A question I get alot is “How do you cook wild greens?”. There’s tons of great recipes and techniques, but sometimes all I want is just a simple serving of tasty plants as a side dish, especially during the spring and early summer when all the wild greens are calling me, and I need to consume mass quantities.
Boiled and blanched greens I like perfectly fine, and I love fried greens, but sometimes they can get heavy from the added fat (which there is nothing wrong with). One of the most trusty ways I serve them, and have been served by other plant lovers, is simply steamed. There’s plenty of ways to go about it, but my favorite is the simplest I know: steamed wild greens, and you don’t even need a steamer basket.
All you really need are some fresh greens (watercress is pictured here) a glug of water, a fat of your choice, like butter, olive oil, etc, and some salt. Lemon or vinegar if you like. The more important thing is your pot–not pan. You want something with relatively tall sides. Greens lose a ton of volume as they cook, so in order to get a good juicy serving you’ll need something that can hold about a gallon or two–a pasta pot is fine. Oh, and a lid, and as you can see, I use the term lid loosely–whatever you can scrounge up to hold in the steam is fine.
After all your plants taste good to you, which will vary a bit depending on what you’re making, you drain off any cooking liquid, and, drumroll…..quickly stir them with fat and salt to taste, and serve. Now most of the time people think of steamed food, they think unseasoned, but it just isn’t so. Trust me, seasoning your greens before you serve them is the difference between people ingesting them, and gushing, over a simple pile of greens.
Greens I like to Steam
I don’t steam all the plants, but most of them I do. My preference is to steam tender, young, sweet greens, things like watercress, sochan, nettles, amaranth, lambsqaurters, waterleaf, violets, mallow, galinsoga, etc. The key word there being young, as they don’t need extended cooking. The greens I don’t often steam are the bitter or strong tasting ones, things like horseradish leaves, dandelions, garlic mustard, and other wild mustard greens. Preferences vary person to person, but if you have a family or significant other you’re trying to convice to eat bitter greens, I suggest blanching them in boiling salted water (1 tablespoon of salt per quart) since bitter flavors in greens are water-soluble, and it can help tame them. Steamed greens cook in just their own pure juices, and if their juices are bitter, you get the idea.
Besides flavor each plant also cooks differently, and can continue to do so throughout the season as they grow. For example, I like to cook sochan shoots for literally seconds just until they wilt, but during the fall or late summer I might cook the mature leaves for much longer. Dandelions are pretty tough, and can take a hammering before the start to get tender. Garlic mustard can fall apart to mush in a few minutes. Expect variation–this is one of those instinct things, and a learned skill.
Quick Steamed Watercress
- 1 gallon sized pot with lid or another pot with tall sides
- Fresh wild greens enough to completely fill your pot, about 8 ounces
- Your choice of fat like butter lard, or your favorite oil
- Fresh lemon juice or vinegar to taste
- Wash the greens, looking them over for bugs, debris, leaves, or other foreign objects, then dry them well, preferably in a small salad spinner.
- Put a film of water in the bottom of the pot, add the greens—I like to add them until they completely fill the pot--sometimes I add them in batches if I need to feed a lot of people. . Put the lid on the pot, and turn the heat to medium-high and wait a few minutes until the pan gets very hot.
- Take the lid off and using tongs, vigorously stir the greens around in a circular motion for moment or two to distribute the heat, then put the lid back on and cook for another minute or two, and repeat until the greens are wilted.
- Now taste the greens and judge their tenderness, if they need a little more time, continue cooking, and add a splashes of water if needed to keep it juicy. Keep cooking and tasting the greens--young ones will cook fast, mature leaves could take 15 minutes or more.
- When the greens are cooked and taste good to you, turn the heat off. There should be a very small amount of water in the bottom of the pan--drain that off.
- Drizzle a little fat of your choice and salt to taste then, mix very well in a circular motion to distribute everything, taste again, adjust as needed, then serve, with lemon or dashes of vinegar if you like.