I don't know about you, but this time of year, I start to get (more than) a little overwhelmed with the sheer quantity of greens growing in my garden. In my garden, I usually grow kale, chard, and beet greens during the summer (as well as spinach in the spring and fall) but we often get other varieties through our CSA.
I eat seasonally as much as possible, so I try to capitalize on the summer's abundant supply of fresh veggies, but sometimes we just can't keep up with what our garden (or our CSA box, for that matter) delivers.
Enter: food preservation!
Each year, I experiment more with ways to preserve some of the abundance of my summer harvest so that I can have a taste of the warmer months (as well as the rich nutritional benefits of deep, leafy greens) during the rainy Pacific Northwest winter. Last year, I focused on preserving hearty greens: one of the trickier types of veggies to keep fresh for any length of time. I found two methods that worked well for me and I hope they help you to be able to enjoy your summer veggies year-round!
Freezing is probably the most widely-used method for preserving greens, and for good reason! Processing greens to freeze takes a little time, but pulling a bag of home-processed greens out of the freezer in the dead of winter and using it in your cooking is totally worth the effort. You certainly can't beat the quality with a block of spinach from the freezer aisle!
Freshly picked greens (approximately a large handful per serving)
Freezer bags (I like to use the quart size for greens)
A large pot of boiling water (⅔ full)
A large bowl with ice and cold water in it
A good knife
- Pick your greens. If you're not using veggies from your garden, do your best to acquire leaves which are crisp and very fresh, as wilted greens will not taste good later.
- Wash and drain the greens using the colander.
- Process them as you normally would before cooking or eating raw (cut off thick stems, remove any damaged leaves, and chop into bite-sized pieces if you wish).
- Get the water boiling on the stove in the large pot.
Now you're going to blanch the greens! Blanching is a process by which enzymes and bacteria in the greens (which will, over time, destroy nutrients, color, texture, and flavor) are broken down by way of brief, intense heating. Blanching time for most hearty greens is just 2 minutes (timed from the moment you drop the greens into the water) with the exception of collards, which is 3 minutes.
- To blanch, simply drop greens into boiling water and cover the pot, keeping at a rolling boil for the desired time.
- When time is up, remove the greens quickly and transfer them to the bowl with the ice and cold water (ice bath) to cool them down quickly. The greens should stay in the ice bath at least as long as they were in the blanching water.
- Blanching water can be reused several times—so don't dump it out if you're blanching several batches! Just be sure to add more hot water between batches to keep the water level around ⅔ full.
- After the greens are done in the ice bath, drain them again. Try to remove as much water as possible. You may want to use a towel or paper towels to help dry the greens.
Now you're ready to bag and freeze your greens! I like to freeze one family-size serving (3-4 portions) in each quart-sized freezer bag, but it's not an exact science.
- Place the blanched greens into freezer bags labeled with the date. (Best if used by 12 months after the date of freezing.)
- Remove as much air as possible from the bags before sealing.
- Store in your freezer to be eaten and enjoyed later!
Freshly picked greens
A good knife
Food dehydrator OR baking sheet(s) and oven
Food processor (or similar)
Containers for storage (mason jars would work great, but I use re-purposed garlic powder shakers)
- Pick your greens. Again, if you're not using veggies from your garden, try to use the freshest greens possible, to maintain flavor and quality later.
- Wash and drain the greens using the colander.
- Remove thick stems. (There's really no need to bother chopping the greens into small pieces, since they'll end up as powder anyway.)
- Lay the greens out on your dehydrator trays. Unlike when making kale chips (or most anything else you might dehydrate) it doesn't matter if the leaves overlap a bit. They can even overlap a lot if you want, as long as you let them dry long enough that the thicker bits get totally dried out.
- Set your dehydrator to 115° and let the greens dry out overnight, or for at least 12 hours. Check them before turning it off, to make sure that they're nice and crispy. (If you don't have a dehydrator, spread the leaves out on a baking sheet and bake at the lowest temperature available on your oven. You're not trying to cook the greens, only to dry them, so keep an eye on them to make sure they don't burn. I've honestly never done it this way, so if you try it please let me know how it goes!)
- Now the fun part: transfer the dried greens into your food processor and pulverize them. You will be amazed at how a full dehydrator of greens will suddenly compact down into a small amount of green powder!
- Transfer the green powder to a container and store in a cool, dry place. I'm sure it'd be fine in a pantry or cupboard (with your dried herbs, perhaps) for a good length of time, but I store my green powder in the refrigerator just to be safe.
Now, once you've dehydrated greens to your heart's content, how do you use all your homemade green powder in your daily meals?
- As I mentioned before, green powder can be used in green smoothies: a tablespoon of green powder should be plenty for one serving of smoothie, but you can play around with proportions to adjust to your liking.
- I like to add green powder to soups and stews for a nutritional boost.
- It also blends perfectly into rich sauces such as pizza or pasta sauce.
- Green powder makes a great addition to savory muffins and biscuits (which is a wonderful way to get a little more green into a picky eater).
- It's also easy to incorporate into pretty much any egg dish, from scramble to frittata!
That's it—now you know two great ways to preserve some of the abundance of fresh, hearty summer greens to be used in your meals year-round!
Please take a moment to visit the blogs of our other Festival of Food participants. The links in this list will be live by the end of the day, as participants are all in different time zones.
- Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama shares Grilled Fennel and Tomatoes with Basil! This recipe brings together some of the freshest, most vibrant flavors from her garden into a simple dish that even her wee-one adores! You can also find Jennifer on Facebook.
- Luschka at Keeper of the Kitchen shares a simple, summery salad of kale and parmesan, one of the only crops Luschka's managed to keep away from the snugs and snails so far this year. You can also find Luschka on Facebook.
- Sam in a guest post at Hobo Mama shares a garlicky, sweet, salty, and tangy topping for salads, sandwiches, pasta, and burgers and pairs it with a delightful dish that will help you use up the tomatoes and spinach fresh from your garden or farmers' market! You can also follow Hobo Mama on Facebook.
- Lindy at Poppy Soap Company shares a recipe for Grilled Peaches with Balsamic Vinegar. This easy recipe pairs well with protein heavy meals as a decadent and easy side dish! You can also find Lindy on Facebook.
- Angela from Earth Mama's World scored some 'imperfect' veggies from a local farmer's market and turned them into a perfect rosemary roasted veggie dish! You can also follow Angela on Facebook.
- Amy at Anktangle details two different methods of preserving hearty summer greens (such as kale and chard) so you can enjoy the variety—and nutritional benefits!—year-round. You can also follow Amy on Facebook.
- Destany at They Are All of Me creates low fat, healthy mock ups of some of her favorite restaurant dishes, using whole foods and ingredients from her garden. You can also follow Destany on Facebook.
Stay connected! Be sure to "Like" the Festival of Food Carnival Facebook page.