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Plain Jane, with chickpeas

Peanut butter on toast. A soft-boiled egg with salt and pepper. Butternut squash boiled in cider and mashed. A carrot dunked in lemon-tahini dressing. A cold apple, cored and cut into sixths. Spaghetti squash with sea salt. A glass of milk and a pile of graham crackers. Three-quarters of my diet looks and sounds like something you’d find on the tray of a high chair, or at snack time in preschool. I’m totally blowing my cover, I know. There’s much to be said—and written—for complexity, for nuanced flavors and saucy, sophisticated stuff, but dear reader, woman does not live on intricately crafted dishes alone. I love my salt cod tarts and my soufflés, my hand-rolled pastas and panades, but plain, uncomplicated Jane is also pretty in her own way. Give me a handful of Newman’s arrowroot alphabet cookies and I’ll play contentedly for hours.

Daily life may not be photogenic, and no one needs instructions for putting peanut butter on bread, but I’ve been woefully remiss in giving good, gritty, everyday grub its due. Some dishes are quiet; they don’t sit up and tell stories begging to be written and retold. Instead, they get under our skin and into our kitchens in other ways, namely through outright, all-out, drag-down deliciousness. Take, for example, my favorite spin on the beans-‘n-greens genre, a dish I’ve made no fewer than four times in as many weeks: braised winter greens with chickpeas, onions, and garlic.

These days, most of us have eaten our fill of wilted greens, whether in a salad or as a ubiquitous restaurant side dish, sautéed with olive oil and lemon. But cooked more slowly, braised with only a few clinging drops of liquid and a couple of aromatics, winter greens arrive at the table a different dish entirely, one I’m hard put to put down. Longer, gentler cooking brings out a low, earthy sweetness in chard, collards, or kale, an uncanny flavor that plays well with other things grown close to the ground. The coarse, dark leaves slowly melt into a tangle with onion, garlic, and olive oil, handily trapping nutty, sweet chickpeas onto the fork. It’s a dish perfectly calibrated in its simplicity: a handful of common, everyday ingredients treated uncommonly well, with no sauces or emulsions, no garnish or glitter, no adornments or adult-rated appointments. And for me and Plain Jane, it’s happily so.

Braised Winter Greens with Chickpeas, Onions, and Garlic
Adapted from Fresh from the Farmers’ Market, by Janet Fletcher

This dish sounds so commonplace that I’ve been hesitant to write about it, but its flavors are so unusually well-balanced that I don’t want to keep it to myself. It would be a delicious side for sausages, roasted pork, or roasted chicken, and it would make a welcome bed for a poached egg. Most often, though, I take it as a perfectly plain, perfectly satisfying main dish, with fruit, cheese, and bread to make a hearty meal. It’s ideal for these mid-holiday times, when we find ourselves otherwise surrounded by cookies and cakes and heavy-handed spicing.

The original version of this recipe calls for only chard, but I prefer to use the pretty “sauté mix” from Willie Green’s Organic Farm, which—as far as I can tell—contains ruby chard as well as young leaves from Lacinato (also known as dino) kale, green Winterbor kale, purple Redbor kale, and maybe even mustard greens. I’ve also used collard greens, and to very good effect. These latter greens are a bit heartier than chard, so if you use them, which I highly recommend, choose specimens that are on the younger, more delicate end of the spectrum. I don’t recommend spinach, which goes limp and slippery almost the second it hits the pan. Whatever you use, make sure they are fresh, good-tasting greens with crisp, plump-looking leaves. This recipe is the ultimate in simplicity, so be sure to use the best ingredients possible.

2 bunches chard, kale, collard, or other winter greens, about 1 ½ pounds total
3 Tbsp. olive oil
2 large cloves garlic, minced
½ medium yellow or red onion, minced
1 can (15 ½ ounces) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 ½ tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

Trim the central ribs from the greens, and discard them. You should wind up with about 1 pound of leaves, or a bit less. Wash them well in a pan of water, and drain them well in a colander. Some water will cling to the leaves, and don’t worry—you want it to. Stack the leaves a few at a time, and slice them crosswise into ¼-inch-wide ribbons. Set them aside.

In a 12-inch skillet, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and onion, and sauté until the onion is soft and edging toward translucent, about 5-10 minutes. Add the chickpeas, and stir to mix. Add the greens, season well with salt, and stir and fold gently to blend. The leaves are bulky, so you may need to add them in batches, letting them cook down slightly before adding more. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the leaves have wilted enough that you can cover the skillet. Cover, lower the heat—you want to keep the contents of the pan cooking gently and slowly, with no aggressive sizzling or burning—and cook until the greens are tender, about 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, and stir in the lemon juice.

Serve warm or at room temperature, but not hot. Taste and adjust the seasoning just before plating.

Yield: 6 side-dish servings, or 2-3 main-dish servings


Blogger pomegranate said...

Simple sounds like just the thing. Tis the season for heaping piles of heavy, complex foods it seems and the delightfully simple brings a welcome reprieve. err, something.


3:19 PM, December 04, 2005  
Anonymous Wren said...

One of the things I love about your blog is that so many of the recipes are down to earth enough that I can think about making them on weeknight. I eat dinner from your blog more than any other and this will probably be on my table within the week: it sounds fabulous.

4:57 PM, December 04, 2005  
Anonymous Becca said...

I love these photos ... beautiful color ... incredibly appetizing! Besides, simple food can sometimes be the healthiest.

5:55 PM, December 04, 2005  
Anonymous Sher said...

Hey, that's not plain! I love recipes like that. I grew up eating collards, kale and turnip greens and they have a richness to them that addictive. And your photos are wonderful. I have some kale in my garden that's destined for that recipe.


7:39 PM, December 04, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Molly, your writing is so much fun to read. Great opening on this piece!!
: ) Margot

8:22 AM, December 05, 2005  
Blogger Shauna said...

You, my dear, are no plain jane at all. I know this for a fact. However, I adore this recipe for dark winter greens. I'm with Wren: I just keep cooking your recipes. Sometimes, I don't have anything new to post on mine, because all I did was replicate your recipes!

I can't wait to eat this soon.

12:00 PM, December 05, 2005  
Blogger Isil S. said...

Your photos are very nice and as a vegan I'll definitely try this out.
Thanks for sharing.

12:31 AM, December 06, 2005  
Blogger nm said...

I love that cookbook and keep on forgetting that I have it. Thanks for the reminder.

I was going to roast a batch of chickpeas tonight, but instead I think I'll try this.


10:12 AM, December 06, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Pomegranate, it's been "just the thing" for me for several weeks now! I'm braising up another batch tonight, actually. Yum indeed.

Wren, that's wonderful to hear! I too deal with the weeknight syndrome, coming home tired but hungry for something good, and Orangette reflects that, I hope. While I do love to cook on the fancy-schmancy side as well, most of the time, I'll take a simple hunk of bread, some cheese, and something warm and stewy (or braisey)...

Thank you, Becca! And you're right; this kind of simplicity is not only delicious, but also healthy. Another reason to wash up some greens and pull out the chickpeas...

Sher, I'm jealous. I want a garden, not to mention some kale in it, ready for harvesting...

Awwww, Marge, thank you, ma cherie!

Shauna, I know, it's the food blogger's curse! Everyone writes about such luscious things, but if we let ourselves be seduced every time, we have nothing to write about. Argh! But forge on we shall. I've got your recipe for chicken with pomegranate molasses printed out and sitting on my counter, and it's next on the docket. xo

Thank you, isil_simsek. It's my pleasure.

NM, isn't it a great book? The pages of my copy are dog-eared from all my pawing through it. Happy eating...

8:05 PM, December 06, 2005  
Anonymous flo said...

I am so glad you posted this recipe in the end! First because to me chard and chickpeas are no usual,so I now have an idea too cook something new, and because I love those perfect simple and tasty recipe. Thank you Molly!

12:34 AM, December 07, 2005  
Anonymous Melissa said...

Amen for simplicity! As fashionable food spirals out of control in terms of complexity and sheer bizarreness, it's easy to forget just how soul-warming a simple, rustic meal can be. After partaking in some of the most complex food of my life this past weekend in Paris, I was left with a strange void in my belly that longed for something honest, familiar and yes, even plain! You'll be happy to know these greens have just hopped onto the menu.

4:27 AM, December 07, 2005  
Blogger Ruth said...

Molly, first off I love the way you write, the photos,...and of course, the recipes. This visit is no different.

I must add - "simple" does NOT mean "plain" and certainly not about you.

Love the sound of this dish and can't wait to try it out tonight. Thanks for sharing.

7:20 AM, December 07, 2005  
Blogger Emmeya said...

Daily life absolutely is photogenic! Those are the best ones (especially when they look like this!)

1:07 PM, December 07, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Thank you, flo. I'm glad to have been of service!

Amen for that, Melissa! I'm with you: haute cuisine and "fashion food" are pretty awe-inspiring, but simple, humble food feeds us in a different--and, I'd say, deeper--way. Not that I'd ever turn down Paris, you know, but...

Ruth, thank you! It's always a pleasure to have you visit. And as for this tricky "plain" business, I was just referring to the fact that this dish has no elaborate spicing or seasoning, and nothing particularly unusual or flashy. In that sense, it's a Plain Jane, wonderfully simple and appealingly plain in comparison to many other dishes we find these days. I hope you find it as warming and delicious as I do!

Emmeya, well, yes, this Plain Jane of a dish did turn out awfully pretty, didn't she? And as for the other trappings of daily life, I do love good, candid shots, but I hold my ground that some photos are not warranted, or wanted! My morning bowl of granola mixed into yogurt, for example, is certainly tasty, but it ain't pretty!

2:03 PM, December 07, 2005  
Anonymous keiko said...

Molly, I'll be happy just having this on a cold day (preferably with your gorgeous soup) - I'm a big fan of 'cooked vegetables' and this combination sounds wonderful. Needless to say, your beautiful picture made me want to try even more, thank you for sharing.

2:19 AM, December 09, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've just discovered your blog, and I love it. A recipe like this is great--healthy and simple, yet rich. Thanks so much!

6:39 AM, December 09, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another good morning to you, Molly! (This one's quite snowy; I'm in fact quite delighted that after I jot off this note to you, I'm off to spend part of my work morning shoveling the sidewalk in front of our building.) So Wren (my roommate!) and I have had these greens TWICE this week -- the second time was last night, when I made them without the chickpeas, so they could accompany your warm chickpea salad. I made the salad so many times last late winter and early spring and had forgotten about it. We rounded out the meal with a hearty loaf of Farmgirl's whole wheat beer bread and some frosty bottles of Jinx beer from Magic Hat. Mmmmmm, what a wonderful way to anticipate the snow! You really do inspire the both of us (and others in our circles) in our daily kitchen adventures. To be able to eat well, abundantly, gratefully, and healthily, with mindful but not overwhelming effort, is something we love, and Orangette is absolutely one of our main tools for doing it.


7:52 AM, December 09, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Man, do I love those Newman's own Arrowroot Cookies! I thought Greg and I were the only adults who knew about them.


3:23 PM, December 09, 2005  
Anonymous vanessa said...

Amen. Simplicity sustains. And there are days where soft boiled eggs with butter-slathered toast are the only things that matter. Great post.

3:46 PM, December 09, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Keiko, thank you, as always, for your foodie enthusiasm. I too am a fan of "cooked vegetables"--a raw food diet wouldn't last long chez moi--and come winter, this sort of dish is a daily requirement for me. Wish we could share a meal of this--with a bowl of soup alongside, of course--one of these cold evenings!

Anonymous, thank you!

Lisa, your comments always leave me glowing. You're better than a facial, even! I'm thrilled to hear that you (and Wren!) are feasting on greens and chickpeas, and now I only wish I could stop by for a beer. Cheers to winter and eating well...

LAA, that's it! Enough of these furtive chats at farmers' markets and on the Pilates mat: we need to get together for dinner, dear friend! Or maybe just arrowroot cookies? Your pick.

Vanessa, thank you. You'll be pleased to note that I ate soft-boiled eggs twice last week. Amen to that!

3:04 PM, December 12, 2005  
Anonymous Aylin said...

Molly -
hi, it's me, Aylin, fellow former bridesmaid at Jen's wedding. So I've been reading your blog for the past few months, and I must say, the vegetable recipes are my favorites. I just ate this one, and it, well... it rules!!

4:44 PM, December 12, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Aylin! Well, fancy meeting you here! I'm thrilled to know that you've been visiting--and trying the recipes, to boot. Thanks so much, my dear. Hugs to you, and happy holidays.

9:02 PM, December 15, 2005  
Blogger Miss Tenacity said...

I'm nursing my first cold in a helluva long time (with a 102 fever, even!), and I made a variation on this recipe for my dinner tonight. I am currently reeking of garlic.... *grin*

1 huge bunch collards, trimmed of stalks and woody centers, washed (about 1 pound)
4 cloves garlic
1/2 red onion
1 cup chicken stock
1 T cooked crumbled bacon
1 package silken lite tofu, pressed to remove as much liquid as possible
chili powder
teaspoon butter

1. Slice the onion thinly and chop/mash the garlic.
2. Saute onion and garlic in the butter, adding a pinch of salt to help them wilt.
3. Slice collards to about 1" strips and add them to the onion/garlic mixture.
4. Pour over the 3/4 cup chicken stock and add the bacon bits, then cover and let simmer.
5. Cube the tofu and tumble it into a hot greased skillet.
6. Combine 1 tsp chili powder with the remaining 1/4 cup chicken stock and pour this over the tofu.
7. Cook the tofu until lightly crusted, kind of dried out, and bouncy.
8. Take the lid off the collards and let the juice in the pan evaporate over high heat.
9. Toss the tofu and the collards together in a large bowl and immerse yourself in garlicky goodness!

You can also portion this into two servings, intending to only eat half, and then eating the 2nd portion anyway because its so tasty.... ;-)

6:25 PM, January 02, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

Miss Tenacity, ill or no, you know how to take a recipe and run with it! Your garlicky, bacony greens with tofu sounds like a delicious cure for just about anything, from a nasty cold right on down the line. Thanks so much for sharing, and if all that garlic hasn't cured you yet, hurry up and get well soon!

8:59 PM, January 04, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The bitterness of the green and the smooth, creamy beans: mmm, mmm, mmm!

5:42 PM, January 25, 2006  
Anonymous Janice said...

Just had to thank you for posting this great standby recipe! In the past 3 weeks since learning about it, I've made at least 6 versions of it.

I totally bastardized the whole plain jane bit though. The second time, I added tomato paste, tomatoes, and red wine, then served it with blue cheese macaroni. The flavors worked pretty well. Tonight, I added some chopped kielbasa sausage...so perfect!

3:02 PM, September 11, 2006  
Anonymous kayenne said...

a tad off topic, but i love soft-boiled eggs for breakfast myself. try it the singaporean way, with a touch of soysauce(i prefer knorr kitchen seasoning) and a dash of ground black pepper. for something a bit more substantial, eat it with toast or over steamed white rice.

8:18 AM, September 12, 2006  
Blogger jayla said...

Where can i get these Newman's ABC Arrowroot cookies? The local Whole Foods no longer stocks.

11:57 PM, September 22, 2007  
Blogger jbeach said...

Plain Jane, no way! I love this blog and I love this recipe. With fresh, organic black kale from the farmers' market and lovely plump chickpeas, it is immediately a staple. I had it for two lunches and a dinner (with poached egg atop) already, and no boredom yet! Thank you, Molly!

7:29 PM, October 31, 2007  
Blogger Lisa said...

Hiya missy -- whoa, it's been almost three years since I first left a comment on this one! Who knew then ... that I'd be writing to tell you I'm going to hand out this recipe at market this weekend (and perhaps link to it from our farm blog, if I can get to it!!). Three years on, it's still a go-to recipe for all the greens I adore this time of year.

8:17 AM, October 10, 2008  
Anonymous Lou Ann said...

Thanks for the recipe! It was, like so many of your recipes, so much greater than the sum of its parts!

7:43 PM, December 11, 2008  
Blogger Helen said...

I couldn't agree more with your post about simple, plain jane foods. I love and crave them just as much as the festive, more complicated dishes!


10:27 AM, April 06, 2010  
Blogger RoadBunner said...

Tried this last night and it was DELICIOUS!!

4:18 PM, July 17, 2010  
Anonymous Juliann said...

Hi! Just wondering if the greens can be made a day ahead and reheated? I've recently discovered how fabulous winter greens are and am thinking they would make a great Thanksgiving side dish, but try to do the least amount of cooking possible on actual Turkey day.

6:07 AM, October 28, 2010  
Blogger Molly said...

Juliann, this can definitely be made ahead and reheated, but I think the texture and appearance will be nicest if you make it the day of. Plus, it's so quick to make! It won't take up much of your day. If it makes the job more appealing, you can trim and wash the greens the day before, so all you have to do is throw them in the pan on the day of.

5:51 PM, October 28, 2010  
Anonymous Lisa said...

Hello, lady. Wild -- I see I've left two other comments here, and wow, what a trip down memory lane it is to consider where I was, what filled my days, who I was eating my dinners with, when I wrote those. Anyhow! Just popping in to say I'm making this right now. I haven't made it in ages, but it was a standby for years -- not sure why it fell out of the rotation, but I'm so happy to bring it back to the fore.

Hope all is very well. I should email you the thing I'm not eating for dinner -- a little treat Arlo and I whipped up today. Not, perhaps, as healthy as kale and chickpeas, but still pretty nutrient dense, and I think it would have been just the thing back in my early nursing weeks.

5:20 PM, October 03, 2012  

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