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How to cook mustard greens Southern-style and beyond

Mustard greens are used in Indian, Japanese, Italian and Southern dishes — just to name a few.
Most famously in the U.S., mustard greens are cooked low-and-slow with bacon, ham hocks or turkey, for a savory Southern side dish.Jocelyn Delk Adams

Super healthy but equally delicious, mustard greens are a great addition to your repertoire. They have a strong, peppery bite — like a more intense arugula. They’re used in Indian, Japanese, Italian and Southern dishes, just to name a few.

So, don’t ignore mustard greens next time you’re at the grocery store or farmers market, especially when they’re in season in April. Look for greens with large, dark green leaves that don't have holes.

Leaf mustard greens
When shopping for mustard greens, look for large, dark green leaves that don't have holes.Getty Images

"They shouldn't be too tough," writes Jocelyn Delk Adams of Grandbaby Cakes. "You want to make sure that the leaves are easy to pull away from the stem and tear/cut later when preparing them to cook."

And once you get them home, here’s how to transform them into crave-worthy creations.

What to do with mustard greens

Mustard greens can be cooked many ways — sautéed, stir-fried, added to soups and stews, mixed into dishes like pastas, casseroles and quiches or fried into savory snacks. They can be blanched and pureed with other greens and a touch of cream for a delicious greens soup, or turned into a creamy North Indian spiced dish called sarson ka saag.

Sarson ka saag
Sarson ka saag is a creamy North Indian spiced dish made with mustard greens.Arundhati Sathe / Getty Images/iStockphoto

They also work as a good swap-in for kale or other dark, leafy greens in many recipes. Most famously in the U.S., mustard greens are cooked low-and-slow with bacon, ham hocks or turkey, for a savory Southern side dish.

Mustard greens can be eaten raw, but it’s an acquired taste, because their assertive flavor really punches you in the face. So, if you want to use the greens in a salad, chop or tear them into small pieces and mix them with other greens and ingredients.

How to clean and prep mustard greens

Gritty greens are a total turnoff. You’ll want to thoroughly clean your greens and dislodge any sand or dirt. Rinsing the leaves often isn’t enough — especially if you get your greens at the farmers market or in a CSA. Plug up a clean sink or use a really large bowl and fill it with cool water. Cut off the tough stems, separate the leaves and submerge them in the water. Rub any patches of dirt off the leaves, and let them sit in the water for a couple of minutes. The dirt will sink to the bottom. Remove the greens and give them a quick rinse. Shake off any excess water and pat them dry with paper towels.

Stir fry mustard greens
Rayo ko saag is Nepali-style or Sikkim-style stir-fried mustard greens.Alamy Stock Photo

If you’re going to cook down the mustard greens for a long period of time, simply cut into large pieces; if you're going to go for a raw or sautéed preparation, tear the leave off the stems and discard the stems. They are tough unless you cook the fight out of them.

How to cook mustard greens

To sauté, de-stem chop the leaves into pieces. Put a high-sided skillet on medium heat. Heat a tablespoon or two of your fat of choice — oil, bacon or chicken fat all work — depending on the amount of greens you’re cooking. Add minced garlic. Depending on the flavor you want, you can also add spices like cumin and coriander. Add the greens and sauté until the leaves wilt down. Add a splash of water or stock and continue cooking until the liquid is absorbed, 5 to 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste, and a splash of acid (lemon or lime juice, sherry vinegar and balsamic vinegar are all good options). And voila — a quick and easy side dish!

You can also make slow-cooked Southern-style mustard greens with bacon, ham hocks or turkey. Cook down the meat in a large pot, add greens and enough water to cover the greens. Throw in some seasonings and a splash of vinegar and Worcestershire. Cover and cook for an hour.

For a vegan version, start with a bit of oil and add your aromatics of choice — garlic and shallots work well. Add greens, water, some dried shiitake mushrooms, salt, a couple splashes of Worcestershire sauce (or soy sauce, since Worcestershire has anchovies in it) and sherry vinegar. Cover and cook for an hour. Finish off with a dash of liquid smoke.

How long to cook mustard greens

How long you cook mustard greens depends on the dish you want to make. You can do a moderate sauté or cook them for an hour or more. You can also cook them in the slow cooker on high for 3 to 4 hours. However you cook them, note that mustard greens really benefit from being thoroughly cooked, as that mellows out their intense, peppery flavor.