Earth Day is usually the day I start planting seeds outside in the kitchen garden, but this year I’m waiting another week or so for temperatures to rise and soil to dry a bit more. In the meantime, a benefit of this cold, wet spring has been succulent overwintered greens. Kale has started to send out tasty seed heads, perfect for any recipe that calls for rabe, but the kale leaves themselves remain thick and sweet. Red mustard leaves are good too, a hot, spicy contrast to the kale. And chard, still a long way from going to seed, is rebounding from its winter slowdown with beautiful, sweet new leaves.
I collected a basket of these leaves on Easter Day, planning to sauté them for a side dish to share at dinner with friends. Their colors and textures made me pause and admire them, not exactly an Easter basket, but close. Glossy Rainbow Chard, green leaves on colorful stems; blue green, deeply lobed Red Russian kale leaves; Giant Red Mustard, more burgundy than red, veined dramatically with green.
Through the winter months, I’ve been sautéing these greens, singly or in combination, always in lots of olive oil and garlic, sometimes with red pepper flakes, and, for special occasions, adding yellow raisins and chopped toasted hazelnuts. The technique that works best for me is one I learned from Melissa Clark’s recipe for Garlicky Swiss Chard.
There’s really no secret to making excellent sautéed greens: just good olive oil, salt, loads of garlic and a jolt of red pepper flakes. This method works with pretty much any green too — broccoli, broccoli rabe, kale, spinach, collards…
2 bunches Swiss chard, stems removed
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
Large pinch crushed red pepper flakes
- Stack chard leaves on top of one another (you can make several piles) and slice them into 1/4-inch strips.
- Heat oil in a very large skillet (or use a soup pot). Add garlic and red pepper flakes and sauté for 30 seconds, until garlic is fragrant. Stir in the chard, coating it in oil. Cover pan and let cook for about 2 minutes, until chard is wilted. Uncover, stir and cook for 2 minutes longer. Season with salt.
When I cook several types of greens, I begin with the one that takes the most time to soften, in this case chard, adding it to the oil and garlic, then following with the kale and finally the mustard. If the stems aren’t too weathered, I slice them thinly too, and put them in the pan and let them cook for about two minutes before starting to add the leaves.
For the Easter dinner, I sliced and added the chard stems, red, orange and yellow, like a handful of jellybeans. After I’d added all the greens, I added about a half cup of yellow raisins. They swell in the heat and moisture of the sautéing greens and added a sweet, almost apricot, note to the greens. Just before serving, I scattered the chopped, toasted hazelnuts for a rich, crunchy contrast to the soft, earthy greens. It’s a beautiful and delicious dish, part looking back to winter but also pointing to spring. By the time these over wintered leaves have gone by, there will be new stands of kale, chard and mustard growing in the spring kitchen garden.