Cookbook of the Week: Leafy Greens by Mark Bittman, Take Two
If you still have a copy of Mark Bittman's 1995 cookbook, Leafy Greens, you've likely already tossed spinach with lime juice and chiles (p. 128) a time or two. For the rest of us, the rerelease of Bittman's classic is a timely look back at our simple -- and, upon reflection, really quite tasty -- Niçoise salad (p. 74) days. And a reminder that sometimes those prime farmers market finds are to be handled with reined-in creative care.
The book is, as the subtitle suggests, An A-to-Z Guide to 30 Types of Greens Plus More Than 120 Delicious Recipes. And so in the first chapter, there are flip-through descriptions of various types of greens, from more obscure finds like alaria (seaweed) to your everyday spinach varieties.
But it's great everyday recipes that make up the bulk of this handy little paperback guide to all things green.
In the updated Introduction, Bittman calls developing the recipes for Leafy Greens "a natural decision" that came about "quite honestly." Long before his days of Food Matters debates and big-city living, Bittman was an avid gardener looking for something else to do with his freshly dug greens every night -- beyond the usual sautéed and vinaigrette-dressed variations. It's the very same Wednesday night butter lettuce motivation to keep things interesting that many of us have, and what keeps this book, nearly 20 years later, so very relevant.
Dandelion greens from the Hollywood farmers market
What strikes us upon reading these recipes is what is "missing" (in a good way): How we have become accustomed today to arguably going too far in our quest for attention-grabbing slaws made with the chef or blogger du jour's homemade vinegars and slowly caramelized everything. When, in fact, quickly sautéing that broccoli raab we picked up at the market, along with sweet sausages and grapes (p. 143), would have been fantastically easy, satisfying and tasty.
That also means Leafy Greens is the sort of book you can actually pull out after you come home from the farmers market and find plenty of pantry ingredient-driven recipes for the sorrel (sorrel and sweet potato soup) or the dandelion greens (dandelion with toasted garlic and lemon) you bought on a whim. Or just flip through for new ideas for basic everyday ingredients: puréed cabbage with lemon juice-spiked cream, Thai beef salad, coconut curry soup with Swiss chard, simple salad-green pairing ideas (romaine with grapefruit and sunflower seeds, watercress and endive with hazelnuts).
A bonus: This is not a monstrous encyclopedic cookbook but more of a workday kitchen affair. In fact, something about its cover design has a hint of that 1990s corporate manual feel, so you can stack Leafy Greens right next to that office training manual and the boss will likely never notice. If she does, well, that's what those leftover lunch slices of lasagna with endive and radicchio (p. 166) are for.
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