As much as I love food and cooking, I do not enjoy going to the grocery store. One of the pleasures of being in the restaurant business was that most everything I needed was delivered to my door. I would go to the farmers' market as often as I could, and although it was not always easy to get out at four or five in the morning, before my boys arrived in my life I often arrived at that time of morning.
Catering to the theater crowd, we served until midnight during the week and into the early hours on weekends. I relied on my produce vendors to provide the best the markets had to offer, and they always delivered, literally. I consider farmers' markets one of the greatest pleasures in life. In my ideal world I would shop only at them.
These winter greens have character, so the vinaigrette has to be bold enough to compete with their flavor.
When we lived in New York I would have a dinner party every Tuesday night. My friends had a standing invitation: they just had to call and let me know they were coming so I would know how many to cook for. I would go to Fairway Market, which has the best selection of produce I have ever seen—everything you can imagine, and fine quality. I would go with a clear head and no idea of what I was going to cook. All it took was a trip though the produce department and something would strike me as perfection, and the meal would be built around it. I will share those menus with y'all in the future.
This is the time of year when I end up in the produce department in Natchez, Mississippi, not New York City. (I am not complaining about where I live—just that there is not a Fairway Market.) I feel like Scarlett O'Hara holding up that one pitiful carrot determined to never be hungry for decent vegetables again. I tend to go back and forth thinking I am not seeing something that might be there, some buried treasure. But as I look at winter-worn produce and put down each piece quicker than I picked it up, I persevere. I finally get to the isolated area that displays the winter greens and see the light ... or at least color. I see the red and yellow stalks of kale, the bluish-green collard greens, the rich green of mustard greens, and the deep red veins running through the tops of beets, and I am inspired.
Now these are not greens that you just toss in light vinaigrette. As delectable as they are with their own special merits, they need to be prepared so they are tender. These greens are perfect for a wilted winter salad. They also have amazing health benefits. Here are a few tips on what to look for while choosing your winter greens.
Beet greens: Good-quality beet greens will have dark-green leaves with rich red veins and fairly long, upright stalks. They're a great source of dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin E, with more benefits than I can name.
Collard greens: Look for four- to eight-leaf bunches that are deep green and plump. Raw collards are considered nutritious, but cooking them breaks down their cell walls and releases higher levels of vitamins and minerals. One of the milder of the sturdy greens, collards are an excellent source of vitamin C and beta-carotene and especially high in calcium.
Kale: To ensure a milder texture and flavor, choose smaller kale leaves, which are best eaten raw when young. Kale generally has a stronger flavor than collard greens and can have a peppery taste when uncooked. In addition to being an excellent source of vitamin C and beta-carotene, kale is also a good source of iron and vitamin B6.
Mustard Greens: The younger the leaves of this green the less spicy the bite, so look for small young leaves. Mustard greens have vitamins A, C, and E, as well as other minerals, dietary fiber, and protein.
These winter greens have character, so the vinaigrette has to be bold enough to compete with their flavor. I usually choose to make a sweet and savory vinaigrette with pieces of sautéed, smoked Andouille sausage. If you want a vegetarian version, you can use mushrooms instead of sausage to add texture and taste. Mustard is a must for a hearty vinaigrette, and I use the sweetness of brown sugar to balance the vinegar and the bitterness of some of the greens. Here is my recipe for wilted greens with mustard-Andouille vinaigrette and fried onions.