Power Salads: Make the Most of Field Greens

From The Lecture Series: The Everyday Gourmet — Cooking with Vegetables

By Chef Instructor Bill Briwa, The Culinary Institute of America

Wilted, blanched, sautéed, braised, or even puréed, field greens add great balance and depth to any dish. Learn how to mix up your meals with this nutritional powerhouse.

Spinach works as both salad and field greens.

When I was first learning how to cook, I was working at a restaurant down in New Orleans. A cook came in and showed me a gumbo that I had never seen before. It was a Lenten gumbo. And rather than use meat, they used greens, all different kinds of field greens: carrot tops, escarole, collards and more. What really captured my imagination was this—the chef had a saying that when you make this soup in the year to come, you’ll make a new friend for every different green that you put into the pot.

Unlike salad greens, such as lettuce, field greens, or cooking greens, need to be cooked.

This is a transcript from the video series The Everyday Gourmet: Cooking with Vegetables. Watch it now, on The Great Courses Plus.

Field greens are a nutritional powerhouse. There’s tremendous nutrition to be gained from greens like this. Every one of them is nutrient-dense. If you go to the market and pick up a new green and you bring it home to cook it, one of the first things you should do is just take a little bit and taste it.

  • Spinach walks the line between salad greens and field greens. It can be eaten raw, but it can also be cooked.
  • Rainbow chard comes in such colors as yellow, red, and green. This is a pretty tender green, but it does need to be cooked.
  • Kale has made an appearance in salads where it’s not cooked, but it is often salted and rubbed and bruised until it begins to fall apart. It’s not really eaten raw; it is manipulated a little bit. It has become popular because it is a nutritional powerhouse.
  • Dandelion greens are really bitter. The only time you can eat them raw is when they’re very small, before the bitterness has started to take hold. These needs to be cooked to tame the bitterness. Salt, acid, and assertive cheeses can also calm that bitterness.
  • Mustard greens grow wild in vineyards and are used as a cover crop during the winter.
  • Collard greens are pretty leathery. They’re either too tough or too spiky to be enjoyed without cooking.
  • Borage has flowers that taste almost like cucumber. There are small spines all over the leaves, so if you want to use them, they need to be blanched first. Borage is one of the few vegetable sources of omega-3 oil, the heart-healthy oil found in wild salmon.
  • Purslane might grow in a garden as a weed. It is also a vegetable source of omega-3 oil. It tastes lemony. It eats almost like a succulent, or cactus, so it’s very juicy.

Learn more about preparing savory and surprising dishes starring carrots

Horta: Go Greek With Field Greens and Feta

Ingredients

Braising mix

  • mix of hearty, leafy greens

Dressing

  • 2 tbs extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • salt, to taste
  • 2 tbs feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1 tbs dill or mint
  • black pepper, to taste

Cooking Instructions

Horta is a Greek dish that features greens. For this dish, you can use a mixture of different greens, such as purple kale, red chard, frisée, escarole, dandelion greens, and mustard greens. You can buy a braising mix at the supermarket to get this kind of variety without buying bunches of each type of green.

Blanch the greens until they’re tender. Add them to boiling, salted water. Press them into the water, and they will wilt down. The braising mix is typically made up of baby greens, so it usually takes only about four or five minutes for the greens to become tender.

Big-Pot Blanching

When you’re cooking green vegetables, acidity and long cooking are the enemies. There is acidity inherent in all of the vegetables that is locked up in the cell structure, and when you begin to cook the vegetables and those cells rupture, the acidity is released. The acidity will negatively impact the bright green chlorophyll, turning your vegetables an olive drab.

To avoid this, cook the vegetables as quickly as possible in a large amount of water. The acidity is watered down by all of the water, so it’s not as much of a problem. When the vegetables are cooked, take them out of the pot and shock them in ice water to stop the cooking and preserve the integrity of the green color.

When you think the greens might be done cooking, pull out the toughest of the greens, such as the purple kale (which will turn green while cooking), to check how tender it is. Once the greens are tender, remove them from the pot and place them into a colander sitting in ice water so that the cooking stops and the green color is set.

Once the greens are cool, drain the water. Then, squeeze the excess moisture out of them. You don’t want a watery finished dish. Because you didn’t cut the greens before cooking them, most of the nutrition is intact.

Cut the greens, which have a variety of colors and textures, into bite-sized pieces. Then, put them in a salad bowl.

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The dressing needs to be assertive for such strong-flavored greens. To make the dressing, start with a very vegetal olive oil. Add lemon juice, raw garlic, and salt. Toss the salad with the dressing, making sure that all of the greens are coated with the dressing. Taste and adjust the dressing as necessary. Add feta cheese for a salty, creamy, savory addition to the

To make the dressing, start with a very vegetal olive oil. Add lemon juice, raw garlic, and salt. Toss the salad with the dressing, making sure that all of the greens are coated with the dressing. Taste and adjust the dressing as necessary. Add feta cheese for a salty, creamy, savory addition to the

Toss the salad with the dressing, making sure that all of the greens are coated with the dressing. Taste and adjust the dressing as necessary. Add feta cheese for a salty, creamy, savory addition to the horta.

To bring some refinement to this dish, add dill or mint—something that’s aromatic and introduces a high note.

Plate the salad and drizzle olive oil and lemon juice over it. Top the salad with fresh cracked black pepper.

Learn more about cooking with inflorescents—vegetables that also happen to be flowers

Common Questions About Field Greens

Q: What exactly are field greens?

Field greens are the variety of green and red-topped leafy vegetables sold from fresh vegetable markets including collard greens, mustard greens, escarole, and spinach, and many are used for salads.

Q: Do field greens have health benefits?

Field greens are rich in nutrients and fiber and have their own individual healthful properties. They are very good for low-calorie diets and adding nutrients to a diet without including too many saturated fats or calories.

Q: Is lettuce considered a field green?

Lettuce is a field green of which there are many varietals.

Q: Is kale better for you than spinach?

Kale provides as much as twice the amount of vitamin C as spinach, while spinach has almost double the amount of vitamins K, A, and folate. They both have their high points.

This article was updated on 1/22/2020

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