Confession: there was a time when I confused kale with kelp. My exposure to dark leafy greens was limited to spinach, so I had trouble distinguishing kale from seaweed. In case you are also in the dark (always love a good pun) here is a brief intro to my six favorite leafy green veggies:
The ever-popular spinach has a mild flavor with fairly tender leaves and stems. The taste is equally appealing cooked or raw, but it’s believed to be slightly more nutritious cooked. Spinach contains oxalates, which can bind to calcium – a concern for folks prone to kidney stones. Heating reduces the oxalate content. I enjoy raw baby spinach in salads, wraps and smoothies. Cooked spinach makes a great side dish or a tasty addition to soup, grain and bean dishes.
Kale can have a slightly bitter flavor with tough leaves and stems. Nevertheless, with the right approach it can be part of many tasty meals. I add raw baby kale to smoothies and wraps. Chopped adult leaves are a great addition to soup, grain and bean dishes. I often add kale to my pasta water and cook the two together.
Arugula has a strong peppery flavor with tender leaves and stems. I enjoy raw arugula in salads and wraps. It also makes a great veggie pizza topping.
Collard greens have a mild flavor with tough leaves and stems. I add raw leaves to smoothies or steam sauté chopped leaves in vegetable broth with minced garlic as a side dish. Collard greens also make a great addition to soup, pasta and bean dishes.
Swiss Chard has a mild earthy flavor with fairly tender leaves and stems. Like spinach, it contains oxalates; so cooking may be a better option for folks prone to kidney stones. I tend to use Swiss chard the same way I use collard greens and will often combine them in recipes.
I always feel like I’m getting a bonus when I purchase beets with their leafy tops intact – two veggies for the price of one! Beet greens are similar to Swiss chard in texture and flavor and I tend to use them in the same way. They are extra tasty steamed with a splash of lemon juice.
Dark leafy greens are often referred to as ‘super foods’ because of their high content of antioxidants. They are also rich in vitamins A, C and K and contain high levels of folate, iron, magnesium, potassium, calcium and fiber. Studies show they may reduce the risk of:
- Heart disease
- Inflammatory disease
Strive to include dark leafy greens in at least one meal a day.
If I purchase loose greens I’ll store them in my refrigerator’s vegetable drawer in a ventilated plastic bag with a paper towel to maintain freshness. If I purchase packaged greens I’ll store them in the drawer in their original packaging. Be sure to separate greens from tomatoes, apples or other fruits that give off ethylene gas, or they will wilt and spoil quickly.
A salad spinner offers a convenient way to wash greens. Place the salad spinner basket/bowl in your sink and place some greens in the basket. Fill the basket with cold water and swish the greens around with your hand a few times then lift the basket out to drain the water off the greens. Dump the water from the bowl into the sink and repeat until the water draining off the greens is clear. Place the lid on the salad spinner and spin the greens to remove excess water.
Baby greens require very little prep aside from chopping to desired size. Most adult greens need to be stripped from their stems by grasping the stem with two hands and quickly moving one hand from stem to tip. Once separated, the leaves can be chopped to desired size and the stems can be discarded. (Stems can also be saved for a batch of vegetable broth – but I tend to throw mine in the compost.)
Greens can be used raw, steamed, boiled or steam sautéed. I usually add greens to other dishes I’m cooking such as soups, pasta (with noodles or sauce) or stir-fries. When I cook them separately I prefer the steam sauté method.
Add chopped greens to a large sauté pan with approximately ¼ cup of water or vegetable broth. Add garlic and other herbs/spices as desired. Cover and cook on medium high heat, stirring frequently and adding more liquid as needed until greens are soft.
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