Braising Brings Out The Best In Veggies

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Sizzle ‘Em Fast, Stew ‘Em Slow

I love the colorful, tasty leafy mixtures sold as braising greens at the farmers markets, but don’t like paying $10 a pound for them. Instead, I harvest my own blends of greens, including mustard greens, different kinds of kale, chard, beet greens, turnip greens, collards, arugula, radicchio, and various choys. A leaf or two of each type of foliage is all it takes to make a lovely batch of greens for myself, and if company is coming, I pick a handful of each.

Braising is an old technique that developed when most cooking was done over a woodstove or even an open fire. In general, braising starts with searing something quickly at high heat, then reducing the heat to very low and simmering until tender. I tend to braise vegetables and greens in their own juices, making for extremely concentrated and flavorful dishes.

Braising Greens

Braising works best on dense, somewhat thick leaves rather than, say, lettuce, though braised endive is a classic French side dish. My favorite way to enjoy braising greens is this:

1 teaspoon fruity olive oil
6 kalamata olives, chopped
2 cups per person braising greens
(i.e. kale, collards, mustard greens, chard, and beet greens)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon cider vinegar
few grains freshly ground black pepper

In a wide shallow pan, heat oil and olives over medium high heat. Add greens, stir to coat, sprinkle with salt. Cover pan, reduce heat to low and simmer until tender (5-10 minutes). Sprinkle with vinegar and pepper and serve hot. Yum!

Braised Garlic, Onions and Leeks

The initial step of searing or browning whatever you plan to braise is important, because it has a delicious caramelizing effect, especially on vegetables. If you like a glazed effect on your veggies, use at least some butter for searing. Cook any of these onion relatives alone or in combination for a very tasty treat.

1 tablespoon fruity olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 head garlic, peeled
2 white or yellow onions, peeled and quartered
4 leeks, tough outer layer removed, sliced
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
fresh lemon juice

In a wide shallow pan, combine oil and butter over medium high heat. Place onions in pan, sprinkle with salt and gently brown. Add garlic and brown briefly (1 minute). Add leeks and brown (2 minutes). Cover pan, reduce heat to low and simmer until tender (10-12 minutes). Uncover pan, increase heat and reduce liquid to a glaze. Serve hot with a splash of lemon juice.

Slow Braised Garlic

2 tablespoons fruity olive oil
2 heads garlic, peeled

Warm oil over medium low heat. Add garlic, cover pan and simmer over lowest heat for 5 minutes. Uncover pan and simmer, stirring often, for 8-10 minutes or until garlic is soft and pale yellow. Serve with grilled fish or chicken or roasted vegetables. Store in a closed jar in the fridge for up to 3 days.

Braised Endive and New Peas

1 tablespoon fruity olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 onion, chopped
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup peas per person (shelled)
1 endive (whole plant) per person
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 lime, quartered

In a wide, shallow pan, combine oil and butter over medium high heat. Add onion, sprinkle with salt and brown gently, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add peas and cook for 1 minute. Add endive, spritz with half the lime juice, cover pan and simmer over low heat until tender (8-10 minutes). Serve hot, sprinkled with pepper and remaining lime juice.

Braise Crazy

Over the years, I’ve braised all kinds of things, including carrots, parsnips, turnips, potatoes, sweet potatoes, celery and broccoli. Everything tastes fabulous, especially if sprinkled with minced fresh herbs as a lovely garnish. For variety, you can supplement the natural braising liquid with various kinds of vinegar, citrus juice, a dry wine, cider, or apple or pear juice. Apricot nectar (unsweetened) also works nicely with sweet things like carrots and sweet potatoes.

Garnish braised greens or vegetables with fresh herbs, toasted seeds (sesame, pumpkin, fennel) or chopped nuts (peanuts, cashews, almonds, walnuts). A sprinkle of hard cheese (peccorino, Asiago, parmesan) is also lovely, as are crumbles of soft goat cheese. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

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