Build Your Own… Greens

by Courtney C Horne @FireezDragon

I know for a lot of people kitchen improvisation is intimidating. A friend of mine had an experience during which she tried to improvise cooking carrots. She massively over-seasoned and then started adding all sorts of weird stuff in a desperate bid to salvage them. The result was evidently disgusting but she had cooked all her carrots in the process so she ended up eating them anyways.

The lesson she learned (hopefully) is taste often and you can always add more but you can’t unsalt. But even with that valuable lesson, making things up in the kitchen is something she is terrified of attempting.

I, on the other hand, am a bit of a kitchen maverick. I use recipes on occasion but a lot of what I do is altered or just plain made up. But I can understand why that is not something most people are willing to do. It requires a foundation of understanding the principles of cooking as well as what flavor profiles go together.

Step one to learning to improvise in the kitchen? Watch every episode of Alton Brown’s Good Eats. My entire foundation in the kitchen came from watching him. Of course, that would take a long time so here is something you can do while you get started.

There are a lot of basic dishes that you can build upon to experiment with different options. One of my favorite basics is greens. And it is a special one for me to give you my basic formula for because I was scared to cook them for years after a disastrous thanksgiving pot of greens.


Category Meat: Pick a salty flavorful meat. Something like bacon, sausage, or ham.

Category Aromatic: Onion, Garlic, Leeks.. something from that family.

(you don’t need both an Aromatic and a Meat but I recommend you use at least one)

Category Green: Mustard Greens, Kale, Turnip Greens, Collards, Spinach, etc- the options are endless, dark and leafy is the key.

Category Wet: Moisture with flavor- chicken stock, beer, ginger ale, vinegar- you have a wide array of options.

Category Seasonings: Any extra bits of flavor you may want to add


Wash the Greens and cut or tear it into pieces that are small enough to eat with a fork. If you are using a Meat chop it into small pieces. Same thing for the Aromatic- dice it.

You want to cook the Meat until it is crispy in a pot large enough to hold all your greens. If you are using anything other than bacon you need to make sure you put some oil in first to keep it from sticking. (Veggie or Canola oil is fine here- nothing like extra virgin olive oil because it could start to smoke) This is also the time for adding the Aromatic and cooking it until it is soft. I would recommend doing this over medium high heat.

Once your Meat is crispy and/or your Aromatic is soft it is time to add the Greens. It is okay if they are a little damp from washing don’t try to get them really dry. Just go ahead and dump the greens in and give it all a stir to incorporate the Meat and/or Aromatic into the greens.

Now it is time for adding Liquid. How much you use depends on how much Greens you are using and how flavorful the liquid is. You want there to be moisture but you do not want the greens to get soupy at all. If you choose to add something like soy sauce or Worcestershire be mindful of how much salt you are adding to the dish.

While the Liquid you added is getting hot, it is time to stir in any Seasonings. This could be a spice mix you are fond of or a single spice. If you aren’t using onion, it could be a good choice to sprinkle in some onion powder. In the non-dry seasoning area, I sometimes add honey or hot sauce- or both.

Now you want to put the lid on and turn down the heat to low. You are gonna give it an occasional stir and cook it until the Greens are tender when you bite into them. Woo! You built your own greens!

Some examples:

Asian Mustard Greens::

Meat- None

Aromatic- Onion

Green- Mustard Greens

Liquid- Soy Sauce, Rice Wine Vinegar, Sesame Oil

Seasoning- Asian Hot Sauce, Powdered Ginger, Powdered Mustard

Bacon Kale::

Meat- Bacon

Aromatic- None

Greens- Kale

Liquid- Tarragon Vinegar

Seasoning- Hot Sauce and Honey


Meat: Andouille Sausage

Aromatic: Onion

Greens- Collards

Liquid- Beer

Seasoning- Cajun Seasoning Mix