Greens: variations

My brother Eric in California asks me great questions about cooking. I provide info, as an extension of the cooking coaching I did for them a year ago on a visit (and b/c I’m a nice sister). So, he wrote recently that he was craving sauteed greens and wanted a few more variations than the basic sauteed collards & swiss chard I showed him. This craving comes from having grown up eating Chinese cuisine. He also lived in cuisine capitals San Francisco and Taiwan; while I lived for many years in Hong Kong and ate a big plate of sauteed greens nearly every single day.

Unfortunately, he did not learn to cook leafy greens, and, as a poor & busy student, didn’t cook anything for years. So he & his family are learning now.

The basic dish consists of chopped or trimmed greens (preferably fresh), chopped onions & minced garlic, sauteed in olive oil (or other oil) and spritzed with lemon. The simplest variations would be to change the seasonings but keep everything else the same. Instead of just lemon juice, add dried herbs like sage or rosemary, or, add raisins & nutmeg ala the classic Italian spinach dish. Or, add curry powder & cumin, then lemon juice. Now, try adding to that a little coconut milk. Change it up to sesame oil, ginger & soy /tamari, a spoon of miso paste. Then, try adding to that a little dried red pepper flakes or Korean red pepper paste. Ad infinitum.

Gai lan, aka Chinese broccoli or Chinese kale, has thick stems that taste like broccoli and thick dark leaves.

Yu Choy has long thin stalks and oval leaves.

Choy Sum ("flowering cabbage") has short medium-density stalks, dark green leaves and distinct yellow flowers.

The second set of variations is to change the base green vegetable. Choices include spinach, collards, swiss chard, kale, turnip greens, beet greens, bok choy, gai lan (Chinese broccoli), choy sum or other nice greens found at Asian grocery produce sections. Lighter green napa (Chinese) cabbage and regular green cabbage are also great sauteed. However, those do not satisfy the “dark green leafy Vitamin A” craving for me, personally.

Yu choy is probably my favorite. It’s similar to choy sum, but its stalks are less dense (more like swiss chard or broccoli rabe) and cook faster. Since I like eating leaves, what I like most is yu choy has a bigger leaf to stalk ratio than gai lan and choy sum.

Some of the most common Asian veg. Here in Twin Cities, we have even more varieties thanks to our local Hmong & SE Asian communities.

These Chinese-origin green veggies shown above have a nice firm texture and a flavor that is neither mild/boring nor bitter like some kale, mustard greens, or even spinach. They’re not of the cruciferous cabbage family and do not have that ‘cabbagey” flavor. They taste clean & green!

These are most often cooked with Asian seasonings. There is no reason, however, why you can’t cook them in different ways w/ different seasonings.

A Tip: the thicker the stalk, the better it is to add half a cup of water or broth while sauteeing and cover for a few minutes. This steams the veg. Chinese restaurants use chicken broth, which is one reason theirs taste so good.

Let’s try some variations!  I’ll report back, and I hope you do too!


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