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various dark, leafy greens

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.

Food Basics

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.

Nutrition Know-How

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.

Kitchen Tricks

  • 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.

The Greens Glossary

A quick overview of dark, leafy greens and how they can be prepared.

  • Arugula is less pungent when added to hot foods like pasta or vegetables. It’s also wonderful when sautéed quickly with garlic, olive oil, tomatoes and basil.
  • Beet greens are delicious steamed with ginger, cardamom, star anise or herbs. Older, tougher beet greens are great braised.
  • Bok choy, or Chinese cabbage, is wonderful raw or cooked. Stir-fry or sauté with garlic, ginger, citrus and flavorful oils. The large broad stems can be cooked in boiling water, steamed or braised.
  • Broccoli rabe, with its bitter flavor, should first be blanched in salted boiling water, then sautéed or braised. It works well with rich foods (e.g., Italian) and strong assertive ingredients such as garlic, ginger and chilies, or sweet flavors like honey and citrus.
  • Collards, mustard and turnip greens have very assertive cabbagelike flavors and need to be cooked. Staples in Southern cooking, they’re all great braised, paired with smoky pork and finished with pickled hot-banana peppers.
  • Dandelion greens can be served raw as a salad or braised with garlic, meat or vinegar.
  • Kale has a distinctly earthy flavor that pairs well with rich foods, grains, and hearty meats and sausages. Simply steam, boil or braise.
  • Swiss chard offers a delicious counterpart to rich buttery beans, pasta dishes, roasts, poultry and marbled meats, and can be added to soups, stews and fillings. The stalks take longer to cook and are wonderful pickled or braised until tender. Braise the greens with citrus, garlic, artichokes or olives — or chop, cook and mix them with grains.

Sautéed Swiss Chard

Makes four servings

  • 3 bunches of Swiss chard, stems removed
  • 1/4 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. minced fresh garlic
  • 1 tbs. tamari (soy) sauce
  • 1/8 tsp.
  • freshly ground black pepper

Directions

  1. Rough chop the Swiss chard.
  2. Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat and add the olive oil to just coat the bottom of the pan.  Add the Swiss chard, garlic, tamari, and pepper.
  3. Cook until the Swiss chard starts to wilt, about 2 minutes.
  4. Remove from heat and serve.

Variations: use 2 large heads of bok choy or 6 bunches of fresh spinach or 6 cups lightly packed spinach

Per serving: Calories 50; Protein 5g; Total Fat 1g; Saturated Fat 0g; Carbohydrates 10g; Dietary Fiber 4g; Cholesterol 0mg; Sodium 790mg

Spanakopita

Makes 20 servings of 3 triangles per serving

Filling:

  • 1/2 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tsp. minced fresh garlic
  • 1 cup chopped yellow onion (about 1 large)
  • 2 cups chopped button mushrooms (1 pound)
  • 1 cup chopped fresh shiitake mushrooms
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 5 cups packed, chopped fresh spinach
  • 1 1/4 cups crumbled extra-firm tofu (about 7 ounces)
  • 2 tbs. finely chopped fresh oregano
  • 2 tbs. finely chopped fresh basil
  • 2 tbs. finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tsp. miso paste
  • 1 tsp. tamari (soy) sauce
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg

Phyllo:

  • 1 (16-ounce) box phyllo dough
  • Olive oil cooking spray

Directions for the Filling:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F (175C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Heat a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat and add the olive oil to lightly coat the bottom of the pan. Cook the garlic and onion until the onion has softened, about 2 minutes.
  3. Add the mushrooms and cook 1 minute. Pour in the white wine and boil until the pan is almost dry, about 2 minutes.
  4. Add the spinach and cook until just wilted, about 2 minutes.
  5. Remove from the pan and cool completely.
  6. In a mixing bowl, combine the spinach mixture, tofu, fresh herbs, miso, tamari, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Mix well and set aside.

Directions for the Phyllo

  1. Lay out the phyllo dough on a baking sheet and cover with a damp cloth. On a cutting board lay out one sheet of phyllo. Lightly mist the phyllo sheet with cooking spray. Repeat to make a total of 3 layers.
  2. Cut the phyllo sheet vertically into 6 strips. Place 1 tablespoon of the spinach mixture on the bottom end of each phyllo strip.
  3. Fold the bottom left corner towards the right over the spinach mixture. You will be forming small triangles.
  4. Repeat folding about 4 times or until completely sealed.
  5. Place triangles on prepared baking sheet. Lightly mist the top of the triangles with cooking spray.
  6. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown.

Per 3 triangles: Calories 120; Protein 5g; Total Fat 3.5g; Saturated Fat 0g; Carbohydrates 18g; Dietary Fiber 0g; Cholesterol 0mg; Sodium 230mg

Braised Kale with Artichokes and White Beans

Makes 3 1/2 cup portions

  • 12 small to medium leaves Tuscan Kale, cut into thirds
  • 4 cooked artichoke hearts, each cut into sixths
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup cooked and drained white beans, reserve liquid
  • 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

Directions

  1. Wash kale, stack on top of each on another, roll from bottom to top and cut into thirds.
  2. Heat a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add olive oil, kale, artichoke hearts and garlic.
  3. Stir constantly for 3-4 minutes to lightly brown garlic.
  4. Add beans, tomatoes, basil and 1/4 cup of reserved bean liquid.
  5. Season to taste with freshly ground pepper.

Recipes presented by Conscious Cuisine

This article has been updated. It originally appeared online on October 1, 2006.

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