Posted May 31, 2013
By Rick Bayless, Green City Market Board Member Emeritus
As a kid, I would never have expected to someday be taking an enthusiastic bite of braised greens and caramelized onions wrapped in a warm tortilla, all doctored up with spicy red chile sauce and crumbled fresh cheese. Braised greens alone were beyond my purview. In a soft taco, they were unthinkable, my understanding of tacos being those crisp-shell repositories for ground beef, iceberg lettuce, yellow cheese and mild-mild salsa.
But when I got to Toluca in my twenties, in the highlands of central Mexico, I discovered a fresh-baked blue corn tortilla rolled around the almost meaty texture of their local greens (quelites), crunchy caramelized onions, bitey salsa and salty local cheese. Now I can’t seem to get beyond these utterly captivating and delicious portraits of perfect health.
- A 12-ounce bunch of Swiss chard (or collard, mustard or beet greens), thick lower stems cut off OR 10 ounces of cleaned spinach, lamb’s quarters or amaranth greens (about 6 loosely packed cups)
- 1 ½ tablespoons vegetable oil, olive oil, fresh rendered lard or bacon drippings
- 1 large white or red onion, sliced ¼ inch thick
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped or crushed through a garlic press
- About 1 teaspoon chile flakes
- ½ cup chicken broth, vegetable broth or water
- 12 warm corn tortillas, store bought or homemade
- About ¾ cup Smoky Chipotle Salsa or Guajillo Chile Salsa —or bottled salsa or hot sauce, for serving
- 1 cup (4 ounces) crumbled Mexican queso fresco or other fresh cheese like feta or goat cheese, for serving
- Cut the chard crosswise in ½-inch slices (small spinach, lamb’s quarters and amaranth leaves can be left whole). In a very large (12-inch) skillet, heat the oil (or its stand-in) over medium-high. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until browned but still crunchy, about 4 to 5 minutes.
- Add the garlic and chile flakes, stir for a few seconds until aromatic, then add the broth or water, ½ teaspoon salt and the greens. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the pan (if you don’t have a lid, a cookie sheet works well) and cook until the greens are almost tender, anywhere from 2 minutes for tender spinach and amaranth greens to 7 or 8 minutes for thick collard greens — Swiss chard needs about 5 minutes.
- Uncover the pan, raise the temperature to medium-high and cook, stirring continually, until the mixture is nearly dry. Taste and season with additional salt if you think necessary.
- Serve with warm tortillas, salsa and crumbled cheese for making soft tacos.
A couple of riffs on Braised Greens Tacos:
To make a heartier meal, I like to add some shredded leftover grilled, roasted or poached chicken or steak to the greens during the final few minutes of cooking. Flaked tuna or hot-smoked salmon is a nice add-in, though I have to admit I’m also partial to cubes of the smoked firm tofu they sell at our natural foods grocery store.