It’s a greens scene

‘Round these parts, people have a serious need for greens. Fortunately, area farmers feed that need by growing almost every variety under the sun.

Hal Oliver of Oliver Organics in Hendersonville grows at least 15 different types of greens. While he grows many you’re likely familiar with, including collards, kale and green cabbage, he doesn’t shy away from the unique varieties.

These lesser-known greens include equatorial types, such as Malabar spinach, which has more than 50 possible names (like Ceylon-, Indian- or buffalo-spinach).

Next year marks Oliver’s 20th as a commercial farmer, which explains his fearless approach when it comes to tackling different varieties and truly understanding what it means to grow great-tasting greens.

“My customers range from foodies to newbies, and they love all the greens,” he notes of both the commercial and individual shoppers who frequent his booth at the Henderson County Tailgate Market. The crowd favorites? Arugula and curly and Tuscan varieties of kale. Of his unique Malabar spinach, he estimates that about 80 percent of his tailgate shoppers give it a go and like it.

As many area chefs will note, local vegetables make for a fresher, bolder taste in their dishes. And in the case of greens, freshness is key. “Greens start to break down very fast,” says Chef Adam Hayes of the Red Stag Grill. “They are delicate and tender vegetables that need to be well taken care of.”

Just how do you care for them? “Wash those greens!” he stresses. Because of their porous leaves, Chef Hayes recommends soaking them in a mixture of water and vinegar (a small cap will do). “You don’t want to make some delicious greens and then ‘grit’ your way through them.”

And what about preparation? That’s a little more complicated, because when it comes to cooking the leafy veggies, there are two camps. The traditionalists prefer long cooking times with a chunk of pork fat to season and break down tough greens like collards and mustard greens. The new-school group views the stewing process as too much, opting instead for a light sauté.

As a grower close to his crop, Oliver leans more toward the contemporary approach to cooking. He prepares his greens with a short sauté in olive oil to let the taste shine through. But he’ll undertake a more complex preparation for kale. “It makes a great chip!” he says. “Just coat in oil, sea salt and one herb, and bake for about 10 minutes at 350 degrees.”

As a chef, Hayes sets up his camp somewhere in the middle. “Some greens can be quick-braised; others need long cooking times to become tender, he says. “The larger and tougher the leaves, the longer the cooking time.”

Hayes’ favorite, Swiss chard, can be quick-braised with just a few ingredients (see his recipe in the sidebar). He also favors a quick-cook of a mix of beet, turnip and mustard greens along with chard, arugula and spinach.

For kids, that’s a lot of scary green stuff on one plate, Hayes admits. If making greens at home, he recommends having children help you with washing, while explaining where they came from. “It’s amazing — kids will at least try [them], because they feel they were part of the cooking process.”

Chef Hayes and other area restaurants feature greens on their menus for the remainder of this month as part of Get Local, an initiative of ASAP that brings together farmers, chefs and community members around the region to celebrate a single seasonal ingredient while it’s at its peak.

Markets are a Sea of Greens

While greens are also abundant during the spring, kids and adults alike can certainly appreciate the bold taste and bright color of greens this time of year. Just as the leaves begin to fall from the trees and many locally grown vegetables disappear from tailgate markets and grocery stores, greens swoop in to steal the spotlight. What’s more, they’ll stick around and offer freshness into the winter.

Don’t let the chill in the air keep you from area farmers markets. Fall is a fantastic time for tailgate shopping. Along with greens, you’ll find locally grown winter squash, apples, beets, peppers, cabbages, honey and all manner of value-added products.

Most tailgates run through the end of October, with some remaining open into November and even December for holiday events. Find information on market listings at buyappalachian.org, and visit ASAP’s website (address above) for details and dates as winter approaches.

For more information about the Get Local program and a list of participating restaurants, visit asapconnections.org. Look for Oliver Organics’ listing in ASAP’s Local Food Guide, online at buyappalachian.org. The farm can be reached at 697-1153.

— Maggie Cramer is the communications coordinator at Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (asapconnections.org). Contact her at maggie@asapconnections.org.

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