When was the last time you sat down to a nice, delicious plate of mustard greens or kale? If you’re like most Americans, you may know kale only as a garnish. But dark, leafy greens – like kale, collards, and dandelion and beet greens – are recognized around the world as a satisfying dish in their own right. Easy to cook, they can add rich nutrition and color to any meal.
From spicy dandelion greens to tender spinach and arugula, from sweet beet greens to robust Swiss chard, dark, leafy greens bring bursts of flavor, texture and color to your table. When purchasing, look for small, young greens to add to salads or sautés. Select larger, thicker greens for warm and hearty slow-cooked meals. Although available year-round, collards, kale, and mustard and turnip greens are best when purchased during the winter months, while Swiss chard, lamb’s quarters and beet greens are at their prime from spring to fall. Wild dandelion is available in the spring and summer, but you can find it cultivated year-round.
Dark, leafy greens are packed with cancer-fighting beta-carotene and phytochemicals. They’re also high in vitamins A and C, iron, folic acid, chlorophyll, and calcium. In fact, the calcium in a cup of spinach nearly equals the amount in a cup of milk. And a serving of beet greens contains roughly the same amount of iron as a small steak. High in antioxidants, dark greens are good for the eyes, slowing cataracts and macular degeneration. The fiber in greens helps minimize our exposure to DNA-damaging chemicals and other toxins that can enter our bodies through food. Their soluble fiber also helps lower blood cholesterol and slow the rise of blood sugar after a meal.
- To store collards and kale, wrap in a damp towel and put in an open plastic bag in the crisper section of the refrigerator. Store Swiss chard, escarole, broccoli rabe, endives and mustard greens in perforated plastic bags. Most greens can be refrigerated for several days.
- Just before use, thoroughly rinse greens (including those that come prewashed in bags) in a sink full of cold water. Avoid washing them before storage.
- To make cutting easier, remove thick stems, then stack large greens on top of one another, roll them into tight bundles and slice into desired widths.Eat Up!
Enjoy the raw, tender leaves of arugula, beet greens, bok choy, dandelion and spinach in salads. Or wilt tender greens by folding them into hot items such as pasta or heating them for less than a minute in a sauté pan with olive oil. Prepare thicker greens, like kale, Swiss chard or collards, by blanching or braising. To blanch, stir the greens into boiling water for a minute or two, drain, then immediately cool for later use. To braise, slow cook 1 pound of greens in 1/2 to 3/4 cup of seasoned cooking liquid (chicken or vegetable stock or wine) or water for about 20 minutes or until greens are tender. Here are more ideas for fixing up great greens:
- Beet greens are delicious steamed with ginger, cardamom, star anise or herbs. Spinach, steamed or sautéed, pairs nicely with toasted sesame oil.
- Bok choy is wonderful raw or cooked. Sauté with garlic, soy sauce, ginger, citrus and flavorful oils.
- Broccoli rabe should first be blanched in salted boiling water, then sautéed or braised. It works well with rich foods and assertive ingredients such as garlic and chilies, or sweet flavors like honey.
- Kale has an earthy flavor that pairs well with rich foods, grains, and hearty meats and sausages. Blanch, braise or sauté. For more prep and cooking suggestions, see www.natural choice.net/articles/cookinggr.htm.
Chef Cary Neff is president of the consulting firm Culinary Innovations and the author of The New York Times bestseller Conscious Cuisine (Sourcebooks, 2002).