Come winter and the grocery store is flushed with seasonal produce. One of the best things about winter produce is the wide array of fresh vegetables that one gets to experiment with in regular cooking. From cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, beets to a wide variety of greens, locally known as saag; you are literally spoilt for choice this season.
While winter veggies are fairly easy cook with, most people are usually apprehensive about cooking with greens. Most cooks and housewives are comfortable with cooking other vegetables as once you remove the peels, you somehow feel that the vegetable is all good to cook with minus any dirt or impurities. This is a grave misconception, hence before we go on explain how to go about buying and storing greens, let us make it clear that pesticides, fertilizers or pollutants have the ability to seep through veggies and fruits, therefore peeling them won't guarantee you protection from any hazardous agents. You should always know the place from where you source your grocery, organic is always your best bet. Now, moving on to winter greens, there are many green leafy vegetables available during this season and some thumb rules would go for almost all of them alike, take a look below.
How to buy
Some vegetables must always be bought organic, leafy ones are certainly among those. Make sure the veggies are fresh, crisp in texture and bright, deep green in colour. Steer clear of wilted, yellow leaves. Always wash them properly before storing, ideally submerge in a sinkful of cool water. Triple-wash your greens ensuring all dirt and debris is removed. Let them dry before you start cooking with them.
How to store
Once your greens are cleaned you can refrigerate them. Make sure the greens are mostly dry. You can also use a ziplock pouch and pack your veggies in it leaving the bag open; this will keep the greens from drying or losing moisture rapidly. Some green veggies may require you to remove the stalk.
Things to keep in mind
Never leave your greens unwashed or store them in the refrigerator as is. If you are storing greens along with the stalk, ensure that the stalk faces the back-side of the refrigerator, which is usually the coldest area in a refrigerator. You can also keep them in the crisper or in the door compartments.
In India, greens can keep fresh for 3-4 days, storing them beyond that may get them to wilt and lose the nutrition.
Avoid freezing wet greens. Make sure that those are completely dry.
Photo Credit: Dhaba by Claridges
Cooking with greens
Indian winters come stacked with a mind-boggling variety of greens, from bathua, cholai, palak, methi, sarso to kulfa and many more. Besides currying or teaming them with lentils and legumes, there is an array of delicacies that can be prepared with these nutrition-packed leafy veggies. You can steam them, use as a part of stuffing mixture in wraps, rolls and parathas. Soups, stews and broths can also get an interesting makeover if you try putting some greens in there. Sautés and stir fries accommodate greens pretty well; you can even try cooking them the South Indian style and arrive at lip-smacking Thoran or Poriyal.
Next comes dehydrating the leaves and using them in creating chips or fried evening snacks like matthis, pakoras, kebabs among others. Pastas, risottos and lasagnas can also welcome a hearty inclusion of greens. Can't think of anything else? Try grinding and blitzing greens into making dips and accompaniments like pesto. There is a whole new world to experiment with greens, you just need to let loose your creativity.