In 2016, cauliflower outpaced kale as the trendiest brassica in America. It was served up in restaurants as buffaloed appetizers and entrée-sized steaks and went viral on the internet as pizza crust and a rice substitute.

While we have ever more access to lovely local cauliflower, we must face the Maine reality that dictates that leafy greens are more plentiful in the winter. To sustain a buy-local-and-seasonal practice in the early months of 2017, kale and its brethren – collard, mustard and turnip greens and other leafy greens like Swiss and rainbow chard – need to be in the mix.

Sautés, salads and smoothies are three ways to get these guys down the hatch. But I’ve become more creative by necessity because my family is not big on the first; sick of the second; and won’t even consider the third.

It’s useful to properly prep greens when you bring them home so they are ready to use when you need them. When I plan to use whole leaves, I store them unwashed and wrapped in a damp towel in the crisper. But most of the time, I strip them from their tough stems (those get chopped and slowly sautéed in olive oil and thyme to be used as a crostini topping or the base for a pureed soup). Then I tear the leaves into bite-sized pieces and wash and spin them dry. I store them in a reusable plastic container lined with a damp towel in the coldest part of the refrigerator, where they will last for five days. This 15-minute post-market prep pays me back in spades when I am trying to get a weeknight dinner on the table.

Now that we’re properly prepped, I can move on to my top 10 listicle for covert cole crop consumption.

10. Wrap large whole leaves around lean proteins like chicken breasts or flaky white fish to help them stay moist as they bake.

9. Use whole leaves – mainly tougher collards – as flour tortilla or Asian rice paper substitutes when making sandwiches or spring rolls, respectively.

8. Stir one handful of chopped greens per 2 cups of any kind chunky soup simmering on the stove in the last 15 minutes of cooking to add bulk with an ingredient that holds its texture even when leftovers get reheated.

7. Use torn winter greens in any recipe that calls for spinach, from saag paneer to the green vegetable in a chicken stir-fry. The winter greens may take a few more minutes to wilt than the spinach would, though.

6. Make greens their very own layer in lasagna, potato gratin or vegetable tart.

5. Add greens to baked sheet-pan dinners with combinations like sriracha, shrimp and shaved coconut or butternut squash, walnuts and cranberry vinaigrette.

4. Pulverize greens and put them where they’d be unexpected: the secret ingredient in your meatballs; mixed with mayo as a sandwich spread; or as the “pesto” on a white pizza.

3. Cover them with cheese, like Portland chef Sam Hayward. In a recipe in Food & Wine magazine, Hayward suggests sautéing 11/2 pounds of chopped greens with chopped shallot, onion, garlic and olive oil. Top the greens with a handful of rustic croutons, a sprinkle of fresh thyme and some shredded local Alpine cheese. Bake for 20 minutes.

2. Put an egg on them for a quick breakfast, lunch or dinner. Fry bacon. Soften onions in the fat. Stir in the greens and red chili pepper flakes. Push the greens to the side of the pan and fry an egg. By the time it’s cooked to your liking, the greens are ready to be plated and topped with the egg.

1. When you come to the end of the week and find you’ve still got greens in the refrigerator that need using up, make an all-purpose filling. This does take a bit of sautéing with a few aromatics, but once you’ve reduced 4 cups of kale to a very flavorful 1/2 cup of this mixture and cooled it down, it can be used to fill everything from ravioli to twice-baked potatoes.

Merry Christmas and here’s to a doubly good, greener New Year!

Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, a recipe developer and tester and a cooking teacher in Brunswick. Contact her at: [email protected]

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