by Nava Atlas
For seasonal eaters, farm market shoppers and members of community supported agriculture, vegetable greens have become a normal part of everyday diets. Recognized as the most nutrient-rich group of veggies, they deliver multiple benefits.
Greens are a top source of vitamin K, essential to bone health, and are abundant in vitamins A, B (especially folic acid) and C. They deliver considerable antioxidants and chlorophyll, widely known to protect against cancer, and are anti-inflammatory, according to Dr. Joel Fuhrman, a family physician in Flemington, N.J., who specializes in nutritional medicine.
Fuhrman notes, “The majority of calories in green vegetables, including leafy greens, come from protein, and this plant protein is packaged with beneficial phytochemicals. They’re rich in folate and calcium, and contain small amounts of omega-3 fatty acids.” Hardy greens, like kale, chard and collards, are good sources of accessible calcium. Only about 30 percent of calcium from dairy products is absorbed, but according to Registered Dietitian Ginny Messina, “For certain leafy green vegetables, rates are considerably higher. We absorb between 50 and 60 percent of the calcium in cruciferous leafy green vegetables like kale and turnip greens.” Tasty and versatile, greens can add interest and value to every meal. Here’s how.
Smoothies and juices. Spinach tastes so mild in smoothies and juices that we barely know it’s there. Kale and collards add a mild greens flavor. A big handful or two of spinach or one or two good-size kale or collard leaves per serving is about right. Greens blend well with bananas, apples, berries and pears. A high-speed blender is needed to break down kale and collards; a regular blender is sufficient for spinach. An online search for “green smoothies” will turn up many recipes.
Use “massaged” raw kale in salads. Rinse and spin-dry curly kale leaves stripped from their stems, and then chop into bite-sized pieces. Thinly slice the stems to add to another salad or lightly cooked vegetable dishes or simply discard. Place the cut kale in a serving bowl. Rub a little olive oil onto both palms and massage the kale for 45 to 60 seconds; it’ll soften up and turn bright green. Add other desired veggies and fruits and dress the mixture. A favorite recipe entails tossing massaged kale with dried cranberries, toasted or raw cashew pieces, vegan mayonnaise and a little lemon juice. Massaged kale also goes well with avocados, apples, pears, Napa or red cabbage, carrots, pumpkin seeds and walnuts. It can alternatively be dressed in ordinary vinaigrette, sesame-ginger or tahini dressing.
Add hardy greens to stirfries. The best stir-fry greens are lacinato kale, collards or chard. Rinse and dry the leaves, and then strip them from the stems. Stack a few leaves and roll them up snugly from the narrow end. Slice thinly to make long, thin ribbons and then cut them once or twice across to shorten; adding thinly sliced stems is optional. Add the strips to the stir-fry toward the end of cooking. They blend well with broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, celery, bok choy, asparagus and green beans. Soy sauce, tamari and ginger add flavor.
Use leafy spring greens in salads. Look beyond lettuce to create invigorating warm-weather salads. Use lots of peppery watercress (a nutritional superstar), baby bok choy, tender dandelion greens, tatsoi and mizuna (Japanese greens are increasingly available from farm markets). Combine with baby greens and sprouts, plus favorite salad veggies and fruits for a clean-tasting and cleansing repast.
Learn to love bitter greens. Add variety to the meal repertoire with escarole, broccoli rabe and mustard greens. These mellow considerably with gentle braising or incorporation into soups and stews. Heat a little olive oil in a large, deep skillet or stir-fry pan; sauté chopped garlic and/ or shallots to taste. Add washed and chopped greens, stir quickly to coat with the oil, and then add about a quarter cup of water or vegetable stock. Cover and cook until tender and wilted, about five minutes. Traditional additions include raisins and toasted pine nuts, salt and pepper and a little apple cider vinegar.
Nava Atlas is the author of the recent book, Plant Power: Transform Your Kitchen, Plate, and Life with More Than 150 Fresh and Flavorful Vegan Recipes, from which this was adapted. Visit VegKitchen.com.