Many of the unusual greens that have been coming into fashion have more distinctive flavors than their traditional counterparts (of course, that’s not hard when you’re competing with iceberg or romaine lettuce!). This can make them tricky to use until you’re more intimately familiar with their flavor profiles. Of course, tricky doesn’t mean impossible, and there’s no better way to get familiar with them than to use them! Here are some tips for ways to hop onto the trend of incorporating unusual greens into your meals.
Particularly with distinctly or strongly flavored greens, a variation on pesto or gremolata offers a bright, fresh way to use unusual greens in a dish.
For a basic pesto, put two packed cups of greens, a handful of pine nuts, a pinch of salt, a couple peeled cloves of garlic, and a handful of grated pecorino or parmesan in a food processor. Process with enough olive oil to reach your desired consistency.
For gremolata, which is traditionally made with parsley, but feel free to substitute your greens of choice, finely chop one packed cup of greens with a clove of garlic and the zest of one to two lemons.
Use the resulting pesto or gremolata as a dressing or garnish for other dishes to allow the flavor of the greens to shine without being overwhelming.
A problem with many trendy greens is that they’re a bit tougher than you might like to eat in a salad, try a mouthful and see! Is it unpleasantly chewy? If you run into this problem, remember that sauteing greens in olive oil, or butter if you need extra richness, works wonders both to mellow the flavor and to make them tender. Especially with a bit of garlic and salt, just about any greens will make a great and simple side dish when cooked this way, and will make a big splash at your next dinner party or family picnic.
As with most foods, it’s easy to substitute if you think in terms of similar qualities. If you substitute bitter salad greens for bitter salad greens, or bright herbs for other bright herbs, you can change the flavor of a dish while keeping its balance and profile fairly intact. This is perhaps the safest way to start your foray into playing with unusual greens.