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Healthy Tip: Get Your Greens

Brazilian Style Collard GreensI was born in the south and grew up with a mother who was a true southern cook - and that meant plenty of greens like collards, mustard and beet greens. When we moved to California, I was surprised to find hardly anyone eating these "common" vegetables. I soon realized that while southern cooks had been preparing greens for years, the rest of the country hadn't caught on yet. Well, that's certainly changed now! The more we know about good nutrition and how important it is to eat fresh veggies, the more attention we give to leafy greens. In fact, you can't find a list of the "most powerful foods" that doesn't mention kale, spinach or collards. That's because dark leafy greens contain such an abundant source of nutrients and powerful antioxidants, packing plenty of iron, calcium and fiber! They also contain chlorophyll, the pigment that turns the leaf green. Some people think of this as the plant's blood and that makes sense when you also consider that leafy greens contain vitamin K, which helps our bodies with blood clotting abilities. Rainbow ChardIf you are a greens lover like me, chances are you don't need any encouragement to add these to your meal plan. For those who are a wee bit reluctant, I suggest you start out with some of the milder flavored greens and work your way up. Here's a quick reference on some of the most popular greens (find more here.)
  • Arugula: peppery flavor - try raw in salads or sandwiches
  • Bok Choy: sweet, mild flavor - perfect for stir-fries or soups
  • Collards: mild, sweet flavor - steam, braise or sauté until tender
  • Escarole; mildly bitter - eat raw in salads and steam or braise
  • Kale: mildly peppery - boil, steam or sauté
  • Mizuna: tender and spicy - mix with other greens in salads
  • Spinach; soft, sweet flavor - multi-purpose! Raw or cooked in many dishes
  • Swiss Chard: tender, sweet - sauté, braise or add to soups and other dishes
Most leafy greens are generally available year round, but like most plants, they have their peak season. Collards, kale, turnip greens and mustard greens are at their best from October through early spring. Swiss chard and beet greens are best from the spring through the fall. Dandelion greens are available in the spring and summer. Collard GreensWith a few exceptions, I recommend cooking your greens until they are tender and bright green. Otherwise, they can be too fibrous and tough to chew, and that can make them hard to digest. Make sure to cut out and discard the tough stem in mature, hearty greens such as kale, collards, mustard, beet and turnip greens and then cook the leaves well. Some greens, such as spinach, chard and beet greens, contain a substance called oxalic acid, which can interfere with the absorption of calcium. However, when cooked, the oxalic acid is broken down. Here are some more ways to get those leafy green benefits:
  • For just about any soup, greens are a perfect match. Just chop and stir in, letting cook until tender. Spinach and chard are super quick options.
  • Mix it up in your salad bowl by adding baby spinach, tender young spring greens and baby arugula.
  • Add chopped greens to a stir fry - try collards, bok choy and broccoli rabe.
  • Make a simple side dish by sautéing onions and garlic in a bit of olive oil, add some greens, a little broth and steam until tender. Great with kale because it doesn't cook down as much as other greens.
  • When making a sandwich or wrap, top it off with baby spinach, arugula or any baby field greens.
  • Want to experiment? In recipes that call for cooked spinach, substitute half the amount with cooked chard.
  • Perfect for warmer months, steam or sauté any leafy green and serve at room temperature tossed with your favorite salad dressing.
  • Never seem to have time for prep? Freeze greens for quick and easy use. Remove and discard the tough stem from mature leaves. Wash, dry and chop the leaves. Then freeze in serving-size freezer bags and add frozen leaves directly to soups, stews, pasta sauces, etc.
  • Serve your favorite soup, beans or chili over a bowl of baby spinach. The heat from the broth will gently wilt the spinach and add great flavor to your meal.
For the more adventurous, here are a few of my favorite recipes featuring leafy greens: Coconut Milk Braised Greens Brazilian-Style Collard Greens Savory Greens Stir Fry Sautéed Greens with White Beans and Garlic Got a great leafy green recipe you'd like to share? I'd love to hear.

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Cindy Davis says …

I was wondering if anyone would have the courage to mention the bacon fat. Which, by the way, is the key to great tasting greens, in my humble, southern opinion. I am trying to cook my greens these days with olive oil and then tons of Tabasco, but sometimes I just got to have them with a little bacon fat.

denise petersen says …

my most favorite thing about having whole foods finally in naples, florida, is that i can get kale any day i want!! and i can choose from 3 different kinds! have you had crispy kale, from abigail in ft lauderdale? like potato chips, only better!!

Kandice says …

With Spring around the corner I look forward to the planting and growing of fresh greens! I'm always posting healthy recipes on my blog and website! Here is one of my favorite Spring & Summer recipes: ~ Baby Spinach & Basil Italian Salad ~ 1 large bag of Baby Spinach or approx. 12-16oz. fresh from garden 1 - 4oz. package of Sweet Basil or 4-5 sprigs from garden 2 dozen green olives sliced in thin strips 2-3 cloves of garlic chopped ultra fine (more or less to taste) 1 medium onion diced 2-3 banana peppers de-seeded and cut into rings Tare basil into pieces and toss above ingredients together in a large bowl. Set aside while you make the fresh dressing. Salad Dressing: ¼ cup of Cold Pressed, Extra Virgin Olive Oil ½ tsp. black pepper ½ tsp. sea salt 2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar In a 1 cup measuring cup, measure oil and add remaining ingredients for the dressing. Stir with a whisk till mixed and pour over salad. Toss salad ensuring all parts are covered with dressing. **Serve immediately, does not store or refrigerate well after dressing has been added. Enjoy!!! Kandice

Jame says …

I like mine with a dose of acid: lemon or vinegar. Also when sauteeing the greens, add a few chili flakes for some warm heat. To make it super southern (like my mom) cook them with some pork (like a table spoon of rendered bacon fat. I love the low fat Wellshire farms pork bacon at my local WFM -- tastes like full fat bacon, but has 40% less fat and calories! I get a slice (or 2), cook it until it is crispy -- remove it from the pan. Then reserve a teaspoon or two (or a table spoon for 4) of the fat, sautee onion or garlic, or both until they are soft with the chili flakes. Then add greens and water or broth to steam-sautee until they are tender. Then you sprinkle the crushed bacon on top for a bit of crunch. And add lemon or a mild vinegar: apple cider, rice wine, or white balsamic. Perfect update of my my mom's southern sensibilities.

Camille@TheFinancialWoman.com says …

Thanks for the inspiration. I like to purchase the huge organic washed spinach at Whole Food Market. I always end up eating it all, as it is super easy to use in soups, omelettes, (rice) pasta and simply sauteed in olive oil.

Suz says …

Bok Choy and Spinach: Each morning, I chop a couple stocks of bok choy and sauté with whatever strikes my fancy that morning - red pepper flakes, onions, garlic, oyster sauce, Tabasco, etc. I use a small pan with a lid, I do not use oil and add a little water to the pan for steaming. I crack two eggs on top of the bok choy when it is almost done. I ensure there's enough liquid in the pan to steam the eggs and put the top back on the pan until the whites are cooked. I put it all in a bowl and mix in the yolk with the remaining liquid and have a wonderful breakfast. I've been eating this for two years and have a combined cholesterol of 110, my other numbers are great too. I think it is the bok choy. Spinach is my go to vegetable at least 3 times a week and my 4yr. old does most of the work! Microwave spinach with 3 sprays of water in a glass bowl, on high for about 3 - 5 min. (cover bowl with paper towel or parchment). Mix spinach on top into wilted hot spinach in the bottom of the bowl and this will finish the cooking process. Season to taste with salt, rice vinegar, olive oil, herbed oils, etc. Side dish in a serving bowl in less than 5 minutes!

Landa says …

Can arugula be frozen? Do you cook it first?

Kim says …

I just discovered the joys of radish greens. I had some old radish seed that I thought would not germinate well. It turned out that they did, so I have been thinning like mad--but what to do with those radish greens? Toss them into the compost? Eat raw? No, I braised them. They are surprisingly sweet. I cooked them with a tiny bit of young onion, a sprinkle of sugar, and a splash of red wine vinegar. Mmmmmm: frugal, tasty use of what might otherwise have been wasted.

Sandra Schrift says …

Hey - greens are great! Love them all, but not cooked. I eat them raw in a tossed green salad and get all the enzymes and nutrients. When you steam veggies, the walls get healthy, not you. I remove the spines fom the Collards and roll them up with stuff inside and then I have a green burrito. Yummy1 Rawvelous, Sandy