Pros: concise, solid, I have tried a lot of the recipes and they all work, promotes good healthy eating habits
Cons: I wish that the second edition had been expanded, not just reprinted
As a physician, I am occasionally asked how to eat for health. My answer is simple: eat more leafy greens, and substitute them for some of whatever you’re eating now. This invariably disappoints people who are hoping for the rare exotic fruit that will cure all ills or the perfect supplement that will make a sane diet and regular exercise unnecessary. However unglamorous, it remains true that if you’re going to make one change in your diet, more leafy greens are one of the nicest things you can do for yourself.
With this mindset, it’s not surprising that Mark Bittman’s Leafy Greens has been one of my favorite cookbooks since it was first published in the late 1990s. It is now reissued with a new preface but the same good solid tasty recipes. There is an initial section discussing about 30 varieties of leafy greens in some detail. This includes a single heading for “Sea Vegetables” which covers several seaweeds. Some of the vegetables discussed, such as purslane and miner’s lettuce, were a little exotic then but are now widely seen in farmer’s markets in their season, and probably in your own yard if you know how to identify them. Then you come to the recipes, which are divided into soups, salads, side dishes, light dishes, and main courses. All I can say about the recipes is: “Use them. Use them a lot.” After a while you will tend to forget the categories. A side dish can be used as a pasta sauce to make a main dish. A light dish can be served in larger portions to fewer people to make a main dish. A salad can be a meal. In the time that I’ve cherished this book I’ve probably made thirty of the recipes, and countless variations on each, and they are lovely ways to get more nutrition onto your table.
Bittman is also a good source of practical cooking advice, such as “cook greens until they taste good.” Really, it’s that simple. After 10-15 minutes of the cooking process, taste. If they taste strong and raw, cook a few more minutes and taste again. Adjust the seasoning if needed, but don’t take them off the flame until they taste good. Stringy half-raw kale is enough to put anyone off greens.
Here’s a recipe to try. You’ll be delighted at the affinity between cabbage and ginger.
1 small head Savoy cabbage, cored and finely shredded (I like red cabbage in this recipe too.)
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon peeled and grated ginger
2-3 tablespoons peanut oil or olive oil
Juice of one lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
chopped cilantro for garnish
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, and saute the cabbage, stirring occasionally. When it is limp but not mushy, about 10 minutes, stir in the garlic, salt and pepper and cook another 2 minutes, stirring. Add the ginger and stir another minute. Remove to a platter, squeeze over the lemon juice, garnish with cilantro, and serve.
I should add that I prefer to add the ginger with the garlic, and my husband thinks this dish is much improved by using a little fish sauce and a tablespoon of palm sugar, both added when the cabbage first goes in the pan. But that’s the point. You will make the recipes in Leafy Greens your own, but you will love them.