Wednesday, February 20

Vegetable: Mustard Greens

Or, That's a shitload of vitamin K. --Perrin

This week's focus is mustard greens. I'm currently having a passionate gastronomic affair with another leafy green -- kale -- and I thought our relationship was getting a little too intense. In an effort to branch out and see other vegetables, I picked up a huge bunch of mustard greens at Reading Terminal this week. In season from December through April, these greens stem from the plant that produces the acrid-tasting brown seeds that are used to make Dijon mustard. Mustard greens originated in the Himalayan region of India, but I think many Americans associate them with the antebellum South. Greens were a staple of Southern slaves' diets, and mustard greens, collard greens, and kale remain a feature of Southern cooking. To me, mustard greens are evocative of Southern meals complete with fried chicken, sweet potatoes, and maybe some black-eyed peas. Please note: I have never lived in the South. But I do have a Georgia-beauty-queen best friend, which I somehow feel entitles me to make these assertions.

Mustard greens are also incredibly healthy. One cup of boiled mustard greens packs in a whopping 525% of the RDA of vitamin K (!), 85% of the RDA of vitamin A and 60% of the RDA of vitamin C, but only 21 calories and less than half a gram of fat. Additionally, they boast high quantities of vitamin E and B-vitamins, and a host of minerals, including folate, manganese, magnesium, iron, trytophan (yes, like turkey), calcium, and potassium. Mustard greens are hailed for their concentration of phytonutrients and antioxidants, and thus their free-radical-fighting (read: anti-cancer) powers. Additionally, they are said to promote lung and heart health.

If you're anything like me, you read the previous paragraph and had a thought akin to, "Yeah. Great. But do they taste good?" Well, as with most food items, particularly fresh produce, that depends on how you prepare them. While chopping I decide to sample a chunk of raw leaf, which was surprisingly edible. Slightly bitter, with a peppery bite at the finish, the flavor is piquant without being overwhelmingly spicy or sharp. Furthermore, unlike kale and collards, mustard greens have a lighter, leafier texture making them amenable for salads or garnishes. Still, when working with leafy greens I generally prefer to blanch, braise, or saute. In this case, I chose the last option, frying a couple onions in my wok before adding handfuls of coarsely chopped mustard greens, still damp from washing. I added half the greens, let them wilt a bit, then added the other half and tossed them together with a little more water, which in hindsight wasn't really necessary: I let the greens simmer/saute for about six minutes, then had to drain the excess (nutrient-rich) water from the pan.

Near the end of the cooking time I was not impressed with my results, so I started to get creative. I was serving the greens with a marinated three-bean-and-avocado salad on toasted rosemary bread and breaded yellow tomatoes, so I toasted the leftover bread crumbs and threw them on top. Then I started eyeing the leftover egg, and dumped it in the same pan to make a small but flavorful omelet, which I cut into strips and tossed on top of the bread crumbs. Almost there, but I still wanted more crunch -- a handful of almonds went into the same skillet, and just as they started to brown I added them to the wok. Voila -- sauteed mustard greens with style.

Today I was debating what to make for brunch, and I stumbled across the tupperware housing the last few bites of mustard greens. They didn't look terribly appetizing on their own, but stirred into four beaten eggs with some oregano, salt, and pepper they made a great base for an omelet filled with sauteed apples, vegan sausage, pepper jack, and provolone. The sweetness of the apples offset the subtly bitter punch of the greens, and the pepper jack magically brought it all together.

Other recipe ideas include salads, particularly with a warm vinaigrette to wilt the greens (I admit that bacon would be a lovely addition, but I advocate frozen vegan bacon!) I also thought Epicurious's Red Beet Risotto With Mustard Greens And Goat Cheese sounded particularly tasty, and I would enjoy a hearty soup or stew with a few handfuls of mustard greens thrown in.

As far as beverage pairings, I lean heavily towards beer. I think a farmhouse ale (versatile but particularly apropos here) would be pretty stellar, or even a well-balanced IPA to complement the bitter quality of the greens. If you wanted to take the wine route, I would pick a smooth, slightly crisp and medium-bodied white with a hint of spice and no oak -- maybe a Pinot Gris or a robust Gruner Veltliner. If you decided to make a slightly heartier dish I'd advocate a light-to-medium-bodied earthy red with a hint of spice, for instance an Oregon Pinot Noir or an Old World Syrah.

Mustard greens are obviously extremely nutritious, but I still prefer my stand-by kale, which has a coarser, sturdier texture that holds up to cooking a bit better. I would even opt for something like broccoli rabe over mustard greens, soliciting the wilted texture and bitter flavor profile but avoiding the damp, lettuce-like presentation I struggled with this round. Still, I got my week's supply of vitamin K in one heart-healthy dose.


Anonymous said...

I didn't even know there was a vitamin K. I thought it was mythological, like Avenue Q. (I spent a sec considering adding Malcolm X to the mix here, but thankfully decided against it.)

This looks disgusting. Actually it looks beautiful, but it SOUNDS revolting to me.

Help, the mustard greens are revolting!


Allison said...

I don't know if I've ever had mustard greens. Hmm. I MIGHT stick to kale & spinach.


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