As our days heat up, our spring greens lose their luster, and we need green vegetables that can thrive in our intense sunlight. Fortunately, there are a lot of them. Curly mallow, Verticilla crispa, is one of the best in my opinion; it’s productive, disease-free, and hits its stride just as the spinach is bolting and goes on until a hard frost. The flavor is very mild, and the leaf has a demulcent “thickening” quality that gives body to greens mixtures. The plants can reach 5′ tall. I got seeds from Nichols Garden Nursery a few years ago, and it has seeded itself around nicely ever since. I often mix it half and half with Swiss chard, as I did here in an Indonesian recipe that I love and cook often.
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Greens with black mustard seeds
4 tightly packed cups of assorted leafy greens, washed, central vein removed if needed, and sliced into 1/4 inch slices. I don’t like anything too bitter in this dish and tend to use some combination of chard, spinach, curly mallow, young nettles when in season, sweet potato leaves, and lambs-quarters.The version shown in the picture is half mallow and half chard. If using “bought” greens, I’d recommend a mixture of chard, spinach, and bok choy leaves.
2 tablespoons oil
2 teaspoons whole black mustard seeds
1 large onion, quartered and thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic chopped
a 1 inch piece of turmeric root, peeled and finely chopped
a 1 inch piece of ginger root, peeled and finely chopped.
1-2 teaspoons palm sugar or brown sugar
salt to taste, or fish sauce to taste
6-8 curry leaflets, finely sliced, OR about 1/4 cup of cilantro leaves picked off the stems.
Heat a large saute pan over medium heat, add the oil, and when hot put in the mustard seeds and stir a minute until they pop and turn a lighter color. Stir in the onion, saute until cooked but not browned, and add the chopped garlic, ginger, and turmeric to the pan. Saute until fragrant, add the sliced greens, and saute until they look cooked, adding the sugar and salt or fish sauce to taste. I keep the heat high and stir very frequently, but you can also use medium heat for a longer time. Don’t let the heat get too low or the greens will exude too much water and the flavors will be muddied. When they look “cooked,” start tasting. As soon as they are tender and taste good, stir in the sliced curry leaves for a minute and serve. If using cilantro, sprinkle it on top. They make a good side dish for satay and similar grilled things, but I often add a cup of coconut milk, adjust salt if needed, and serve over rice or rice noodles for a light dinner
A note on curry leaves: These are the leaves of Murraya koenegii, and you can grow the tree in a pot or (sometimes) buy the leaves at Ta Lin. The leaf is a long compound leaf with 12 or more leaflets, and it is the individual leaflets that I refer to here. They have a very distinctive flavor. Cilantro gives a very different but equally good flavor to this dish.