When most people think of adding “greens” to their meal, it’s usually in the form of a salad, or some form of cooked or raw spinach to their lunch and/or dinner. How many of us really make the effort to find ways of adding kale, collard, mustard and turnip greens, kohlrabi, broccoli rabe and swiss chard into our regular diet? And yet, it’s worth trying out new recipes that use these types of greens because they are nutritional powerhouses – full of different vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
I won’t pretend to provide a complete breakdown of the nutritional benefits of each type of green, or even an exhaustive description of how each one may be cooked. But I do hope to pique your interest in some varieties of greens which you may not have tried yet, along with some ideas on how to incorporate them in your diet.
Cooking Greens can be broken down into two groups: quick-cooking greens (which include spinach, swiss chard, and beet greens), and heartier greens (which include kale and collard greens).
Collard, Beet and Turnip Greens – These greens are a rich source of the vitamins A and K (important in bone health and blood clotting), and a good source of the vitamins C, B6 and folate ( a type of B vitamin important in preventing some birth defects.) They are also a good source of calcium – especially important for individuals who cannot consume a lot of dairy. Some of these greens also provide important minerals; for example, beet greens provide magnesium and iron, although they are also relatively higher in sodium than some other greens.Turnip greens are a good source of folic acid – which is important in the prevention of certain birth defects and heart disease, and are higher in calcium and fiber than many other greens.
Kale – Kale is a heartier green with a distinctive, tough curly texture. It’s too bitter for most individuals to eat raw, but steamed kale (with some lemon juice, red pepper, salt and pepper) has to be one of my favorite cooked vegetable dishes. Kale is an incredible dense nutrient powerhouse; it’s an excellent source of the vitamins A, C and K, containing almost twice as much vitamin K as many other leafy greens. It’s also an excellent source of manganese, and a good source of the minerals copper, calcium, iron, potassium and magnesium, and the vitamins B2, B6 and E, as described in detail in this article. An updated article with tips on how to prepare and use kale can be found here. Kale is also an admirable source of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids, which have important anti-inflammatory benefits.
Swiss Chard – These greens belong to the same family as beets and spinach, and again, are phenomenal sources of vitamins and minerals. Chard has a thick, crunchy stalk that can be either green, yellow, red or orange, and large green leaves. It has incredibly high levels of vitamins A, C and K, and the minerals magnesium, manganese and potassium, and impressive amounts of iron, copper and vitamin E. A complete nutritional breakdown of Swiss Chard can be found in this article.
Kohlrabi – This vegetable belongs to the cabbage family, and looks like a turnip with large, leafy greens. The greens are an excellent source of vitamin A, and can be steamed or sautéed, or cooked liked spinach. The vegetable itself (the bulbous turnip-like part) is also an excellent source of vitamin C and potassium, and also contains some amount of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. It is also a good source of the vitamins B6 and folic acid, and the minerals magnesium and copper. A more detailed nutritional profile of kohlrabi can be found here.
Broccoli Rabe – Also called Rapini, this green vegetable is actually a member of the cabbage family, and has a bold, pungent taste closer to mustard greens than to broccoli. It is a rich source of cancer-fighting nutrients, and another powerhouse of the vitamins A, C and folate (a B vitamin). Broccoli rabe also has good amounts of the minerals potassium and calcium, and is an excellent source of dietary fiber. Cooking broccoli rabe is fairly easy: simply boil the vegetable for 2-3 minutes and then plunge into an ice bath to blanche or “shock” it (this preserves the color and removes some of the bitterness). Then saute it with some garlic and olive oil (and raisins if you like a touch of sweetness). It can also be cooked with apples, sweet potatoes and prunes to provide a sweet contrast to the bitter taste. I actually like the bitterness so I skip the blanching step and just saute the greens with garlic and olive oil. However, if you’re not too fond of bitter greens, it may be worth adding the extra step of blanching and then sauteing these greens.
Ideas for Cooking Greens
Some of the greens I mentioned above are prevalent in specific types of cuisine (e.g collard greens are quite prevalent in southern food, broccoli rabe is included in some Italian entrees or as a side dish). However, the traditional dishes in these cuisines usually stick to their classic, tried and true vegetables, and do not venture outside of their usual repertoire. It may be very experimental, but it may also be worth trying out a different type of green in your usual palate of ethnic foods, such as Indian, Thai, Mexican and Italian. Some ideas for adding them to these cuisines might be:
– Using collard, turnip and/or mustard greens, or kale instead of spinach in some typically ethnic dishes such as saag paneer (spinach with cheese – an Indian dish), stir-fries, soups and sautés in Thai dishes, and vegetable pasta dishes in Italian cuisines (such as lasagna, stuffed manicotti and stuffed shells, pasta primavera, and even as a topping on pizza!) Since these greens take somewhat longer to cook than spinach, you would have to steam them for approximately 3- 5 minutes prior to adding them to one of the above dishes.
– Use a different type of steamed green (as opposed to spinach) in pureed soups or noodle soups made at home, or try adding them to cooked grains such as rice, couscous, pasta, bulgur and wheat pilafs, along with a dash of seasoning such as oregano, basil, cilantro, lemon, pepper, and even crushed red peppers. You could even add them to mac and cheese and other pasta dishes.
I admit that kale may be difficult to stomach for a lot of individuals, because it is not as mild or sweet-tasting as spinach. However, it is worth it to try incorporating this nutritional powerhouse into our diets. Some suggestions for adding more kale into our usual dishes are:
– Substitute half the spinach in your usual spinach dish (lasagna, stir-fry, saute, etc) with kale. The mixture of kale and spinach might be easier to digest and might be milder tasting than using all-kale in the dish. It would probably also not affect the taste as much as using all-kale in the recipe.
– Using kale instead of spinach in classic dishes such as Eggs Benedict and Eggs Florentine for breakfast or brunch.
And one of my very favorites: using a mixture of kale and spinach in spinach/kale smoothies! Yes – I said spinach and kale smoothies. These may sound awful – but they are surprisingly delicious, and you don’t taste the greens at all (especially if you use a higher ratio of spinach to kale). I make my spinach/kale smoothies with the following ingredients:
– 3/4 cup of vanilla or almond soymilk
– handful of spinach and kale combo
– 4 ice cubes
– 2 tsp of almond butter
– half a banana (the banana is KEY! The sweetness of the banana really masks the taste of the greens)
– a splash of vanilla, maple syrup or agave sweetener may be added if you like a sweeter smoothie.
Put the above in a blender, blend and then enjoy!
It’s worth experimenting with different recipes and options to add these greens – for variety’s sake as well as the nutritional benefits, to one’s diet. And if you don’t like the taste – then you could either mask it with hot sauce (in cooked dishes), or go back to the tried and true option of using spinach….and try again later with a different experiment 🙂
Here are several articles which provide detailed descriptions of the benefits and uses of different types of greens. Some of them are fairly long, but provide a much more thorough description of each green, if you are interested!