Holiday Greens

December 30, 2019

Last month I read an illustrated article about holiday foods around the world. It is always interesting to learn about special treats in faraway places. For instance, Kentucky Fried Chicken had an ad campaign in Japan one year in which the company claimed that Americans all eat fried chicken on Christmas. Where is truth in advertising? On December 25, there was a run on the restaurants and a Christmas tradition was launched. Now the Japanese flock to Kentucky Fried Chicken every December 25th. 


The final exotic holiday dish discussed came as a bit of a shock. It was none other than the custom of eating black-eyed peas on New Year's Day! My husband and I have been doing that since we moved to Texas as newlyweds. Back then, I read about the custom in a newspaper article from which I got my recipe. It informed me that eating peas and greens on January 1 ensured a year of good fortune because the peas represent coins and the greens bills. In Houston grocery stores the peas are displayed along with Pace’s Picante Sauce, the condiment of choice there.


In that part of the country apparently one leafy vegetable is as good as another. Not being a fan of cooked leaves, I generally served coleslaw. Recently I have been surprised to see collards held up as the holiday go-to green. Over the years I have had folks tell me that they always cook turnip or mustard greens. A recent survey of the greens available at my neighborhood supermarket confirms my observation that folks choose among many kinds greens. In the prewashed packaged section, there was only one bag of turnip and three of mustard greens on the shelf but scads of collards and kale.


Out of curiosity, I have been looking into the differences among greens. Nutritionally dark leafy greens are very similar. They are high in vitamins K and C and manganese. They are so high in vitamin K that folks taking blood thinners may need to avoid them. 


Where they differ is in flavor. Turnip greens are slightly peppery. Collards are bitter and chewy and need to be cooked for a long time. Mustard greens are the spiciest and peppery bright. Dandelion leaves are also peppery. (In case you don’t have enough in the yard, there are seed sources for them.)


Kale is bitter. Spinach and chard are more tender and have a milder flavor than their botanical cousin, beet greens. Then we come to cabbage which has a very mild flavor.


Now if I were to cook up some greens, I would probably choose Swiss chard because it has colorful ribs and stems along with the mild flavor. The current issue of Eating Well has some wonderful ideas for fixing greens. I love the the salad of winter greens and pomegranate arils featured on the cover. I have not seen kumquats, another ingredient in the salad, in years and plan to substitute orange segments.


Happy holidays to all Planet readers whatever greens you cook up to go with

 your black-eyed peas.


Editor's note: Master gardener Ann Bartlett is a native of California, which explains how she grew to adulthood unaware of the supremacy of collards. 

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