We all know we “must eat our greens” because they are low in calories, high in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibres and make us strong like Popeye.
This is the season of greens and they can be seen in every market, lusciously strutting their stuff. From mustard leaves, mint leaves, turnip greens, spinach and fenugreek leaves to Malabar spinach, amaranth leaves, fennel leaves and Swiss chard—the greens are in full bloom.
Some enjoy their winter greens, having grown up on them. For others, however, eating them is a chore—something that must be done because they are nutritious. In some cases, it can be as bad as having medicine.
So greens are added to dals, cooked as saag dishes or used in salads, their existence disguised on occasion with loads of onion and masala.
It needn’t be this way. If you understand the flavours and texture of each leafy vegetable, then you can use them in meals with much more confidence and gusto. And yes, enjoy them too.
Boil it: Fenugreek leaves
Fenugreek is popular in countries in West Asia, Europe and South America. India is, in fact, the largest producer of fenugreek. This micro-green is a multifaceted vegetable with a bitter, nutty flavour that blends well with all kinds of foods, from salads, meats, curries and vegetable dishes to lentils, soups, flat breads, and even rice.
Creamy: Garlic Fenugreek Soup with Cashew Yogurt. By Photographs by Moina Luther
Garlic Fenugreek Soup with Cashew Yogurt
1 tbsp olive oil
½ an onion, finely sliced
5 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 cup fenugreek leaves, chopped
2 cups vegetable stock
¼ cup cashew
1 cup yogurt
Salt and pepper to taste
Cook the onions with the oil in a medium-size pot for 4-5 minutes until slightly golden and translucent. Add garlic and the fenugreek leaves and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Pour in the vegetable stock and simmer for 10 minutes or until the stock has reduced to three-fourths of its volume. While the stock is simmering, grind the cashews, yogurt, salt and pepper with a hand blender till it forms a smooth creamy consistency. Mix the yogurt blend to the stock on low flame for a couple of minutes to warm up the mixture. Serve hot.
Bake it: Fennel leaves
Fennel leaves look a lot like dill leaves but are distinct in flavour. Fennel is as popular in Greek food as it is in Indian cuisine. The leaves taste a lot like its seeds, popularly known as saunf. The distinct licorice taste is followed by a juicy sweetness, which makes the fennel leaves and the bulb delightful to cook with. It goes well with white meats and seafood.
Something fishy: Baked Fish Fillet with Fennel Leaves.
Baked Fish Fillet with Fennel Leaves
4 tbsp olive oil
2 fennel bulbs, with leaves
2 tsp fennel seeds
1 long green pepper, sliced
1 small red bell pepper, finely diced
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 large fillet of fish (of your choice)
Separate the fennel leaves from the bulbs and chop them individually. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a medium-size pan and add the chopped fennel bulbs, fennel seeds and sliced green pepper. Stir on medium heat for 3 minutes. Take a large bowl and mix the red bell pepper, fennel leaves, lemon, sugar, salt, pepper and remaining olive oil. Rub gently on the fillet. Take a baking tray and oil the base. Place the cooked mixture on it, and the fillet over it. Pour any remaining liquid over the fish and pop it into an oven, pre-heated at 200 degrees Celsius, for 15 minutes. Serve hot.
Broil it: Mustard greens
Mustard greens are very popular in the north and are referred to as sarson ka saag. Mustard greens, like its seeds, have a peppery flavour, adding a delicate kick to any dish.
Peppery flavour: Broiled Chilli Mustard Greens and 7-Grain Flour Kookoo.
Broiled Chilli Mustard Greens and 7-Grain Flour Kookoo
(Kookoo is a Persian egg-dish similar to an Italian frittata)
1 tsp butter
1½ cup mustard greens, chopped
4 spring onions, finely sliced
2 green chillies, sliced
1 tbsp mustard seeds
2 tbsp 7-grain flour
4 tbsp milk
1 tsp crushed peppercorn
Salt to taste
Heat the butter in a medium-size pan on medium heat. Add the mustard greens, spring onions, green chillies and mustard seeds and cook gently for 5 minutes till the ingredients are soft and the mustard greens have reduced slightly in size. Take a large bowl and mix in the 7-grain flour, milk, eggs, salt and crushed peppercorn thoroughly. Add the cooked greens to the bowl and mix well. Pour the mixture to form a flat pancake on a pre-heated toaster or stove grill on medium to high temperature. Let it cook for 4 minutes on an open grill. Flip the side and cook for 2 minutes more. Garnish with the yellow mustard flowers and serve hot.
Braise it: Swiss chard
If you have spotted these tall green leaves with colourful stems that seem to be everywhere these days, they are none other than wholesome Swiss chard. Swiss chard is not from Switzerland, rather from a southern area of the Mediterranean region called Chard. It has a beetroot-like flavour with a slight salty-bitter taste. Its leafy texture is heavy, the stems are crunchy. Don’t cook Swiss chard on high heat, you will dull the bitterness—but be careful not to overcook the leaves.
Crunchy delight: Ginger-Honey Braised Swiss Chard with Babycorn.
Ginger-Honey Braised Swiss Chard with Babycorn
1 tbsp canola oil
8 large Swiss chard leaves, chopped with the stalk
1 tbsp ginger, grated
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat the oil in a medium-size pan on high heat. Add the babycorn and cook for 3-4 minutes, then add the Swiss chard and cook for another 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally till the vegetables are slightly charred and release a smoky aroma. Lower the heat to medium and add the remaining ingredients. Simmer for 3 minutes and remove from heat. Serve as a side dish with rice or noodles.
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