Dark, Leafy Greens: Great Ways to Prepare Them
Note: If you are on anticoagulant therapy, such as Coumadin®, please speak with your physician before significantly changing your intake of dark, leafy greens.
People have touted the health benefits of eating dark, leafy greens for quite some time. One cup of kale provides more than 100% of your daily need for vitamins A, C, and K and is a good source of folate, B vitamins, copper, manganese, and fiber—all wrapped up in a little 33-calorie package. Did you know that almost half the calories of spinach come from protein? Consumption of dark, leafy greens also is linked to the prevention of cardiovascular disease and cancer.
The problem is that if you give someone a big bunch of greens and tell them to “eat up,” many people are at a loss with what to do, especially with the heartier greens, such as kale, collard greens, and dandelion greens. Working these greens into recipes and dishes usually is the best option for most individuals, save the few who naturally like the taste of dark, leafy greens. Below are some ways to get bunches of these greens into your diet in a tasty, satisfying way!
What better way to eat your greens than to drink them! When blended with fruit, ice, and even some milk or yogurt, even the most rugged greens become smooth and tasty. Regular blenders can do a good job with greens such as spinach, parsley, cilantro, or watercress. Check out this Groovy Green Smoothie recipe. Consider a high-powered blender for tougher greens, such as kale and collard greens.
Spinach is an especially good option for adding to omelets. Other tasty options include arugula, beet greens, and parsley. The key is to choose greens that soften quickly, but ones that do not release too much liquid. Check out this omelet recipe with turnip greens, goat cheese, and chili!
Radicchio, not technically green but still a very nutrient-dense leafy vegetable, and endive are great options to throw on the grill. Serve with flavorful companions such as roasted peppers, olives, herbs, and/or a bit of cheese. Try these recipes for Grilled Endive With a Chipotle Yogurt Dressing or Balsamic-Grilled Radicchio With Shaved Pecorino!
Heartier greens, such as collards and kale, can cook down and soften during the simmering period, providing an additional texture to sauce. Make sure to chop the greens into bite-size pieces for the best results! Try Asian Radish Greens Pasta Sauce Over Soba Noodles or Pasta With Greens & Tomato Sauce. Remember, you can make a pesto chock full of greens, such as basil and parsley—just go a bit easy on the olive oil, pine nuts, and cheese for a lower fat version.
Baked kale chips are amazingly fast, easy, and healthy! Simply wash the kale, tear into bite size pieces, and add a pinch of salt and/or some spices and a dash of olive oil. Toss the kale to coat and then spread across a baking sheet. Bake at 350° F for 10−15 minutes until the kale is crispy and enjoy! You also can bake them into Italian classics, such as this lower calorie Goat Cheese and Three-Greens Lasagna.
Soups and stews
Many classic soups and stews include dark, leafy greens, such as kale, mustard greens, and turnip greens. Similar to pasta sauces, soups and stews are cooked for a long time, so the greens can soften and provide a texture and taste to contrast the other ingredients. Greens go especially well in tomato-based stews or soups with beans. Try this Lentil and Green Collard Soup flavored with cumin, cinnamon, garlic, and lemon or a fantastic Tuscan Bean Soup with kale and pancetta (optional).
Whether cooked with bacon or lentils, collard greens create the foundation of some classic side dishes. Try cooking kale or Swiss chard with some olive oil, fresh garlic, lemon zest, and a dash of Romano or Parmesan cheese for an Italian-style satisfying side! The sweet, savory, and spicy flavors from the pine nuts, raisins, and red pepper flakes in Sautéed Greens With Pine Nuts and Raisins nicely complement the slightly bitter component of the greens.
When shredded finely, even tougher greens become easy to handle. You can shred greens for a healthy garnish on mashed potatoes or mix them into your favorite coleslaw recipe. Use a combination of shredded greens with some quinoa, mint, lemon juice, and olive oil to make a simple tasty “tabbouleh.” Check out this quick-and-easy Shredded Kale Salad.
Crunchy greens that contain a good amount of water, such as Swiss chard, bok choy, escarole, or romaine lettuce, make fantastic “wraps” for a variety of fillings, ranging from roasted eggplant, tomatoes, onion, and garlic to teriyaki chicken with mandarin oranges. Check out this kid-friendly Sweet and Savory Swiss Chard Wrap.
References and recommended readings
American Institute for Cancer Research. Foods that fight cancer: dark green leafyvegetables.
CalorieKing.com. Nutrition data for kale.
Kontogianni M, Yannakoulia M, Kuhn L, Shah S, Day K, Mantzoros CS. Nutrition recommendations and interventions for subjects with cardiovascular disease. Mantzoros CS, ed. In: Nutrition and Metabolism: Underlying Mechanisms and Clinical Consequences. New York, NY: Humana Press; 2009:229-230.
Self.com. Nutrition data for spinach. Available at: SelfNutritionData