Welcome back to No-Cook Cooking, where folks who aren’t exactly at home in the kitchen — and those who are complete strangers there — can find some low-stress and no-stress ideas for good eats in a time of social distancing.
The goal here is empowered eating — carving out a comfort zone in the kitchen if you didn’t have one before, building confidence with fuss-free dishes using nutritious foods that are easy to find in the midst of empty shelves, and taking pride in what you serve. This week’s topics include food-allergy victories and more tips for plentiful vegetables.
One advantage of cooking at home is seizing total control over your ingredients. Think of it as domination, not deprivation.
If you’ve been told to cut back on sodium, for instance, cooking your favorite foods your way can keep you focused on what you’re able to enjoy instead of what you’re forced to give up. If you’ve been experimenting with salt-free spice blends for the past few weeks, you already know that low-sodium food doesn’t have to be bland.
And when you choose all your own oils and spices, it’s even easier to keep overlooked sources of peanuts, shellfish, garlic and other allergy adversaries out of your home. Your allergen-free kitchen can be the starting point for not only great meals, but also greater confidence in managing both illness and wellness.
If you follow a gluten-free diet to keep celiac disease and other conditions under control, for instance, simplygluten-free.com and other websites are offering all kinds of recipes and tips to focus on what you can cook and enjoy at home.
Shredded collard greens
If seeing empty shelves at your favorite grocery store is stressful, try heading to the produce section first. Options may vary from store to store, but you’re bound to find lots of delicious options.
Keep an eye out there for the large cellophane bags of shredded collard greens. If you’re new to eating greens, here’s your chance to try them without devoting the time to chopping them and removing all those stems.
Collard greens are rich in iron, vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin K. Their array of mood-boosting nutrients, including choline, folate and homocysteine, can be pretty welcome these days.
The vegetable’s bold flavor invites all kinds of delicious experimentation, so don’t be shy to pair it with habanero or jalapeño peppers in a stir-fry with red pepper flakes, broccoli, tofu and a splash of low-sodium teriyaki sauce. Collard greens get along well with many kinds of peppers and pepper sauces, so spend some time trying different combinations.
Vinegar also is a compatible flavor enhancer. Apple cider vinegar often is provided at the table when you order greens in a restaurant; the combination complements pork barbecue and brisket, and many time-honored Southern greens recipes call for simmering greens with vinegar and ham hocks or salty country ham to get the last bits of goodness out of a cut of meat.
Before you drown them in fat and salt, get a good sense of how greens taste on their own. Simple recipes for simmered greens can evoke familiar down-home flavors using healthier choices; singer Patti LaBelle’s popular Mean Greens recipe for collards, for instance, uses cubes of smoked turkey leg instead of ham to enhance the flavor. Check out her recipe at https://www.cookingchanneltv.com/shows/patti-labelles-place/ recipes/trending-/p/2.
For quick and easy success with collard greens, try simmering or sautéing them.
Many recipes online call for sautéing shredded collard greens in olive oil, usually with some red pepper flakes. If you use a cast-iron skillet, you can intensify the iron content while achieving an appealing crispiness. Other recipes follow that step with about half an hour of simmering the greens covered, at reduced heat, in chicken or vegetable broth for tenderness.
Collard greens also play well with mustard greens, turnip greens, dandelion greens and kale. If you’re feeling adventurous and ready for a snack, try your favorite kale chips recipe using the shredded collards.
Collard greens make great plate partners for okra, stuffed peppers and baked sweet potatoes. Take advantage of the speed and convenience of baking potatoes in the microwave to put sweet potatoes in your regular side-dish rotation. I’ve seen plenty of canned yams on store shelves lately, too. If you’re grilling steaks outdoors or slow-cooking a pork roast, collard greens make a good side dish.
When you sit down to eat, listen to “Greens from the Garden,” a blues album by former Charlottesville resident Corey Harris, and put all the day’s worries on the back burner.
Charlottesville has many greens aficionados, so as you build your repertoire, you’ll become part of a culinary community. Learn more about the popular Greens Cook-Off at the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center by going to jeffschoolheritagecenter.org. The contest for local cooks brings in creative recipes for cooked and raw greens of all varieties from cuisines around the world, plus original recipes for macaroni and cheese and pound cake. This year’s event was in February, and reading about it may stoke your creative — and competitive — juices for next year’s tasty tilt.