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, New Jersey, 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 stir-fries. 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.
Raw Kale Salads
BY NAVA ATLAS
Health foodies can step it up a bit by discovering how to make delicious raw kale salads—sometimes referred to as massaged kale salads. Literally massaging this hardy green with olive oil, salad dressing or mashed avocado softens it for easier chewing, brightens the color and improves its flavor. A favorite kind of kale for salads is curly green kale. Lacinato kale works well, too, as long as it isn’t too large and tough prior to massaging.
Even when kale isn’t the main leafy green in a salad, adding a few prepared leaves can up the nutrient value of any kind of green, grain or pasta salad. For each of the following recipes, start with a medium bunch of kale (about eight ounces), or more or less to taste. Finish each salad with sea salt and freshly ground pepper, if preferred.
Southwestern-Flavored Kale Salad
To the massaged kale, add two or three medium-sized fresh ripe tomatoes, a peeled and diced avocado, one to two cups cooked or raw fresh corn kernels, some red bell pepper strips and optional chopped green or black olives. Flavor with freshly squeezed or bottled lime juice, a little olive oil and some chopped cilantro. To up the protein for a main dish, add some cooked or canned, drained and rinsed, black or pinto beans and then sprinkle pumpkin seeds over the top.
Mediterranean Kale Salad
To the massaged kale, add two or three medium-sized chopped fresh ripe tomatoes, strips of sun-dried tomato, plenty of bell pepper strips and chopped or whole cured black olives. For protein, add a cup or two of cooked or canned, drained and rinsed, chickpeas. Top with thinly sliced fresh basil leaves.
Kale and Avocado Salad
Add a peeled and diced avocado, plus thinly sliced red cabbage to taste, sliced carrots, diced yellow squash, halved red and/or yellow fresh grape tomatoes and sunflower or pumpkin seeds. Optionally, add a little more olive oil in addition to that used for massaging and some freshly squeezed or bottled lemon or lime juice.
Asian-Flavored Kale Salad
Massage the kale with dark sesame oil instead of olive oil as an option. Add a medium-sized red bell pepper, cut into narrow slices, three stalks of bok choy with leaves, sliced (or one sliced baby bok choy) plus one or two thinly sliced scallions. Dress with a sesame-ginger dressing. Optional additions include some crushed toasted peanuts or cashews, steamed or boiled and chilled corn kernels and about four ounces of baked tofu, cut into narrow strips.
All recipes courtesy of Nava Atlas, author of Plant Power: Transform Your Kitchen, Plate, and Life With More Than 150 Fresh and Flavorful Vegan Recipes; used with permission.