Over the winter I tried, mostly successfully, to keep my produce shopping local. This meant my daily greens fix alternated rather predictably between the greenhouse-grown kale and collards available at the farmer's markets, with the occasional broccoli rabe, chard, and spinach making an appearance. Not a ton of variety in the green department, but actually I was surprised and happy to find locally grown leafy greens straight through the cold months this year -- just a few years ago the greenmarket produce selection was limited to root vegetables, squash, and stored apples during the January through March freeze.
So it was with great excitement that, arriving at the Dag Hammarskjold market last Wednesday afternoon, I noticed Lani's Farm was back. Come midsummer, the Bordentown, NJ-based farm has hands-down the most gorgeous stand at the market: fragile-skinned, candy-sweet heirloom tomatoes, jewel-like miniature varieties of eggplant and summer squash, and my favorites of the bunch -- tiny green shishito and padron peppers. Last summer I developed quite an addiction to those little gems, quickly blistered in an oiled cast-iron skillet, sea-salted, and nibbled seeds and all from their little stems. (Lani's refers to them as the Russian roulette of peppers -- about 1 out of 10 is hot, and when you pop one into your mouth you never know which you're going to get.)
Obviously my brain (and my stomach) wants to skip straight past the current rainy spring days and 30-degree temperature swings and dive directly into summer and all its colorful culinary delights. But whoa, Nelly! Let me get back to the present. It's April -- though some days it feels like April going on February -- and a bounty of young, leafy greens has begun to make its appearance. Lani's baskets overfloweth with baby bok choy, tender, early spring broccoli rabe, red-tinged collards, delicate mustard greens, and a few varieties of Asian greens whose exotic-sounding names now escape me. So much to choose from. On this visit I made a bee-line for the bitter and peppery mustard greens, my favorite of the dark leafies -- sort of like arugula on steroids.
I had initially intended to toss the mustard greens into a lightly dressed raw salad in order to experience them at their most potent. But then, taking note of coconut milk and Madras curry in the pantry, a slightly shriveled apple in the fruit bowl, and the 50-degrees-and-drizzly day outside my window, I switched direction toward a sweet, spicy, and creamy braise. And it was a winner. The greens mellowed after simmering in the apple- and curry-infused coconut base, with fresh ginger and shredded coconut adding textural interest, red chile flakes and spring garlic providing depth and heat, and a touch of bright lime juice to finish.
I ate the braised greens solo, and they were just dandy. Add some protein, in the form of cooked chickpeas or cubes of firm tofu, tossed in for the last 5 minutes of cooking to heat through, and you could easily serve this as a one-bowl vegetarian main over brown rice, quinoa, or millet. And if you don't happen to have mustard greens around, no problem -- this is a good strategy for all sorts of greens: try it with kale, collards, broccoli rabe, chard, or spinach. Like my other go-to greens recipe, quick-braised kale and apple, this is a great menu idea for people who might be wary of green things that don't come carbonated in a bottle, since the natural sweetness of the coconut and apple and warmth of the curry powder balance out any bitter notes from the greens.
coconut curried mustard greens with apple
- 1 Tbsp coconut oil
- 1 onion, thinly sliced
- 1 apple, cored and diced
- 2 stalks of young garlic or 1 clove of mature garlic , thinly sliced
- 2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and chopped
- 1-1/2 Tbsp Madras curry powder
- 1/4 tsp crushed red chile
- 1 bunch of mustard greens, tough stems removed and leaves roughly torn and washed (about 5 cups)
- 3/4 cup coconut milk
- 1/4 cup dried shredded coconut (unsweetened)
- juice of 1/2 lime
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Add the curry powder and red chile. Stir until fragrant, about a minute. Add the mustard greens and stir for a minute or two until they are wilted. Add the coconut milk, shredded coconut, and a pinch of sea salt, and stir to scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Cover and simmer gently for about 10 minutes, until the apple and greens are tender.
Stir in the lime juice, season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve.