BY ELIZABETH FIEND LIVING EDITOR
You’ve got your spinach, your bok choy (and a zillion other ‘choys’), your soft, dainty salad greens, yer sturdy kales and collards. Dandelion and mustard greens, Chinese broccoli, broccoli rabe, beet and turnip tops — they’re all part of the green family. I also include green, leafy herbs like basil, mint, parsley and cilantro in the green clan.
Lots of cultures celebrate greens in their cuisine, but with the exception of a few Southern favorites, your Standard American Diet (SAD) generally ignores these powerhouses of nutrition, taste and versatility. Still I was pretty surprised when a well-dressed, intelligent businesswoman said to me, “What you GROW kale in your yard?” And then proceeded to ask how I cooked it. I blurted out, “Like every other green” With a “duh” implied. Geez.
The next second I realized what my new column would be.
Greens! Are! Grand! You gotta get with them this fall (and forever).
If you don’t like greens, you haven’t had them prepared properly. Or, prepared in a way you like. Greens go with or in almost everything. What do you like?
Quiche, omelets (and other egg dishes), burgers, chili (or any dish with beans), tomato sauce (or any dish with tomatoes), potatoes, Indian, African, Asian, Italian food? Greens, they go with all of these foods.
Polenta too. A few slices of baked polenta and a mess of greens, a glass of red wine — you got dinner.
Greens are super foods for sure. They have hardly any calories, a negligible amount of fat (if any) and they’re loaded, I mean really loaded with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Greens are even a great source of dietary fiber.
At only 41 calories per serving, spinach provides you with 49% of your fiber, 396% of your daily requirement of vitamin A, 270% Vitamin C, 50% calcium, and 31% of your RDI of iron. [A serving of greens is one cup uncooked, a half-cup cooked.]
Parsley should not be relegated to the garnish section of your plate. It’s too super for that (and tasty too). At 22 calories a serving, parsley contains 101% of the RDI for vitamin A, 133% of C, and 21% of your RDI of iron. I grow flat-leaf, or Italian, parsley. It’s great on sandwiches, in salads and as a main ingredient in pesto.
Some greens can be served raw, so think salad. Think sandwich toppings. Think as a crunchy layer to put under food. Yeah, I serve chili on top of salad. Why? It’s delicious. Why else? Rice, chips — traditional chili fare – they’re high in carbs. You’ll put on the pounds. Instead of putting on pounds put greens on your plate you’ll be protecting yourself from arthritis, obstreperous, heart disease and cancers. You’ll have more energy even better eyesight!
How to cook greens:
Right before you’re going to eat them, wash well to remove grit and dirt hidden in the folds of the leaves. If you’re putting the greens, raw, on something like a sandwich, then dry them, otherwise you really don’t need to. Remove large and tough stems and ribs. [If you’re hardcore you can chop these tougher parts into tiny pieces and cook them a bit longer than the leaves.]
Stack the leaves up and chop or tear by hand to an appropriate size.
You cooking options depend upon how tender the greens are. But which are tender?
Please, try to think on your own.
Am I being too tough on you? Tender greens are thinner and will often have smaller sized leaves. Lettuces are tender greens. Use them as a comparison. Tender greens are spinach and the choys, and these should be cooked for only a short amount of time, like three to five minutes.
The tough guys are kale and collards; just touch the leaves. They’re thicker, more substantial than lettuce. See, you can tell the difference! They’ll take more time to soften. This can mean anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes cooking time.
Cooking options include sauteing with a dash or two of olive oil (for Asian meals use sesame oil). If the pan becomes too dry you could add more oil. But I wouldn’t recommend that. You’ll get fat. Instead add another liquid like water or broth. I’m a maverick, I like to cook greens in fruit or vegetable juice depending on what they’ll be served with. Weird? Try it. Asian use some orange juice. Italian or African, tomato juice.
You can also steam greens in a steamer.
Add spices when you’re cooking the greens that will blend into your meal like garlic, red pepper, ginger.
Do not go there. Many greens are naturally salty. I NEVER add salt to greens when I’m cooking them. If you know what’s good for you, neither should you. You’ll probably be serving these greens with something that’s already salted, so you won’t need to add additional salt to the greens.
Do not overcook greens — this is a death sentence! A little bite is okay. Mushy greens = bad, old fashioned, go away.
How to eat.
Serve with a dash of lemon juice for a fine, simple side dish. A light coating of peanut sauce and some toasted sesame seeds, presto — you get a more sophisticated dish.
Or, after cooking toss the greens with pasta or beans. Or pasta and beans.
Pine nuts. Yeah, greens and pine nuts. Or greens and pine nuts and pasta. Or greens and pine nuts and pasta and beans — a super supper is born.
You can also add the greens right into your stew, soup or sauce. Stir in. Taste. When sufficiently tender, serve.
For kids, greens can be cooked, then pulsed in a food processor and added as a hidden ingredient to your kid’s favorite stew, soup, tomato sauce. Shush just don’t tell…
Grow your own.
I grow greens in my yard, and you could too. (But even if you don’t, you should still eat greens and plenty of them.)
Greens are some of the easiest food plants to grow. I generally grow about a half-dozen types of lettuces. I especially love the deer tongue varieties. They actually do look like a deer’s tongue (or what I imagine Bambi’s mother’s tongue to look like). Lettuce comes in red too, but it’s still a green!
Then I got the rainbow Swiss chard. I rotate my types of choy. And I absolutely adore rapeseed greens. Ugly name, delicious taste. [Super secret info: Rape seed greens are the plant Canola oil is derived from.]
But the greatest green in the garden has got to be the Dino, Tuscany, cavalo negro, yes the black kale. It’s the best. It’s crunchy. It’s sweet. It’s a beautiful, ornamental plant too.
One of the best things about growing greens is that you’ll be supplied with food for months on end. Greens are typically cool weather plants. They thrive in the spring, but get unhappy in the heat of the summer. Keep them watered and they should perk up when fall arrives providing a bounty of nutrition and endless opps for creative cookery.
Beans and Greens
By Elizabeth Fiend
Super quick, stick-to-the-ribs vegan dinner.
Sauté in as little liquid as possible greens of your choice.
A small amount of olive oil, a dash of white wine would be divine here.
Add dried sage, red pepper and garlic to taste.
Meanwhile cook or microwave some chopped vegetarian sausage.
Just before the greens are tender and ready to eat (taste them!), add a can of drained and rinsed white (cannellini) beans and the vegetarian sausage.
Continue cooking just until the beans and sausage are heated through.
Serve on top of a slice of whole grain toast.
Yes, on toast. It’s quick, it’s easy. It’s darn good.
Popeye’s Nutty Portobello Mushroom Burger
By Elizabeth Fiend
Quick and Easy, 1 Dish Meal, Vegan
Serves 2 Human Beings or 8 Martians
2 large portobello mushrooms
4 cloves garlic
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon sesame seed oil
1/4 cup white wine (or white grape juice or water)
1/2 cup water (divided in to 2 parts)
2 cups fresh spinach (packed)
2 teaspoons white miso (available in refrigerated section of Asian stores or at Whole Foods)
2 tablespoons pine nuts
2 whole grain rolls/buns
Wash mushrooms and break off stems
Chop stems finely
Heat sesame oil in sauté pan
Add onion, mushroom stems and garlic
Cook 3 minutes, or until onion is tender
In a cup, mix the wine, 1/4 cup water and cayenne pepper.
When the pan becomes dry, add this mixture as needed. (By adding this liquid and not more oil you save on calories and fat!)
Push onion and mushroom stems to the edges of the pan
Add mushroom caps
Sauté for 10 minutes (add more wine mixture when too dry)
Turn mushrooms over and sauté for 8 minutes (add remaining wine mixture)
Start toasting the rolls/buns
Add spinach to sauté pan
Dissolve (stir) miso into 1/4 cup water and add to pan (Don’t bring miso to a boil as it will loose it’s nutritional value)
Stir for 1 minute or until spinach is evenly wilted (pan should be fairly dry by now)
Mix in pine nuts
Put mushroom cap on toasted roll and top with vegetable / nut mixture
Sources and For More Information:
A searchable nutritional database, a fantastic resource: http://www.nutritiondata.com/
Spinach facts: http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=43
Parsley health benefits: http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=100#healthbenefits
Kale health benefits: http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=38#healthbenefits
ABOUT THIS COLUMN: At no time in recorded history have we possessed so much knowledge about health and nutrition, nor have we ever had such vast and effective machinery for disseminating that knowledge — and yet, for all intents and purposes, we live in hi-tech Dark Age with the vast majority of the global population essentially ignorant or confused about the basic facts of their own biology. How did this happen? Well, that’s a whole six-part mini-series in and of itself, but the short answer is that the bottom line of many a multi-national corporation is dependent on that ignorance, and vast sums of money are expended to maintain it. The global warming argument is a classic example. When scientific fact did not favor Big Oil, they hired their own scientists to to conduct and publish studies that contradicted the peer-reviewed facts about the environmental impact of carbon-based emissions. As a result, whenever the latest global warming news is relayed to the public, it always comes with the caveat that “some dispute these findings.” There was time when newspapers saw it as their duty to truth squad these debates, but that’s long since become a luxury most papers can no longer afford — better to hire another gossip columnist and give the people what they want. To fill this crucial gap, Phawker began publishing the JUNK SCIENCE column by Elizabeth Fiend, beloved host of Big Tea Party. Every week, Miss Fiend connects the dots to reveal a constellation of scientific facts that have been hiding in plain sight — scattered across the vast, cold reaches of the Internet. With a background in punk rock and underground comics, and longstanding employment as a library researcher, Miss Fiend doesn’t pretend to be a scientist or an expert. She does, however, know how scientific facts become diluted by corporate-sponsored non-facts, and every week she separates the smoke from the mirrors. Why? Because she loves you.