Sweet, bitter, and earthy. Pungent, peppery and sharp!
So describes the flavors of leafy greens, touted for their wonderful healing properties and rich nutrients. While for years these delicious greens have been a staple vegetable in the Southern part of the United States, only recently have they increased in popularity throughout the rest of the country.
Rich in a wide array of nutrients including the well-known antioxidant beta-carotene, leafy greens also contain calcium, magnesium, iron, folic acid, and chlorophyll. Known by many as the “blood” of plants, chlorophyll is the green pigment found in plant cells. Eating greens rich in chlorophyll provides the body with Vitamin K and helps to build oxygen-carrying red blood cells. Many varieties of leafy greens, especially members of the cruciferous (cabbage) family such as collards, kale, and bok choy are also rich sources of fiber, Vitamin C, and plant compounds that inhibit the growth of tumors. Including these vegetables often in your diet may offer protection from cancer.
While leafy greens are always available, like most plants, they, too, 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, a popular remedy for the liver, are available and best in the spring and summer.
Leafy greens run the gamut of flavors. Young plants have small, tender leaves and a mild flavor. Mature plants have tougher leaves and stronger flavors. If it’s mild you are looking for, try collards, chard, bok choy, or spinach. Kale, a very hearty plant with curly, course leaves, is slightly stronger in flavor than collard greens. The colored varieties of kale, known as salad savoy, are typically used as decorative garnish, but are just as edible as the more common variety. If you would like a stronger flavor, try broccoli rabe (also known as rapini), mustard greens, arugula, dandelion, sorrel, or turnip greens.
When shopping, always look for crisp leaves with a fresh green color. If possible, look for certified organic greens, available year-round. Certified organic vegetables are free of synthetic pesticides and persistent chemicals that can otherwise deplete the vitality of the soil, leave chemical residues on and in the food, and ultimately be consumed as part of our meal. By choosing organic, you are insuring the quality and integrity of the greens.
For best results, store in plastic bags designed specifically for produce with tiny holes that allow air to circulate to help keep the greens fresher. Tender, delicate leaves go bad quickly so use them as soon as possible or purchase them on the day you plan to use them. When preparing the large, tough leaves always remove the stalks before cooking. Swiss chard, which is grown from a particular type of beet cultivated for its leaves only, has either red or white stalks that do not need to be discarded. They can be chopped much like a celery stalk and added at the beginning of cooking to allow a few extra minutes to tenderize. The cooking time will vary, depending on the plant. Spinach and chard leaves will cook in just a few minutes while collards, kale, and mustard greens can be cooked anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes. Cooking as quickly as possible helps preserve nutrients and color.
Whether you are starting out with baby field greens for your salad or diving right in to the mustard greens, ounce for ounce, these celebrated vegetables pack a powerful nutritious punch!
Swiss Chard with Tomato, Feta, and Pine Nuts
- 1 small onion, sliced
- 1 tomato, chopped
- 1 or 2 cloves minced garlic
- 1 Tbs. 365 Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 2 Tbs. chicken broth, vegetable broth, or water
- 1 bunch Swiss chard (red or white) washed and chopped with stems removed and chopped
- 2 oz. crumbled feta cheese
- 2 Tbs. lightly toasted pine nuts
Sauté onion, tomato, garlic, and chard stems in oil over low to medium heat, stirring often for 5 minutes. Cover and continue cooking over low for 5 more minutes. Add the leaves, salt, pepper, and broth. Cover and cook for 5 to 8 minutes more or until greens are bright green and tender enough to chew. Remove from heat. Add feta and pine nuts. Cover a minute more to allow the cheese to melt. Serves 4.