While summer is the season for grilling, it is also important to eat your veggies.

Summer greens are exploding in gardens. They are cheap and plentiful in farmers markets and grocery stores. These versatile vegetables are a great complement to any meal and, with just slight modifications in seasoning, can go with any cuisine.

Young, tender greens picked early are ideal for salads. This makes a great base for grilled meats, sliced thin. However, once the greens begin to mature, the flavor becomes more robust and the texture tougher. These are the greens that are perfect for a quick sauté.

Preparing sautéed greens is a quick and healthy way to get important nutrients like iron, calcium and an array of vitamins. Kale is widely touted as a “superfood,” but all greens can be a healthy addition to the diet.

Preparation will vary slightly for different types of greens. Tougher greens such as kale, collards and mustard greens take longer to cook and need to be cut smaller. They often benefit from braising, a method using much lower heat over a longer period. Also, these greens have woody stems that need to be removed before cooking.

By Steve “Mo” Fye
Red chard sautéed with the finely chopped stems, garlic and soy sauce provides a great side dish for Asian entrees.

Chard, on the other hand, has celery-like stems that can be cooked briefly before cooking the cut leaves. Red chard, especially, provides a dramatic color contrast when the stems are cooked with the greens.

To prepare greens for cooking, rinse very well just before use. Let the greens drain, pat them dry with paper towels or use a salad spinner.

Remove the stems, saving them if they are from chard or other greens with edible stalks. Stack the leaves and cut lengthwise. The tougher the leaves, the smaller the pieces should be. Chard is best cut in 1- or 2-inch squares, while kale and collards should be cut smaller. Turn the leaves 90 degrees and cut again.

Preheat the largest sauté pan available. Briefly sauté any aromatics being used (garlic or finely sliced red or green onions are great for greens), then add the chopped leaves. Non-stick safe tongs or wooden spoons are perfect for handling the greens as they cook. Add seasonings and toss the greens as they break down and become tender.

Here are a few suggestions for delicious side dishes:

Asian Sesame Greens

8 ounces prepped greens

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon minced ginger (or ½ teaspoon powdered ginger)

2 teaspoons soy sauce or Tamari

1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar

1 teaspoon sesame seeds

Preheat a non-stick pan over high heat. Add the sesame oil and minced aromatics. Before the garlic browns, add the greens and sauté. Once the greens begin to wilt, add the remaining ingredients. Serve immediately. (Serves two)

Italian Greens

8 ounces prepped greens

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 teaspoon minced garlic

2 tablespoons finely sliced red onion

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley

Pinch of salt

Fresh ground pepper to taste

2 teaspoons red wine vinegar

A few shakes of Italian seasoning

Or a pinch each of dry basil, oregano and thyme

Cook as above, adding the dry seasonings when the greens are nearly done.

Experiment with any seasoning found in the kitchen. Dry jerk spice, five spice powder or other premade seasoning blends are a great way to adapt these dishes. Stewing or braising collard greens or kale in bacon fat with a dash of hot sauce provides a great side dish for smoked meats or grilled foods of all kinds.

Steve Mo Fye is managing editor for the Daily Lobo. Contact him at managingeditor@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @UncaMo.