WASHINGTON — When Jenn Louis was growing up, the options for leafy greens were a lot more limited than they are today.
“There was cabbage, there was romaine, there was iceberg — we didn’t have a lot. Kale was used as a garnish on deli trays,” said Louis, a Portland, Oregon-based chef and former “Top Chef Masters” contestant.
Now, Louis sees the opposite. One of the most common questions she gets from fans and friends is: How do I use all of these exotic greens I found at the farmers market?
“There are so many more varieties available that are being grown, international varieties of greens,” Louis said.
In her latest cookbook, “The Book of Greens,” Louis tackles this common culinary conundrum.
With more than 175 recipes, she shows readers how to use 40 different varieties of greens — from chard to chicories. The encyclopedia-like guide includes herbs — “Herbs are leafy greens, they’re just packed with a different kind of intense flavor,” Louis said — and even edible succulents, including hens and chicks, nopales and agave.
Looking to incorporate more leafys into your everyday diet? Louis said the easiest thing to do is throw a handful of chopped kale into a soup or stir-fry, and mix spinach into scrambled eggs.
“Let them wilt and try different flavors that work for you. You may find that as you eat more greens, you start liking some of those stronger flavors,” she said.
This time of year, delicate greens such as butter lettuce are in season, and those who cringe at the chards of the world may find it easier to munch on these varieties. Louis said they’re “a little less chlorophyll-like, and a little bit softer and lighter and gentler.”
In fact, they’re so pleasant on the palate that Louis incorporates them into dessert. Her recipe for butter lettuce panna cotta uses the outer leaves of the lettuce, which are often scrapped from salads. Louis said the gentle bitterness of the vegetable pairs perfectly with lemon and spring strawberries.
Now that’s a great way to eat your veggies.
Recipe: Butter Lettuce Panna Cotta
Courtesy of Jenn Louis, “The Book of Greens,” serves 12
- 3 ½ sheets of gelatin (see note)
- 4 cups heavy cream
- 2 fresh sage leaves
- 4 strips lemon zest, each ½ by 1 inch
- ½ cup sugar
- 6 ounces red or green butter lettuce leaves
- 18 strawberries, sliced into thin rounds
- Olive oil for drizzling
Put the gelatin in a small bowl, cover with cool water, and set aside.
Combine the cream, sage, lemon zest and sugar in a small saucepan over medium-high heat and warm just until it starts to simmer. Turn off the heat and allow the flavors to infuse for 5 minutes. Then, using a tablespoon or fork, remove the lemon zest from the pan and puree the lettuce leaves into the cream using an immersion blender or regular blender.
Remove the gelatin sheets from water, squeeze the water from the sheets, and whisk the gelatin into the cream. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve and pour into 12 ramekins (3 ¼ ounces/95 mL each). Chill until set, about 8 hours.
To unmold, run a knife around the sides of the molds and invert onto plates. Decorate the tops with the strawberries and drizzle with olive oil.
Note: To substitute powered gelatin for gelatin sheets, soften with 1 ½ teaspoons plain gelatin powder in 1 tablespoon water for about 5 minutes. Whisk the softened gelatin and soaking water into the cream.
Other greens to try: Little Gem, green leaf lettuce