In the South, great stewpots of mixed greens and ham hocks simmer for hours to render the traditional mess o’ greens and green gumbo. The roots of these dishes go deep; during the Civil War, displaced people gathered mustard greens, the tops of the same wild plants that yield mustard seed, along with whatever else they could find growing wild to sustain them. Following the war, farmers welcomed mustard greens as a crop that was productive and easy to grow and that could be canned for winter use.
Today, mustard greens are making their way into gourmet restaurants and cookbooks as chefs strive to meet the demands of a clientele eager for healthy, flavorful, locally grown produce. The rounded, dark leaves of ‘Osaka purple’ and ‘Tendergreen’ mustard spinach add interest and mild flavor to salads. Mizuna, with long, dark green leaves and a mild cabbage flavor, is readily available, often found in natural foods stores.
Vivid masses of cooked greens make a stunning bed for stir-fries, grains, and grilled or sautéed meat, fish, and poultry. They also give soups and stews a lively presence. Bright green, dark green, and purple-tinged young leaves add visual and flavor interest to the Provençal salad mixes known as mesclun.
Mustard greens are rich in antioxidants, calcium, and folate, all of which contribute to good health. High in fiber, mustard greens are low in calories and fat and considerably lower in sodium than other greens such as chard.
Mustard greens can transform ordinary foods into gourmet fare. Toss shredded tender greens with cold pasta, prosciutto, tomatoes, and your favorite dressing. Wrap whole leaves, tortilla style, around stir-fried pork, bean sprouts, mint, and cilantro. Add fresh, chopped greens to mayonnaise or sour cream, or to nonfat yogurt and chives on baked potatoes. They make a tangy substitute for lettuce in sandwiches, and the flowers make a beautiful garnish.
The flavor of mustard greens varies with variety, age, and method of storage, ranging from spicy and mild to hot and bitter. By the time the flowers appear, the greens will have become too pungent for most palates; they are more reminiscent of horseradish than of salad greens. Choose tender young greens for salads or stir-fries. Older greens must be cooked to mellow their pungency and bitterness.
Leaves should be unblemished with no yellow tinge. They should be damp and crisp, not dry and wilted. Rinse them in cold water, shake them off, wrap them in paper towels, and refrigerate them. Use them as soon as possible.
Remove and chop the large, tough stems; tear or slice the leaves coarsely. Then cook the greens in milk or broth for 10 minutes. Mustard greens stand up well to long stewing, but they will lose some of their water-soluble nutrients, especially vitamin C. Add the cooking liquid, which doesn’t retain bitterness but does retain vitamins, to soups, stews, or purees into which you are mixing the greens. Greens may also be parboiled in water for five minutes before sautéing with other foods. Always use nonreactive cookware as mustard greens pick up a metallic taste from aluminum.
Mustard greens are rich in antioxidants, calcium, and folate, all of which contribute to good health.
Fresh baby mustard greens add color, texture, and a flavor boost to salads. Anise-flavored herbs such as tarragon, fennel, and sweet cicely and sweet vegetables such as beets, carrots, and parsnips complement sour and bitter herbs such as mustard greens, chicory, and sorrel.
3 medium or 9 baby beets
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh whole tarragon leaves, or 1/2 teaspoon dried leaves infused in warm balsamic vinegar for 5 minutes
6 cups red leaf lettuce, washed and torn into bite-size pieces
1 cup fresh young mustard greens, washed and torn into bite-size pieces
2 tablespoons cold-pressed olive oil
Wash and peel the beets and cut them into irregular 3/4 inch chunks. Place them in a small glass casserole dish, cover, and microwave at full power for 6 minutes. Alternatively, roast the beets in a tightly covered baking dish at 325°F for 30 to 45 minutes or until fork tender. Let the dish stand uncovered for 5 minutes, then stir in the vinegar and tarragon. Set aside.
Place the greens in a salad bowl and toss with the olive oil. Drain the vinegar from the beets over the greens and toss again. Top with warm beets and serve immediately.
Horseradish and Mustard Mashed Potatoes
Stewing mustard greens with milk mellows their pungency.
2 quarts water 1 teaspoon salt
3 large baking potatoes, scrubbed
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup milk
6 scallions, including half the green part
4 large mustard green leaves, coarsely chopped, about 2 cups
2 teaspoons prepared horseradish
In a 3-quart pan, boil the water and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add the potatoes and cook uncovered over medium heat for 15 minutes or until fork tender. Meanwhile, heat the butter and milk in a 1-quart nonreactive saucepan over medium heat. Thinly slice the white part of the scallions; slice the greens 1/4 inch thick. Simmer the scallions, mustard greens, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in the milk.
Drain the water from the potatoes and reserve for another use. Drain the milk from the greens into the potatoes and mash well with a potato masher. Stir in the greens and horseradish. Serve immediately.
Braised Greens and Scallops
1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
3 tablespoons orange juice concentrate
1 pound scallops, rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 tablespoon peeled and minced fresh gingerroot
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 bunch mustard greens, washed, ribs removed, and leaves torn into 2-inch strips, about 8 cups
1 cup chicken broth
1 bunch spinach leaves, washed, stems removed, and leaves torn into 2-inch strips, about 8 cups
3 tablespoons snipped fresh chives
1 tablespoon black sesame seeds
3 tablespoons red pickled ginger (available in Asian markets and health-food stores)
Whisk the sesame oil, soy sauce, and orange juice concentrate in a medium glass bowl. Toss the scallops in the marinade and let stand for 30 minutes at room temperature. Scallops should remain unrefrigerated no longer than an hour.
Assemble the remaining ingredients next to the stove. Heat the oil in a large deep pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Sauté the ginger, garlic, and red pepper for 10 minutes. Add the still wet mustard greens and broth and simmer uncovered for 6 minutes. Drain the marinade from the scallops into the pan. Stir in the spinach and cook until wilted. The greens should stay juicy; add a little water if needed.
Transfer the greens to a warm serving platter. Add the scallops to the liquid and simmer until opaque and springy to the touch, about 11/2 minutes for bay scallops or 3 minutes for sea scallops. Spread the greens on the platter. Remove the scallops from the liquid with a slotted spoon and arrange them on the greens. Over high heat, reduce the liquid until syrupy.
Pour the liquid over the greens and the scallops. Garnish with the chives, sesame seeds, and pickled ginger.
Vivid masses of cooked greens make a stunning bed for stir fries, grains, and grilled or sautéed meat, fish, or poultry.
Horseradish and Mustard Mashed Potatoes
Serves 3 as a side dish
Susan Belsinger’s recipe can also be made with collards, turnip greens, or Swiss chard. She serves it with hot pepper vinegar on the side as they do in the South.
1 pound fresh mustard greens, washed
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
2 large cloves garlic, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Remove and chop the stems of the greens into 1/4 inch slices. Roughly chop the leaves.
Over medium heat, heat the oil in a large nonreactive pan. Add the mustard seeds and cover the pan. They will begin to pop like popcorn.
After a minute or two, stir in the garlic and the mustard stems, cover, and reduce the heat to medium low. Cook for 3 minutes, stirring once. Stir in the chopped greens and cover. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes. If the greens begin to stick, add a few tablespoons of water. Cover and cook for 10 minutes longer, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper and serve.
-Abundant Life Seed Foundation, Box 772, Port Townsend, WA 98368. (360) 385-7192; http://csf.colorado.edu/perma/ abundant. Catalog $2. Seeds.
-The Cook’s Garden, Box 535, Londonderry, VT 05148. (800) 457-9703; www.cooks garden.com. Catalog free. Seeds.
-Nichols Garden Nursery, 1190 N. Pacific Hwy., Albany, OR 97321-4580. (541) 928-9280; www.gardennursery.com. Catalog free. Seeds.
Debbie Whittaker, a frequent contributor to The Herb Companion, demonstrates her healthy cooking style as the “Herb Gourmet” in Denver, Colorado.