Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Chef Goes Green

From the TASTE section of today's Indianapolis Star:

Good greens
Nutritious collards, kale and chard are best when cooked quickly, gently
By Jolene Ketzenberger

February 27, 2008

With spring still weeks away, the bright hues of classic greens can provide an appealing splash of color for winter-weary cooks. Plus, they're good for you.

From curly-leafed kale to red-stalked Swiss chard to classic collards, winter greens can add nutrition to a wide variety of dishes, said chef Carl Conway, director of training at Second Helpings, a local food rescue organization that also provides a culinary education program.

But these aren't your grandma's greens. Don't let the overcooked collards of the past keep you from using these versatile, vitamin-packed ingredients.
"In the South, greens are overcooked," said Conway, a Mississippi native. "It's just Southern tradition."

That's due more to convenience than technique, said Conway: Many home cooks would simply set a pot to simmering while they went about other work. Unfortunately, such long cooking times can simmer the best stuff right out.
"Once the color is gone, so are the nutrients," said Conway. "All of the nutrition and most of the flavor."

He and his culinary students recently created flavorful recipes for braised greens with andouille sausage and a cheesy greens casserole. He particularly likes the braising method. "I think it's the best way to cook them," he said of the classic technique. His recipe involves stirring greens into sautéed sausage, onions and garlic, and then simmering them in broth until tender. "They taste best the less you do with them."

In developing the dishes for Taste, Conway first considered favorite family recipes, he said. "Braised greens are one of the staples of my family, and I used the andouille just because we're used to having spicy stuff with our greens."
He then looked to classic dishes, "things we do that naturally have greens in them," he said. He noted that the casserole filling also could be used in other dishes, such as quiche.

Both dishes also include a bit of nutmeg, which enhances the flavor of any dark green, he said.

Conway encourages culinary experimentation, noting that greens could be added to most dishes that call for spinach.

"Spinach is something everyone is more familiar with," he said, "but any recipe that has 'florentine' in it you can pretty much substitute mustard greens for spinach. Mustard also goes really good with seafood, like scampi."

Warming to the topic, he suggested using greens in a classic white bean and greens cassoulet, an Asian stir-fry or a roasted beet salad with a side of sautéed greens.

"Buy your beets with the greens and use both parts," he said. "Same thing with turnips." But the key, he said, is simply to avoid overcooking. "Just sauté them in a little bit of butter," he said. "Quick cooking methods work best."

And don't forget the nutmeg.

Chef Carl Conway, director of training at Second Helpings, offers these recipes to make great use of winter greens.

What goes well with winter greens? Pair them with some classic comfort foods, said chef Carl Conway of Second Helpings, like a potato gratin and buttermilk fried chicken. Here are a few of his favorites.

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