it’s not easy being greens: ethiopian bruschetta


Some people love greens, and I’ll pat them on the back.  I’m not averse to them, but my regular readers have already heard my groanings.  The push to eat superfoods — especially dark, bitter rabbit salad — has made greens a culinary star, and they appear in far more dishes than they should.  Our local health food store, for example, has a prepared salads bar, about 99.9999% filled with kale.  And it’s served raw.  RAW.  Patrons circle around it hungrily, twitching their noses and waggling their ears.

Worse yet, greens grow really, really well here in the Willamette Valley.  A friend once pointed out some overwintered chard in his slightly neglected garden.  “Those chard are twenty years old,” he said, “and they keep coming up.”  That’s what I’m talking about, my friends.  WEED strength greens.

And worst of all, greens grow in the salad days of the growing season, coming up thick and lush and the color of deep forest on days when you’re dying for something to cut this morning’s bacon fat and drippings from last night’s roast.  They’ve got their PR, their market niche, and their timing down.  Greens have a Ph.D. in advertising.

So, they are a force to consider.  And they’re even tasty, in moderation.  So every year I set out to do something new with greens.

Even I can’t resist the fat, juicy little bundles of raab-style baby greens in the farmers’ markets now.  Our local farmers make use of the thinnings from their rows, selling off the shoots to greens-hungry rabbits local foodies. To celebrate their arrival, I started thinking about the recipes one makes with older greens, and recipes one makes with spinach.  The best ones are long-cooked and softened with fat, usually smoky ham hock or butter.  I thought I could give a nod to the health rabbits and still maintain deliciousness by lightening up one of the long-cooked recipes.

DSCF4379One of my favorite ways to eat greens is Ethiopian gomen: a range of dishes made of collard greens that feature niter kibbeh, a clarified butter often made with garlic, fenugreek, ginger, cinnamon, clove, and cumin.  The greens are mixed sometimes with cottage cheese, providing a nice contrast of soft mild dairy.  Turns out you can make a quick version, too.  The dish doesn’t resemble the original product, but it is fresher, lighter, and a yummy dish in its own right.  Perfect, I thought, for a spring potluck.

I whipped up my experiment — Ethiopian Greens Bruschetta — as a two-bite appetizer for a recent barbecue with a group of local foodies hosted by Amy and Matt from Our Home Works.  The feedback was positive!

Upon reflection, I think you could probably make this recipe with a wide range of spices to reflect any spring menu. The amount of clarified butter and salt are also variable, based on your tastes.  (I probably use more than you would.) You’ll find the recipe for the niter kibbeh linked in the recipe below.  It makes more than you will use for the greens, but the clarified butter keeps well in the refrigerator because the milk solids are removed, and is delicious with potatoes and other recipes calling for plain butter.

For the experiment, I purchased the three bundles above: mini brussels sprouts greens, Japanese shungiku, and turnip greens.  They cooked down significantly, and I used more of the stems than I would have if they were older greens.  I also used a couple of tablespoons-full of whole milk ricotta, because I thought it would add a cottage-cheese-like nuance to reflect the original dish the Ethiopians call gomen kitfo, but I wonder if it just muddied the color and flavor in my quick-cooked version.  So the cheese is optional in the final recipe below.

This dish can also be served a side without the bread — try the greens with a poached egg on top for a brunch, or alongside some barbecued chicken thighs or ribs.

And be sure to eat tons of these greens; they’re good for you.

Ethiopian Greens Bruschetta

Serves 8 as an appetizer

  • 3 bunches baby greens (collards are traditional, but not necessary), or 1 bunch of mature greens
  • 1/2 medium sweet onion, chopped finely
  • 1/4 cup niter kibbeh (spiced, clarified butter) (click link for recipe)
  • 2 tablespoons whole milk ricotta or small-curd cottage cheese (optional)
  • 1 /2 baguette, sliced thinly

Wash greens well in several changes of water.  Remove most of the stems, except for the top 2-3 inches.  Chop leaves and the top stems finely.

Blanch greens by bringing well-salted water to boil in a medium-sized pot, then submerged the greens in the boiling water for about one minute.  Immediately remove the limp greens, and place them in a bowl filled with cold water and ice.  This will stop the cooking and set the color.  Drain greens well and squeeze out as much liquid as possible.

Saute the chopped onion in the niter kibbeh until it is just beginning to turn brown. Add the greens and cook briefly, then remove from heat.  How long to cook is a matter of taste.  If you like your greens crunchy, heat only briefly, but if you like them as I do, more tender, cook for a few more minutes.

Remove greens from heat when they are cooked to your liking.  If you are using the ricotta/cottage cheese, mix it in now.  At this point, the greens can be refrigerated or served.  If you refrigerate them, warm them up for 30 seconds in the microwave before serving.

Just before serving, toast or grill slices of baguette, then mound 2-3 tablespoons greens atop each slice.