If you Googled “most important vegetables to eat”, you would find leafy greens at the top of every list. And there are some pretty good reasons for that.
They are one of the richest sources of nutrition and are the number one food you can eat regularly to help improve your health and boost weight loss. This is because leafy vegetables are full of fiber along with vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals (plant chemicals) that help protect you from heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer. Many of these vegetables even help slow down the aging process.
What are leafy greens?
Some of the most common include kale, collards, Swiss chard, mustard greens, arugula, Romaine, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, dandelion, broccoli, spinach, turnip greens, cabbage, watercress and broccoli rabe.
If you notice, most of them are in the cruciferous family of vegetables that offer the most bang for your plant-based buck.
Although it can be a little intimidating to prepare greens if you’re coming home from the grocery store with a bunch of Bok Choy for the first time, don’t let that stop you! Once you learn a few simple preparation tips, you’ll soon be cooking up a “leafy-green” storm.
You have some preparation options by trying a variety of methods like steaming, boiling, sauteing in oil, water sauteing, preparing a pressed salad and waterless cooking.
Steaming creates gray, bitter greens (concentrates bitterness) – so strong tasting greens (turnip & mustard greens, kale, broccoli rabe, collards) are better boiled or blanched. Boiling a large amount of water takes time. And if you ever wondered if you lost lots of nutrients in the water cooking this way, you’d be right! So it’s best to boil or shallow blanch in a small amount of water. Use approx. 2 cups water for up to 1 lb. greens. Boil water, add chopped greens, cover and cook until tender. It can take from 3 – 10 minutes depending on the type of green.
You also want to cook at high temp to preserve nutrients, color and taste.
If your greens turn out too bitter using two cups water, try more water next time. You can control the bitterness of the greens this way. Then drain the greens and sauté if desired. or use in recipes. Make sure to drink any remaining cooking water – called “pot likker”. It contains many of the minerals and vitamins lost in the water.
Milder greens (spinach, chard, beet greens) can also be cooked this way, but because they are mild tasting and cook quickly anyway, they can be steamed or wilted in a skillet.
Boiling makes greens plump and relaxed. Steaming makes greens more fibrous and tight, which is great for people who are trying to lose weight.
- Drizzle greens with some vinegar and tamari
- Sprinkle with lemon or orange juice
- Toss with some toasted sesame oil and sesame seeds for an Asian flair
- Sauté’ some red onions, add a little brown rice syrup and grated lemon zest
- Sauté’ with garlic and olive oil and add some sun-dried tomatoes
- Toss with your favorite healthy dressing
- Add them to soups, serve over grains
Some greens can be eaten raw in salads: arugula, watercress, romaine, chicory, spinach, escarole, etc.
You can also prepare a Pressed salad - a wilted vegetable dish that gives the freshness of a raw salad but is processed with salt or vinegar to break down the tough outer cellulose layer which can make raw vegetables difficult to digest. Use ½ tsp sea salt or umeboshi vinegar per cup of salad. Rub the salted greens with your hands until liquid starts to be released. Then either set aside for 20 minutes or place a plate with a weight on top. Pour off the fluid that accumulates. Pressing eliminates a lot of the liquid in the raw veggies which can make us feel cold in winter. The secret is to slice the veggies very thin.
Try Chinese (Napa) cabbage, kale. Also add daikon radish, cucumber, carrots, celery.
When most people hear “leafy-green vegetables”, they probably think of iceberg lettuce. But the ordinary, pale lettuce in restaurant salads doesn’t have the power-packed goodness of some other greens. Get into the habit of adding these leafy green vegetables to your diet as much as possible.
Try it out for a month and see how you feel.
By: Christine Scalfo, Food for Living