Natural Foods Education  Jennette Turner

Healthy Food and Nutrition Publications

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Eat Your Greens!

By Jennette Turner

Have you ever noticed all the beautiful leafy greens in the Wedge produce aisle? Ever marveled at all the different colors, shapes and textures of the leaves? Ever wondered what they taste like or how to use them?

Leafy greens are among the most nutritious foods we can eat – they contain important minerals like calcium, magnesium, and iron, as well as many trace minerals. They’re rich sources of anti-oxidants and carotenoids; vitamins E, C, and K. And like most vegetables, they contain phytochemicals that protect us from cancer and other degenerative diseases.

On top of all that, leafy greens are a great source of dietary fiber, and they’re very low in calories. They’re also easy to prepare and fast cooking, so it’s not hard to include them in your everyday meals. And even though many people assume that if a food is “good for you”, it must not taste good, when it comes to greens this definitely is not the case. They can be as delicious as they are beautiful!

The first step toward incorporating greens into your diet is to buy them. Look for bright green vital leaves. (Yellowing, brown spots and limp leaves mean that the greens aren’t fresh and their nutrients and flavors are compromised.) Once you get them home, store your greens in plastic bags, pressing as much air out as you can (it’s oxygen that wilts them). Some people find it helpful to wash and dry their greens as soon as they get home from the Wedge, then put them away. That way they’re ready to use as needed – convenient.

Greens can be a side dish or part of a main dish, and they fall into two main categories: those that are best eaten cooked and those eaten raw in salads.

The many varieties of lettuces are all great in salads: romaine, red leaf, green leaf, and bibb lettuces are all mild and slightly sweet, as is young spinach. Arugula and watercress have a peppery bite that gets stronger as they mature, so the larger leaves have a stronger flavor. Endive, radiccio and frisee lettuces have more of a bitter flavor. Adding several kinds of greens can liven up your salads with different textures and flavors.

Salads can be part of a meal, or the meal itself, if you add extras to the greens. You can choose vegetables like onions, avocados, or tomatoes; nuts or seeds; fresh herbs; garbanzo beans; chicken breast, shrimp, tofu, tuna, or smoked fish for protein; cheeses, croutons…whatever you like. Top it off with a good dressing and voila! The perfect summer dinner – easy!

Don’t be intimidated by the many varieties of greens that require cooking, either. None of them are difficult to prepare.

For the thicker greens, like different kales, mustard greens and collards, I prefer to boil them, which brings out their natural sweetness and tenderness. Here’s what you do:

  • First cut out the tough and fibrous stem.
  • Then chop the leaves into strips.
  • Bring 1/2 pot water to boil with a pinch of salt.
  • Add the chopped greens.
  • Lower heat to medium and cook 3-10 minutes until done. Drain.

The greens are done when they’re tender and bright green. If they’re still tough and chewy, they’re not done yet and you won’t be able to properly digest them. Don’t worry if the water turns green. Yes, some nutrients are lost, but the ones left in the greens will be much more usable by your body!

For more tender greens, like chard, bok choy, nappa cabbage and beet greens, you can either steam or sauté them. Either way, you need to separate the stem from leaves (except nappa cabbage) because the stems take longer to cook than leafy parts. Some people prefer to discard the stems, and that’s fine too.

I generally choose to sauté, as it concentrates the flavors. Here’s what you do:

  • Separate the stems from the leaves. Chop the stems into small pieces, and the leaves into larger ones.
  • Warm a bit of oil or butter in a frying pan.
  • Add the stems and a pinch of salt.
  • Cover the pan and cook on medium heat until they begin to soften, stirring a few times so they cook evenly (about 2-3 minutes).
  • Add the leaves and cook a few more minutes, until they wilt.

If you want, you can add a little water or stock to the pan. This is braising the greens, and will make them even more tender. Don’t forget that greens shrink dramatically after cooking. Usually 1 bunch will yield 2-3 servings.

You can serve greens any way you like: plain, or with butter, salt and pepper, vinegar, salad dressing, sauces… Acidic condiments help diminish any bitterness in them. Lemon juice or balsamic vinegar are both nice, especially with a pat of butter. Hot flavors will do the same thing. Southerners are fond of adding hot sauce, which is both hot and acidic.

You can also use greens in other dishes. Chopped finely they can be added to soups, bean dishes, cooked grains, pastas and stir-fries. In Deborah Madison’s book Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, she suggests chopping cooked greens and stirring them into mashed potatoes with a little grated cheese. Tasty!

Here at the wedge we have access to so many different kinds of greens, why not try something new? As with any kind of food, the more variety you get, the better. And the more you use them, the more familiar you’ll get. So get to know your greens!

Garlicky Greens (serves 2-3)
1 bunch kale or collard greens, de-stemmed and chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil or butter
salt

1. Boil the greens until tender. Drain and press the extra water out.
2. In a pan, sauté a minced clove of garlic for 1-2 minutes in the oil or butter.
3. Add the greens and cook 1-2 more minutes. Salt to taste.

Scrambled Eggs with Chard and Chevre (serves 2-3)
1 bunch chard, stems and leaves separated. Stems chopped into small pieces, leaves chopped into large ones * white or yellow stemmed chard is best, as the red stems bleed their color all over everything. Not bad, just not so pretty.
1/4 onion, diced
4 eggs, beaten
2-3 oz. chevre or the soft cheese of your choice
butter or olive oil
salt

1. Sauté chard stems and onions until they begin to soften in butter or oil.
2. Add the chard leaves and sauté another couple of minutes until they wilt.
3. Stir cheese into the beaten eggs and add to the cooking vegetables.
4. Cook until the eggs are done and salt to taste.

Jennette turner is a Natural Foods Educator in Minneapolis. She Teaches public and private classes, and offers individual nutrition consultations. Jennette launced Dinner with Jennette (www.jennette-turner.com/dinner), to make it easier for people to incorporate natural foods into their diets. she can be reached at jennette-turner.com / 612-374-6039

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