are various combinations that work well together.

1. Red chili powder and half an onion, chopped

2. Mustard seeds (half a tablespoon), garlic, red chili flakes

3. Just lots of black pepper, lemon juice on top

Once the seasoning cooks in the oil, all that is left is to stir the greens to coat them with the hot oil, add salt to taste and cover, while continuing the cook on a gentle flame for a few minutes until the greens are done.

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