I purchased this beautiful bunch of leaves at the farmer’s market this weekend. They were labeled kale. Another purchaser told her son, “Look! They have dinosaur kale!” I believed them all, like the fool I am.
After getting home and quickly realizing it was too fragile and purple to be dinosaur kale, and hours of googling images of various other kinds of kale, I finally asked around online. It’s not kale. It’s Purple Mustard Greens.
Alrighty then, kale chips will have to wait until next week. Maybe I’ll try Mustard Green chips, but I think they’ll be too bitter. They are gorgeous, however. They have a broad flattish leaf that’s a bit frilly on the edges that’s a really bright shade of purple. The backside of the leaf is a rich green color that makes a beautiful contrast when they’re raw. When they’re cooked, everything just looks dark green and relatively slimy, so admire them raw. I want to have fancy parties with platters just so I can line up tiny appetizers on top of one of these bright purple leaves.
They have a VERY sharp flavor when raw, like horseradish, or, dare I say it? spicy mustard, but if you slice them into thin strips they’re a nice addition to a salad. When they’re cooked, they mellow out a lot and just add a interesting tang.
Most people recommend a little pre-cooking for bitter greens. A nice quick way to prepare them is to throw your greens into a pot of boiling water. While they’re wilting (about 5 minutes), heat a little olive oil or butter on the stove, then toss in the wilted greens (you can drain them in a colander so they’re not so watery) and as much garlic as you like (or, in our case, can stand – we toss in whole heads. No one likes to come over for dessert.) and eat when the garlic smells delicious, about 2 minutes. I really wanted to try this recipe for Mustard Greens Salad with Gruyere and Anchovy Croutons (my mother just went slack-jawed. “Mustard Greens? with Anchovies?? Who is this??” But it sounds yummy! What can I say, I’m all growed up.) but was afraid the greens were going to go bad before I got a chance. There are lots of varieties of mustard greens out there, so I’ll try it next time.
They also go nicely tossed into soups or random meals. We made a very bland dinner of white beans and parnsip circles and a little ground beef we’d bought for hamburgers that we didn’t get around to grilling and instead just cooked up the ground beef real fast so it wouldn’t go bad – not exactly a meal worth polishing the silver for. But we threw these mustard greens in the skillet and let them wilt, and it turned out delicious. It tasted like we’d spent hours simmering things in a complex herbal sauce, when it was just some wilted sharp mustard greens tossed in at the end. Some people think the stalks are too tough and send them to the compost pile, but if you’re cooking it down anyway, they’ll soften up. Do cut your greens into bite-sized pieces, however. I kept stealing my husband’s fork to shred my big greens into more manageable sizes. What, get up and get a knife? You people have way too much energy.
Trim? You can cut off the tougher ends of the stalks if you’re eating raw or don’t like them, but they’re edible and soften when you cook them.
Edible when raw? Yes, though the flavor is much sharper.
Worth the price of organic? Yes. Leafy greens tend to soak up pesticides pretty well, and conventional farmers tend to use pesticides pretty heavily on them because consumers don’t like bug holes in their leaves. Love the bugs! It just means another species likes it too.
In season: Winter and Spring – they like cold weather. Heat waves make them bolt, which makes them bitter.
Best with: Bland dishes to give them bite or one additional strong flavor they can stand up to, like garlic, anchovy, bacon, chile peppers, or vinegar. Good in soups and Asian stir-fries.
How to Store: They should keep in the fridge for three to four days, preferably in a crisper, produce box, or plastic bag.