A little know-how can make a big impact on your greens game.
There’s more to greens than sautéed spinach. This month, we’ve partnered with Ashley Rodriguez of Not Without Salt to share tips, insights and her favorite recipes using greens.
Cooking, like any craft, is something that just takes time and experience (and maybe the occasional nicked finger or scraped knuckle) to get a true knack for. Read all of the cookbooks you want, but nothing will get your culinary instincts on point like good old-fashion trial and error. That can come in many ways, but there are also some chef-inspired nuances that will come in handy.
For instance, the next time you’ve got a batch of spinach that’s about to get a sauté with some garlic and shallots, leave your olive oil in the cabinet and instead use butter. Because of spinach’s cell structure, the dairy fat in butter actually gets absorbed better by the spinach leaves — becoming almost a part of the spinach, as opposed to a slick coating like olive oil tends to. It’s the little details that make massive differences.
Another not-so-known greens trick? You might have heard about “massaging” kale, where you rub and knead sea salt into a batch of kale to tenderize it — often for salads and raw preparations. This also works for cooked dishes and can cut your braise time down if you massage your greens in advance. Just be careful of the salt content if you’re braising.
The hearty vegetarian meal below is an ideal choice for those who may roll their eyes at the words “hearty vegetarian meal.” These flavorful “meatballs” are loaded with six cups of spinach — and yet you may not even notice the greens with the creamy tomato sauce and mushroom laden lentils. For this recipe, use baby spinach because their leaves are tender, as are their stems. Any stems that look a bit thick you can quickly snip off.
Note: Any leftover “meatballs” will keep, well-sealed, in the freezer for one month and in the fridge for up to one week.
Lentil Mushroom Spinach ‘Meatball’ with Roasted Tomato Sauce
“This recipe requires no blanching, as the greens cook in the sauce and soften along with the mushrooms. If you prefer meat in your meatballs, you can apply the same method with the spinach to your favorite recipe. It is a great way to add a bit of bulk and nutrition to a very comforting meal.” – Ashley
SERVINGS: 4 TO 6
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 pound mushrooms, stems removed and finely chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
6 cups baby spinach, stems removed and washed well
3 cups cooked lentils (about 1 1/2 cups uncooked lentils cooked until tender in 2 quarts water about 20 minutes)
3/4 cup finely grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh parsley, plus more for serving
3/4 cup dry bread crumbs
3 eggs, lightly beaten
For the roasted tomato sauce:
2 pints cherry tomatoes
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons olive oil
4 garlic cloves, peeled
2 thyme sprigs
salt & pepper
- Set a large Dutch oven over medium high heat then add the olive oil. Saute the onions, carrots and celery with 1/2 teaspoon salt until translucent and tender, about 5 to 7 minutes.
- Add the garlic, mushrooms and thyme and continue to cook until the mushrooms are tender and starting to caramelize, about 7 to 10 minutes.
- Add the tomato paste and red wine vinegar. Stir well to combine.
- Add the spinach all at once and cook until the greens are soft and have cooked down, about 3 to 5 minutes.
- Carefully transfer this mixture to a large bowl. Stir in the lentils, Parmesan, parsley, and bread crumbs. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed. Stir in the eggs.
- Heat a large skillet with a bit of oil in the pan.
- Form the “meatballs” into rough 2-inch balls. Sear on all sides until crisp and heated through.
- Serve with Roasted Tomato Sauce and more Parmesan and parsley.
- For the roasted tomato sauce:
- Combine the tomatoes, garlic cloves and thyme on a baking sheet. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil and sprinkled with salt and pepper. Shake the pan to get all the tomatoes coated in the oil.
- Roast in the oven for 20 minutes or until the tomatoes have swelled and the garlic is caramelized.
- Carefully transfer the tomatoes and garlic (remove the thyme) to a blender and blend along with 1/4 cup olive oil.
- Add salt to taste.