Not much grows in cold climates during the winter, but hearty greens like cabbage, Brussels sprouts, rapini, collards, chard, bok choy and kale last longer than most. The introduction of hoop houses to grow sturdy-leaved plants and root vegetables help to keep many Midwestern farmers in business during this long, cold season. Many are delicious raw with a little massaging to help break up the fibers, but raw or cooked, you’ll want to remove the fibrous rib on the larger leaves of kale, collards, and kale before using. That doesn’t mean to throw them away! At the very least, put them in your compost bucket — but you can blanch and chop them and add to stews or stir-fry dishes, or pickle them and add them to salads for a vinegary punch.
True, some people don’t like these winter greens, but I think that’s because they haven’t had the opportunity to taste them at their best, as they do need a little coaxing. Sometimes a little blanching, roasting or marinating will go a long way to make a humble vegetable into the star of the meal. I will often make a kale or rapini pesto during the winter to serve with pasta (basically sub in blanched and well-drained greens for the basil leaves), and embellish as you’d like with lemon juice, parsley and/or shallots and replace the pine nuts with toasted walnuts, almonds or pecans. Try grated manchego or pecorino as a substitute for the classic Parmigiano. Get creative! Then spread it on your turkey sandwich, or toss with pasta, or throw a spoonful or two into polenta or risotto. It’s delicious.
Here are some more recipes that take advantage of the best that these greens have to offer.
Crisp up some kale in the oven.
This is an addictive snack, and vegan to boot. Preheat your oven to 275F. Take a bunch of kale and remove the ribs (stalks) from the leaves. My favorite method is to hold the kale leaf upside-down by the stalk and take your hand and run it down the length. Compost or reuse for another recipe. Take the kale leaves and cut into 2” wide strips. Toss with a tablespoon or two of olive oil and some sea salt and lay in a single layer on a large sheet pan. Bake ten minutes then flip the kale leaves over and bake an additional ten minutes until crisp. You can change up the flavors by sprinkling on other spices (try a little curry, or one of Penzey’s or The Spice House mixtures, or a little nutritional yeast).
Roast some baby bok choy until caramelized.
Clean 6 heads of baby bok choy carefully to remove any trace of grit. Cut in half lengthwise and place cut-side down on an oiled sheet pan. Drizzle or spray with more olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Roast in a 400F oven until nicely caramelized in spots, about 15 minutes. Remove to a platter. Make a miso vinaigrette and drizzle over and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Great side dish with roast chicken, salmon or pork.
Let kale and Brussels sprouts share billing in a salad.
The easiest way to do this is to buy a bag each of shredded lacinato kale and shredded Brussels sprouts from Trader Joe’s, as they do the bulk of the work for you. Combine in a large bowl and pick out any pieces that look particularly fibrous or anything discolored. Throw in a ½ cup each of sliced toasted almonds and grated pecorino cheese and a handful of chopped green onions and some chopped parsley. Make a quick vinaigrette with some grainy mustard, minced garlic, lemon juice and olive oil. Toss the salad and season to taste.
Start your day with a green smoothie.
The electric green color of this smoothie might be enough to rouse you from your slumber, but it’s also super tasty, an added bonus along with the health benefits. To serve two generously, pour 24 ounces of unsweetened almond milk (or oat milk, if that’s your preference) into a blender. Add 2 frozen (peeled) bananas cut in large chunks, ½ an avocado, 1 large cored and sliced Granny Smith apple, and four generous handfuls of baby spinach leaves. Add a pinch of kosher salt, about ½ teaspoon of ground cardamom, and a squeeze of lemon. Blend for 30-45 seconds until completely puréed. Too thick? Add a bit more nut milk and blend for 10 seconds. Enjoy!
Sauté some wild mushrooms with chard and white beans and serve on garlic toast.
Melt a tablespoon each of unsalted butter and olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Peel and chop a large shallot and clean/trim/slice a pound and a half of mushrooms (I recommend a mix of button, portobello, shiitake and oyster) and throw them in the hot oil. Once they get some nice color on them, throw in a few minced garlic cloves, a good pinch of red pepper flakes and some stemmed, chopped Swiss chard. Sauté until greens are wilted, then sprinkle with some red wine vinegar (a tablespoon or so), throw in a can of drained/rinsed cannellini beans and season to taste. Cook to warm beans through. Meanwhile, cut two thick slices of great sourdough bread (try Hewn!), brush them lightly on one side with olive oil, and toast. Place toast slices on plates and top with the sautéed greens/beans/mushroom mixture. Want to gild that lily, or add a little protein? Throw a poached or crispy-fried egg on top, and/or sprinkle with crumbled goat or feta cheese. Now THAT is a lunch.
Make a pasta you’ll crave all winter long.
As soon as the temperature dips, I start to crave my favorite pasta dish: Orecchiette Pasta with Italian Sausage and Rapini. Just typing these words makes my mouth water! It’s a dish that comes together relatively quickly and can be served with a nice Caprese or lemony arugula salad for dinner. Cook off a pound of orecchiette pasta in generously salted water and cook until still al dente. Drain, reserving a cup of the pasta water. In a large sauté pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Throw in a thinly sliced yellow onion and sauté until opaque. Then add in a pound of bulk Italian sausage, either pork, turkey or chicken (I buy it at Whole Foods without the casings, but if you buy links, you must squeeze the meat out of the casings into the pan) and some chopped garlic, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon. Once that has browned a bit, toss in some red pepper flakes and some fennel seeds, then add a bunch of chopped rapini (also known as broccoli rabe) and sauté on medium heat until cooked through (this can be hastened by blanching the broccoli rabe in the pasta water before cooking the pasta). Season to taste and add the juice and zest of a lemon. Toss in the reserved pasta along with a half cup of the reserved pasta water. Sprinkle generously with freshly grated Parmesan and you are good to go!
Try one of these tried-and-true recipes.
The internet is an infinite recipe resource, but how do you know which to trust? Not all recipes are created equal. Here are some I return to over and over that showcase winter greens in all their glory.
Toni Tipton-Martin’s Collard Greens with Cornmeal Dumplings https://smittenkitchen.com/2020/07/collard-greens-with-cornmeal-dumplings/
The Kitchn’s Easy Kimchi https://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-make-easy-kimchi-at-home-189390
Two Peas and Their Pod’s Sweet Potato, Kale, and Goat Cheese Frittata
Pinch of Yum’s Salmon Burgers with Cabbage Slaw https://pinchofyum.com/yummy-salmon-burgers-slaw