I love toor dal and mung dal so much that I often overlook channa dal. But it is a mistake, really, as channa dal has its own wonderful flavour and texture. It makes a great dal. Here we have used tomatoes and spices to make a base for some garden greens. It is an easy, nutritious and delicious lunch dish or part of an evening meal.
One of my online friends calls this technique hypercooked vegetables – long cooking so familiar in the traditional Italian and Greek cuisines. The result is a surprising lusciousness, intensity of flavour, and an almost stickiness. They are deeply flavoured and a little tart. I have made this dish with cabbage and with beetroot greens, but I am sure it would work with any leafy greens that do not collapse immediately on heat (eg most of the salad greens would be unsuitable).
You will find it difficult to stop diving into the cooking pot once these have collapsed down into their jammy texture. But if you do leave some, serve as a side dish, or over rice or any other grain, lentil or bean (freekeh, couscous, white beans, burghul, red rice, etc), turn into a soup with a handful of the one of the tiniest soup pastas, orzo pasta or rice, or just ladle it over thick slices of toast with a drizzle of olive oil. I have also cooked turnips, diced, and added to these beetroot greens. I sometimes add sultanas to counterpoint the tartness.
The mustard seeds and cumin that I added this time are purely optional.
Do try on a lazy Sunday afternoon, when you have time to let the greens collapse and intensify.
It is fascinating how traditional ways of composing meals have included what we now recognise as health-promoting elements. For example, the salad courses of France and the USA. And yoghurt included in every meal in parts of India. And in parts of Italy it is common to serve a green vegetable on its own as a pre-dinner course or snack.
The Italian greens course is so easy to bring together – simmer or toss some greens, dress, season, serve. It is a great practice – why not try it this month, for the whole month?
Another Indian soup for you – this time a Spinach (or other greens) soup. It is a gentle one, similar to many of the other Indian Soups we have here. In this recipe a spinach stock is made, and it is served thickened and with cream. Delicious. A very good Spring soup. It is gentle, without spicing – a common feature of South Indian soups.
The recipe is one of Meenakshi Ammal‘s from her cook books Cook and See. One of our very special projects in the kitchen is to cook through these books, as they are very traditional Tamil recipes.You can find all of Ammal’s dishes that we have made here. This one is from Vol. 4.
It was news to me that chilli leaves could be eaten, and now I rue all of those chilli plants over the decades that could have also provided the occasional green dish as well. Chilli leaves are a little earthy, a little bitter, and not at all hot. They are vibrant green when they are cooked – hence they are often included in Thai Green Curry Paste to enhance the colour without adding more green chillies.
My Asian green grocer had these in stock today, so a luscious bunch of large leaves that could not be avoided. She recommended soup, but in fact different countries use them in very different ways – from salads with soy sauce and sesame seeds (blanch the leaves first), to stir fried with garlic, to steamed with tofu. They also go well with noodles, topped with some crispy fried garlic and onion.
I have to thank my Asian green grocer – since I moved into this area we have a number of greens now available to us that were difficult to source or unknown to us previously – tamarind leaves, betel leaves, mustard leaves, amaranth leaves and chilli leaves are the ones that are now part of our kitchen.
Chilli leaves are used from Korea down through Asia and India to Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and other parts of SE Asia. They are not an everyday green, but common enough. Here we cook them in a very simple Indian dish with peas and spices. You can make it in under 10 mins.
Similar dishes include Collapsed Beetroot Greens, Chilli Leaf Sambar, Eat Your Greens Every Day, Khar, Steamed Mustard Greens with Sambal, Simple Greens for Every Meal, and Chinese Greens with Garlic and Sesame.
Winter is the time for Mustard Greens, and we love them. This recipe, with its origins in Sri Lanka and the South of India, treats them very simply without a lot of spice, and ensures that the flavours of the Mustard Leaves shine through. In fact, any greens can be used in this recipe – spinach, kale, chards and any local greens that might be in your area. Try it with cabbage too, its delicious.
Similar recipes include Whole Mung Dal with Greens, Sri Lankan Pumpkin and Coconut Curry, Sarson ka Saag, Chilli Leaves with Peas, Mustard Greens with Mooli (Daikon), and Turnips with Mustard Greens in a Creamy Sauce.
A bunch of beautiful spinach leaves from the garden – what can be better than cooking them with toor dal and coconut with a pepper hit? This recipe is a Palakkad recipe – from that region in Kerala on the border of Tamil Nadu. The area is a melting pot of influences especially Tamil and Malayalam. This dish is quite traditional. Some recipes include pepper and others do not. As it’s name indicates with pepper, that is how we cooked it.
A Molagootal is a combination of vegetables and lentils with coconut. It is quite similar to a kootu, but subtly different. It is much like the Poritha Kuzhambu of Tamil Nadu.
In Kerala, many different greens are used for this dish, even cabbage. It can be made with many vegetables including chowchow, long beans, snake gourd and yellow pumpkin. Mixtures of vegetables such as plantain, carrot, yam, potato and chowchow, are also excellent. Indian greens include mulai keerai, paruppu keerai, thandu keerai, palak keerai, murunga keerai and ara keerai – oh to have the same range of greens here.
Similar dishes include Plantain Moar Kootu, Thani Kootu, Okra Tamarind Kootu, Chilli Leaves with Peas, Mango Kootu, Ridge Gourd Dal, Cluster Bean Kootu, Moringa Leaf Dal, Poritha Kootu, and Ridged Gourd Masiyal.
Even Vegetarians need their greens, and sometimes, if we are truthful, we don’t place enough emphasis on bringing these various and beautiful vegetables into our diet. How are you going? Vegetarian or not, we can use some help to bring green beauty into our lives at the kitchen table.
If we look around the world, various cuisines use tricks (I prefer to call them habits) t0 increase our intake of elements that are healthy and perfectly compliment the cuisine of the area. The ubiquity of yoghurt in Indian cuisine, for example, the Salads of Thailand, the Salad course of France, and the Greens before Dinner custom of parts of Italy.
In a time where dimension and complexity are the buzz words of the food world, simple is a welcome point of difference. Simple, where the taste of the ingredients shine through strongly and identifiably.
The Greens before Dinner custom is one that resonates in this household. It is very simple:
Check out some of our other collections:
- Four Asparagus Soups for Spring
- 10 Recipes using Grape Vine Leaves
- 31 Dishes to Make from Broad Beans
If you are like me, you love a plate of greens now and again. And if they are straight from the vegetable garden, there is nothing better. This is an easy dish to whip up and is fragrant with the garlic and spring onions.
The recipe can be made with just the leaves, or, if you have an abundance of stems, it is also good made with just the chopped stems. But mostly, I mix the two.
Similar dishes include Eat Your Greens Every Day, Chilli Leaves with Peas, Every Meal some Simple Greens, Spinach with Garlic and Lemon, Sweetcorn and Spinach Bhurji, Spinach Stem Salad with Sweet Raisins, and Orzo Pasta with Wilted Spinach.
Get the best out of your green leafy vegetables and herbs.
Bunches of Fresh Greens and Herbs
The best way to store fresh soft herbs is in plastic, airtight containers in the fridge. Parsley, coriander and other soft herbs are stored successfully this way. If you have high containers that will fit into the door of your fridge, put a little water in the bottom, add your parsley or coriander etc, stalks down, and pop the lid on. Parsley especially responds to this way of storage.
Another way that works well is to place them in a new plastic bag designed to keep vegetables fresh for longer. You can even use supermarket large vegetable bags. Loosely tie the top and pop into the fridge.
If you are using the herbs very quickly, store them in jars in the fridge, in a jar like a bunch of flowers. Parsley and green coriander are great this way as well. If you am going to use them that day, leave them in the jar on the kitchen bench. It is not as good as using the plastic containers, but is excellent for quick use – and looks gorgeous too.
Before putting them in the jar, remove a couple of centimetres of the stem – a fresh cut just before placing in the jar ensure good water uptake by the stems.
I have an old large coffee press pot that no longer has the plunger, and it is perfect for this job. Additionally it fits so well into the door shelf of the fridge, so as long as I leave plenty of room above it, it is perfect for storing bunches of greens and herbs.
Greens – spinach, chard, silver beet, etc, – can be stored this way too.
Of course, change the water often for best freshness.
Fresh Salad Greens
For salad greens – these days they are mostly stored in containers that keep them fresh for days. But if you are buying salad greens loose, or your neighbour has kindly gifted you a pile of salad greens, then treat them this way. Soak them in cold water for about 30 minutes. Go through them and remove any yellowing leaves. Drain them in a colander, and then lay them on a tea towel. Roll the tea towel into a log and refrigerate. They leaves should stay fresh and crisp.
Often good plastic containers will also keep leaves that are well drained crisp for days.
Wilting and Freezing Greens
For longer storage, greens like spinach, chard, silver beet, rocket, endive, chicory, mesclun – wash them and then wilt them in a good saucepan until they reduce in volume. Add a tablespoon or so more water if necessary. As they wilt and before they are fully cooked, remove them with tongs, drain them briefly and pop them into ziplock bags. When cool, seal the bags and pop them in the freezer.
For tougher greens, like chicory, blanch or boil in salted water until cooked and then treat them the same way, removing them with tongs as soon as they are cooked. It is a good idea to separate the stems from the leaves, and cook the stems separately, as they take longer to cook.
I have heard of people who like to drink the strained cooking water as tea with lemon. It sounds good! Certainly it can be frozen for soup stock.
Pastes and Purees
Soft herbs can be made into pastes that will keep in the fridge for a long long time, and can be added to recipes as you require. The taste of the pastes is not as fresh and vibrant as fresh herbs, but they are delicious in their own right and certainly convenient if you do not have fresh herbs available.
Take some garlic cloves, about half a whole head, a bunch of mixed herbs with the bottom of the stems trimmed, a tspn of sea salt and a Tblspn of good olive oil. Blend all together in a blender or with a hand held immersion blender.
You can freeze this paste (in a zip lock bag makes for efficient storage) or place in a jar and top with more olive oil to cover in a thin layer, and store in the fridge. Remember that salt is the preservative in the puree, so don’t skimp on it.
You can add chilli, of course, and ginger if you wish. You can mix herbs or have one herb only. I generally have some coriander/cilantro paste at hand, and then I make other pastes when I know that I won’t use up the fresh herbs in my fridge. It is also good for celery leaves! And the white part of leeks can be added to the herbs.
Suggestions include parsley, dill, fennel tops, chervil, tarragon, mint and basil. My suggestion for basil is to make pesto and freeze that.
Herbs in The Freezer
If you remove the stems from herbs they can be frozen in a zip lock bag. They will maintain shape but can be crushed while frozen and still have a very good aroma and flavour. Try sage, basil, parsley, basil, fennel tops and other soft herbs.
Another way is to pack soft leaves into icecube trays and cover with olive oil. Or blend the leaves with olive oil and place in the icecube trays. Freeze, then remove the cubes into zip lock bags and keep in the freezer. Pop a cube into dishes as you require. Salads, soups, sauces, anything.
It is a good idea to blanch coriander leaves (cilantro) before freezing. Blanch, place into iced water, then dry. This helps retain its green colour.
Herbs in Oil and Salt
I love to do basil this way.
Remove the leaves from the basil and rinse them. Leave on a kitchen towel until dry. Put some sea or kosher salt into the bottom of a jar, and cover with a layer of basil leaves. Pour on a little olive oil to just cover. Continue with the salt, leaves and olive oil until the jar is full. Finish with some salt, then enough olive oil to cover everything, pressing the basil leaves down to make sure that they are covered. Store in the fridge. You could try this with other herbs too.
I have also made this without the salt, just olive oil, and it is equally as good.
Note that basil leaves are likely to go dark green, no matter how you store them. But the flavour is there, do not be afraid to use them.