A whole category of vegetables that I have hardly gotten to know are the green leafy vegetables. Apart from spinach (which I love and buy every week) and arugula (which I have just started using in pasta dishes in recent months), I barely use any greens.
It is a real shame, because there is an amazing delicious world out there: from collard greens to kale to Swiss chard. What keeps me from buying more greens? Well, greens are much more fragile than other vegetables like, say, carrots and cauliflower. While our everyday staples can sit in the vegetable crisper for a few days while we get around to cooking them, greens bruise and wilt easily and need to be cooked within a day or two of buying them. Tender greens are sometimes too delicate for the produce sellers too, and in many supermarkets, the greens will look too torn and ragged and I'm just not tempted to buy them. To make a long story short: when you see a bunch of bright, crisp, tender, perfect-looking greens being sold in your supermarket/store/Farmer's market, grab it with both hands and RUN! Well, this weekend, I managed to find just such a perfect bunch of mustard greens, the very first time I got a chance to cook them.
How should I cook them? I had a few options. One highly popular way to cook mustard greens in India is to blend them with spinach and make a delicious Punjabi dish called saag. I also had a recipe jotted down from Vegetarian Times for some yummy-looking garlicky green dumplings, dim-sum style.
But I decided to go with a recipe that was simple and would let me taste the goodness of the greens themselves, and I turned to my favorite resource for such recipes:
Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian.
Jaffrey has a beautifully simple recipe for Sri Lankan Greens. It calls for very simple ingredients: greens, curry leaves, onion, hot chilies, turmeric, salt and some grated coconut. No other spices, no tempering, nothing. The best part is, this recipe works well for any greens at all, so it is a good one to have in the repertoire for emergency moments when you find a great bunch of greens but don't have too much else in the pantry, or are short on time.
Sri Lankan Mustard Greens(adapted from World Vegetarian by Madhur Jaffrey)
1. Take 1 bunch mustard greens.
2. Wash the leaves. Chop them into very thin, long strands (discard any tough stems). You can do this by cutting out stems from a few leaves, then stacking them into a pile and cutting the pile into thin shreds. Jaffrey stresses that no matter what greens you choose to use in this recipe, they should be shredded thinly.
3. Cut 1 medium onion into half, then into strips. In a large skillet, heat a couple of teaspoons of oil on medium heat. Add onion, 8-10 curry leaves and 2-3 fresh chilies (cut into thirds). Use more or less chilies depending on how your preferred level of hotness. Saute for 4-5 minutes or until the edges of the onion start to brown.
4. Now add the shredded greens, 1/2 tsp turmeric and salt to taste. Stir around and mix well until the greens start to wilt.
5. Now lower the heat, cover the pan and cook for 10-15 minutes, or until the greens are cooked and tender. In my case, the leaves were tender and the water clinging to the washed greens was enough to cook the leaves in their own steam. If one uses greens that are a bit tougher, a couple of tablespoons of water may be added to the pan. At the end of cooking, stir 2 tbsp of grated fresh or dried unsweetened coconut into the greens.
The resulting greens were absolutely flavorful without being bitter or harsh in the least. I served the Sri Lankan mustard greens with an egg curry: Eggs cooked in a Sri Lankan Coconut Milk Sauce (recipe from the same book) and some steamed rice, for a wonderful Sri-Lankan themed Sunday night dinner. I love World Vegetarian more and more every day!
This is one side dish that is going to be very versatile: it would go well with any Indian meal (it would be amazing with some simple dal and rice) and could be used creatively in wraps and sandwiches too. I'm so glad I tried mustard greens, and can't wait to eat some again.