How To Cook Leaf Vegetables And Greens Right

Show that chard a little respect

This is a desperate plea: Please stop overcooking your greens.

Seriously. Stop it.

Leafy greens are a beautiful thing. I've been known to stop and stare at rows of rainbow chard in the produce aisle for an uncomfortably long amount of time, admiring their colorful stalks and soft-leather leaves. Or cabbage—have you ever sliced a head in half crosswise? The mathematically perfect Fibonacci spirals alone! I'm verklempt. Nature is capable of incredible things.

So why would you go and ruin it by turning your beautiful greens into a ball of tightly packed, stringy mush? Spinach needs only a few seconds on heat before collapsing in on itself, while heartier greens like kale or chard can take a few minutes of heat until they're just tender, retaining both their shape and a slightly crisp texture. (There are some exceptions to this rule—slow-braised collard greens, for example, but as a general rule, err on the side of undercooking. They're vegetables; they won't hurt you raw.)

You're familiar with the concept of cooking pasta al dente—the same holds true for greens.

This issue came up earlier this week, when recipe editor Andy Baraghani was testing the recipe for corned beef and cabbage. A more traditional recipe would call for braising the cabbage in the same pot as the beef, but we wanted to create a side that would really pop, in flavor, color and texture, against the slow-cooked meat. Braising the cabbage was out of the question; charring it was in (see the recipe).

A blast of high, dry heat not only helps the fibrous vegetable retain some of its structural integrity, but it also gives it a deeper, more complex flavor. And because that initial heat does most of the heavy lifting in terms of cooking the cabbage through, you don't need to cook it for all that much longer post-char, thus avoiding the dreaded soggy cabbage syndrome.

Try it, just this once, please. You may never look at (or cook) kale the same way again.