Know your dark leafy greens? Going green takes on a whole different meaning as cool weather ushers in autumn’s sturdy veggies, like chards, mustard greens, kale and collards, just to name a few. Food elitists may raise eyebrows at these rustic fall crops, so workmanlike and, well, so not posh. But once you cook up some collards or mustard greens, you will deliciously discover something these folks won’t. Greens are scrumptious, and best of all – take a hint from Mother Nature’s playbook – greens are nutrient powerhouses that are high in flavor yet low in calories and fat. Here is a tasty array of dark leafy greens and three delectable recipes to try.
Leafy greens are one of the most nutrient-dense veggies
Just look what a few servings of greens will give you! According to the USDA’s Economic Research Service, dark leafy greens provide plentiful amounts of vitamins A and C.
In addition, the USDA continues, you can count on consuming loads of minerals, including iron and folic acid, and ample amounts of antioxidants — the cancer-fighting and anti-aging nutrients.
Also, certain greens, including beet greens and spinach, the “Popeye” vegetable, are chockfull of potassium, essential in keeping blood pressure normal.
And what about fiber, the roughage factor in food, that keeps our innards functioning smoothly and provides the added benefit of making people feel full on few calories? Sure, you can get fiber in cereals, but wouldn’t you rather stir-fry leafy greens (instead of dry rolled oats) and toss them with tender beans and sweet corn kernels?
Preparing leafy greens
Most greens have deliciously assertive flavors that can carry the blandest background. Beans, grains, polenta and grits turn heroic with a side of braised, steamed, baked or stir-fried greens. These vegetables are so versatile that you can star them on any menu at any time of day — or, for that matter, night.
But they do need some beforehand preparation. Rinse them well to remove any sand, and trim off tough stem ends. Then braise, steam, stir-fry or saute the greens until you find the method you like best. And don’t be fooled by their bulk: One pound of greens cooks down to serve only two to three people.
Types of dark leafy greens
So to market, to market to buy a batch of greens. Only, what’s what, you wonder, when faced with bins heaped with leafy veggies. Here’s a handy guide to help you sort through the delectable dark leafy greens.
Arugula: A spicy, peppery green, this Italian favorite features long, tapered, dark green leaves. Arugula is good raw in salads, but also makes a zesty addition to soups and stews, and a delectable add-on for pizzas and hefty sandwiches.
Broccoli raab (or Rabe): Also known as rape or rapini, this sturdy green is also an Italian basic, showing off its character with little clusters of yellow buds on long, leafy stalks. It boasts an assertively sharp taste that adds an extra zip to soups, stews and pasta dishes.
Collard greens: A Southern favorite, collards are a member of the cabbage family and have a mild, spinach-like flavor. The leaves are somewhat tough, and need either slow-braising or a rapid stir-fry over high heat to soften. Look for the greens with long, broad leaves, rigid spines and deep-green color.
Kale: The various kale varieties are members of the cabbage family, and the leaves have a slightly sharp taste. The frilly leaves look relatively tough, but cook up and tenderize quickly in sautes and in soups and stews.
Mustard greens: A popular ingredient in Southern recipes, mustard greens have bright green leaves with ruffled or scalloped edges. Their pleasant peppery taste pairs well with salty add-ons like bacon or ham (including the vegetarian varieties of the salty stuff).
Swiss chard: Available with white, yellow or ruby red stems, elegant Swiss chard has characteristic large and veined leaves that are slightly frilly along the edges. The mild, spinach-like flavor can grace the most humble meal.
Turnip greens: A cousin of kale and cabbage, turnip greens are also popular Southern vegetables. The long, oval crinkly green leaves are sweet when young, but start to turn bitter as they age.
Ready to sink your teeth into nature’s healthiest greens? Give these three recipes a nibble.
Recipes featuring leafy greens
Greek Spinach Pie
This makes a delicious light supper entree or is equally suited to a brunch main course.
1 pound spinach leaves, well rinsed and coarsely chopped
4 large eggs
1 cup skim-milk ricotta
1 sweet red pepper, diced
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
Seasoning salt to taste
One (9-inch) unbaked deep-dish crust
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Steam the spinach until wilted, and when cool enough to handle, squeeze out excess moisture.
2. Beat the eggs until foamy, and stir in the ricotta, red pepper, feta cheese, and chopped spinach. Season to taste. Spoon the mixture into the crust.
3. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until the center is firm to the touch and the top has turned golden brown.
Spicy Greens and Beans
Serves 4 to 6
Use this on its own or as a topping for pasta or polenta. It’s also dandy as a filling for a cheese quesadilla. The “chorizo” sausage is a soy-based product made by Melissa brand foods, and is available at most whole foods or specialty markets. It’s delicious!!
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced
6 ounces “chorizo” sausage, broken apart
1 pound coarsely chopped mixed greens, such as chard, mustard greens or kale
1 (15.5-ounce) can pinto beans, well rinsed
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat, and saute the onion until golden. Add the “chorizo” and greens, and saute until the greens wilt and soften, adding a little water as needed to keep them moist. Stir in the beans, and cook until heated through.
Greens and Grains Tart
You can buy vacuum-packed precooked wild rice, a real time-saver. It’s important to note that wild rice is actually a wild grass, not a grain, but it does take on all the attributes of grains in the way cooks can use it.
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
8 ounces precooked wild rice
8 ounces kale, chopped
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 cup cubed sweet potatoes
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
One (9-inch) unbaked deep-dish crust
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat, and saute the garlic until golden.
2. Add the wild rice, kale, tomatoes and sweet potatoes, and saute for about 5 minutes, or until the greens wilt and soften. Stir in the shredded mozzarella.
3. Spoon the mixture into the crust. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the top is puffy and golden.