Georgia Cooks: Greens
“Greens” is a broad term that refers to numerous leafy vegetables that may be cooked or eaten raw. The most common greens in Georgia are mustard greens, turnip greens and kale.
These members of the cabbage family may be combined or served individually. They may also be grown together.
A “greens patch” on a farm or in a home garden is likely to include a mix of these three and perhaps tendergreens, rape and radish as well.
Southerners eat greens on New Year’s Day to invite prosperity in the coming year. The greens represent greenbacks and eating plenty of greens means your pocketbook will be full of dollar bills. (Black-eyed peas are also eaten and represent silver money.) Depending on your region and your family’s traditions, the greens eaten on January 1st will be the some of the greens listed above or collards.
Collards are another cabbage relation that fall into the greens category. Collards have thicker leaves than the greens previously mentioned and are grown and served separately. They may be listed on a restaurant menu as “collard greens” or simply as “collards.”
Kale – beauty, taste, nutrition
Some people’s introduction to kale might have been as a garnish for fruit salads or main dishes. Curly kale is probably now more common than parsley on some restaurant plates. Like parsley it adds an attractive bit of green and serves as a refreshing palate cleanser. Like collards and other deep-green greens, kale is packed with vitamins. ‘Lacinato’
and ‘Red Russian’ kales are old varieties that have made a comeback in gardens because they are beautiful as well as tasty. Ornamental kale (aka flowering kale or flowering cabbage) is an ornamental plant grown for its cream or purple leaves but is edible as well.
While most people only know radish for its roots, radish leaves may also be eaten cooked with other greens or eaten raw while young and tender. Raw radish leaves have a pleasant, peppery taste and are used on salads.
This sweet, smooth-leaved cabbage relative is often mixed with sharper tasting greens such as mustard and turnip greens.
‘Tendergreen’ mustard-spinach is commonly referred to as “tendergreens.” It is neither mustard nor spinach, but is a variety of leafy turnip that is milder than mustard greens.
Microgreens, Baby Greens and Sprouts
Microgreens are the young leaves and stems of lettuces and other vegetables, salad greens and salad herbs that are only an inch or two high and, depending on the species of plant and the growing conditions, a few weeks old. They are usually larger than what is sold as sprouts and smaller than what is sold as baby greens. There is not an official definition or standard, however. What some people call “microgreens” others may call “baby greens.”
As a general rule, leaf lettuce varieties can cope with Georgia’s climate better than heading varieties, but our farmers are still able to
produce both kinds. Although most people use lettuce in salads, wilted (or gilded) lettuce is an old-time recipe that is making a comeback. Pack lettuce leaves into a bowl and pour on a heated mixture of vinegar, bacon grease (or a liquid oil substitute), sugar, salt and finely chopped green onions (optional). Cover it with a lid for a few minutes to allow it to wilt. Serve warm or cold.
From the simple ones that consist solely of fresh lettuce and dressing to elaborate blends of different greens, few dishes have as many variations as salads. Consider a base of lettuce or spinach; add some arugula, mache, radicchio, radish leaf or slivers of cabbage; garnish with tomatoes, carrots, olives, boiled eggs, sweet peppers, Vidalia onions, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, toasted Georgia pecans and crumbles of bacon and various cheeses; then consider if you need any dressing. A salad can be as individual as the person who makes it. When it comes to salads, creativity is the rule.
Greens are traditionally sold in bundles, bunches or bushels. In recent years, consumers have been able to find bags of greens in grocery stores already washed, chopped and ready to eat. This convenient packaging makes it easier than ever to enjoy the taste and nutrition of Georgia greens.
A Rainbow of Greens
Greens are green – deep blue green to yellow green. They can also be red (varieties of lettuce and mustard), purple (varieties of kales and cabbages) or maroon, cream, orange, rose and yellow (varieties of Swiss chard.)
Potlikker is the broth created when boiling meat or vegetables, especially greens. It contains the water, juice from the leaves, and the flavor from the ham hock or other meat or seasoning that the cook has added. It may be consumed with the greens if they are served in a bowl or the greens may be drained and the potlikker served later as a soup. Southern diners often like to dip or crumble cornbread in their potlikker. “Pot liquor” appears to be the spelling preferred by linguists, but “potlikker” has its proponents and wide acceptance among Southern cooks.
Other greens grown in Georgia
Cabbage, although not as green as its less uptight cousins, is also lumped into the greens category. Other greens grown in Georgia include lettuce, arugula, spinach, radicchio, broccoli, Swiss chard, mache and even dandelion greens (an old weed and a nouveau salad green.) Oriental greens such as mizuna, tatsoi and pak choi, although not as commonly known to most Georgians, are starting to appear in the state. Japanese red mustard is grown as an ornamental with maroon tinged leaves, but it is also quite tasty.