Sunday, October 16, 2011

Dark Green Greens

Our Challenge beginning Wednesday is to earn your 5 daily bonus points by eating 3 cups of dark leafy greens! Enjoy!

A nutrition professor once said that it was common for our ancient ancestors to eat up to six pounds of leaves per day. He imagined them walking along from one place to another, just picking and eating leaves as they went. Can you imagine eating a grocery bag full of greens each and every day? Few of us even eat the minimum USDA recommendations of 3 cups of dark green vegetables per week. And yet, these veggies deliver a bonanza of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients.

Health Benefits

Dark green leafy vegetables are, calorie for calorie, perhaps the most concentrated source of nutrition of any food. They are a rich source of minerals (including iron, calcium, potassium, and magnesium) and vitamins, including vitamins K, C, E, and many of the B vitamins. They also provide a variety of phytonutrients including beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin, which protect our cells from damage and our eyes from age-related problems, among many other effects. Dark green leaves even contain small amounts of Omega-3 fats.

Types of Greens

I think of greens as divided into three groups, depending on how much cooking they require.

Salad Greens

Obviously, salad greens are usually eaten raw. In general, the darker the color, the more nutritious. Iceberg lettuce, for example, is extremely low in nutrients compared with its more colorful relatives (and we do not count iceberg lettuce for our challenge this week) romaine lettuce has 8 times the vitamin A and 6 times the vitamin C as iceberg lettuce. When you have a choice, a variety of greens is always best, as each has its own constellation of nutrients.

Quick-cooking Greens

These greens can either be eaten raw or lightly cooked. Spinach is the most obvious example of this category. It takes only seconds to cook a spinach leaf. A benefit to cooked greens is that they shrink so much that you can more easily get lots of nutrition from them. Six cups of raw greens become approximately one cup of cooked greens.

Most quick-cooking greens take just a few minutes to cook. Chard (Swiss chard) is a quick-cooking green, and also can be eaten raw, though it isn't usually. Chard is now available in many colors, which are often milder-tasting than the more traditional chard. I recently saw a suggestion to chop up the stems and put them in tuna salad instead of celery. If you haven't tried chard, you really should - you may be surprised! Chard and the more familiar spinach are good places to start with cooked greens, as they are so easy, and not as bitter as some others.

Beet greens are also quick-cooking (and delicious), and are actually related to chard and spinach. Escarole, dandelion greens, and sorrel are also relatively quick-cooking greens.

Cabbage isn't very leafy, but I think of it in this category as well, even though it is related to the heartier greens kale and collards.

Hearty Greens

Many people seem to have a deep-seated fear of kale and collard greens (at least outside the U.S. South), but I encourage you to give them a try, as they have the most nutritional benefits of all. Over time, they may even become favorites.

Kale and collard greens are the most common examples of hearty greens. They do require cooking, although not as much as many people think. Yes, you can cook collards for an hour, but if you cut the greens from the fibrous stems they can be tender in 10-15 minutes. I also like kale cooked about that amount of time.

How to Wash Greens

The easiest way to wash greens is to put them into a lot of water and swish them around

How to Store Greens

Ideally, the greens should be dry or almost dry, and stored in a bag with as much of the air pushed out as you easily can. You might want to put a barely damp paper towel in for just the right amount of moisture. Then, put them in the vegetable drawer of your fridge.

How to Cook Greens

Greens can be braised (cooked fairly slowly in a small amount of liquid, usually a flavorful stock), sautéed (cooked quickly in a small amount of oil), or a combination of the two. They can also be steamed or boiled. Greens can also be thrown into almost any soup or skillet dish, especially the milder-tasting greens such as chard.

Some Recipes

One recipe I have been seeing everywhere (blogs, television etc.) is cooked Kale chips. I tried it yesterday and while it does not taste like potato chips as some folks are claiming it was not bad and could easily be thrown in a small Tupperware for a mobile green treat. Here’s that recipe

Baked Kale Chips

1 bunch Kale

1 T. olive oil

1 tsp. seasoned salt

1. Preheat overn to 350 degrees. Line a non-insulated cookie sheet with foil or parchment

2. With a knife or scissor carefully remove all the leaves from the stems and tear into bite size pieces. Wash thoroughly with a salad spinner. Drizzle (I sprayed it) with olive oil and sprinkle with seasoned salt.

3. Bake until edges are brown but ar not burnt 10-15 minute (mine took 13)

Alli Spencer’s Spinach Smoothie

½ bag spinach (or two giant handfuls)

1-2 T Agave nectar

1 T. Coconut oil (she adds this for health benefits I leave it out)

1 frozen banana

5 large frozen strawberries

1 cup ice

½ cup water


  1. Sandee,

    I love kale and actually eat it raw as well. My favorite way to eat it is torn up and sprinkled with craisins and pine nuts and tossed with some Briana's strawberry vinaigrette.

    Bridget Weber