The Queens of Greens
It should come as no surprise to anyone who follows recipe blogs, chef’s social media and food news that the green, leafy stuff is majorly en vogue right now. It’s cheap (big yay), delicious and a jam packed source for a variety of different minerals and nutrients like potassium, vitamin a, vitamin d, calcium and iron. We all remember what happened to Popeye when he ate his spinach. It’s kind of like that. But it goes even further as being a great way to boost and maintain immune health and digestive health, prevent diseases and even cancer, Alzheimer’s and diabetes. But today’s leafy greens are going way beyond the typical lettuce, mixed greens and spinach. Kale, the sensation word of the culinary year, has come back into fashion fast and hard as a great option for salads, slaws, sautées, soups, stews and so much more. Chard has also made a renaissance of sorts as it’s quickly making its way into tons of popular restaurants and their menus. Then there’s the good ol’ fashioned southern favorite, collard greens, which has finally made its way from the Deep South and into American cuisine’s mainstream. Thank goodness for that. And lets not forget the more traditional but always a great option, cabbage. Where most people might be stumped is how to find a recipe where you can get all the wholesome goodness they have to offer without the bitter taste and often chewy texture or rocket fuel like smoothies and juices. That’s where we come in. This post is dedicated to not only telling you why you should definitely be weaving these green queens into your diet and giving you some great ideas for future recipes.
Kale: This little lady has been making quite a stir in the last few years in the whole wide world of food. She came into the public’s general view with leaves
blazing and hasn’t stopped her force as people come up with more and more and even more amazing recipes than the week, month and year before. Now with a firm grip on mainstream cuisine, kale continues to grow in popularity as a filler for old recipes or a sparker of new ones. Let’s be honest, the stuff is pretty great. But if you’re anything like me, you kind of have a hard time handling the rough texture, chewiness and bitter taste in its raw form unless it’s served with a good helping of dressing. Kale has also been found to contain a heady amount of sulforaphane, a chemical with gobs of anti-cancer properties on top of a plethora of other vitamins and minerals. It has more calcium per calorie than milk, more iron than beef and a heaping amount of omega fatty acids. All of that, plus its sustainable, easy to grow and an incredibly versatile addition to any meal. It’s really no wonder why it’s kicking all other vegetable’s proverbial derrieres right now. Also, for how overwhelming the taste can be raw, it very much mellows out once cooked which means it can make a great side any night of the week. Just remember that the good anti-cancer chemicals retain better when it’s steamed, sautéed stir-fryed or even microwaved versus boiled. Some better ways to cook kale include tossing it raw with a lovely honey-lime yogurt dressing, sauteing it with some olive oil and garlic, throwing it into your favorite vegetable soup, baked with tomato and sausage or learning how to make kale chips.
Chard: What is there to say about chard? It’s delicious (duh), it’s in the same family as the beet family and it got its start in Mediterranean culture. Just one cup of chopped chard provides more than 300% of your daily source of vitamin K, a nutrient that promotes kidney health function and helps prevent heart disease and osteoporosis. If it’s fresh, it makes an amazing base for a beautiful leafy green salad but that can be really hard to come by in any chain-store type setting unless you just get lucky. For the more mature leaves, we can’t tell you how marvelous it is to sauté, simmer, grill and steam. Ways to prepare swiss chard vary from toss with vinaigrette, sprinkling with salt and pepper, adding to a vegetable curry or mixing with your favorite type of cheese (feta is oh so good).
Cabbage: We all know this one. Often synonymous with coleslaw, St. Patrick’s Day and sauerkraut, it’s one of those things that has spanned cuisine for centuries all over the world. The Chinese add cabbage to just about anything and everything and also account for most of the cabbage farms in the world. Few things are more synonymous with being Irish than their love for heavily salted meats, potatoes and, of course, cabbage, the typical fare of most St. Patty’s Day celebrations. The German’s are also known to be big fans of this leafy green, serving with it with various sausages and fermenting it to make sauerkraut, which if you didn’t know, is full of probiotics (the good gut bacteria). Like its green sisters, cabbage also boasts health benefits with copious amounts of various immune boosting and illness preventing vitamins and minerals. What makes cabbage such an appealing and flexible green is its more mellow taste and reasonable texture. No matter how fresh or frosted your green is, cabbage will always be reliable texture-wise. Throw it on raw to pork or fish tacos, make yourself a chipotle pepper cole slaw or add some of that sauerkraut goodness to grilled bratwursts.
Collard Greens: I hate to pick favorites but I just can’t help it with this. If you nutritionally compare collard greens and kale, there’s an almost identical makeup as far as all those things that are good for you go. Unfortunately collards aren’t taking off as much as kale has, which I find so impossible to believe. My first encounter with collard greens occurred a number of years ago when I had just one night in Memphis, TN. I did my thorough research for where to eat beforehand, knowing that the barbecue would be as overwhelming as the next day’s 9 hour drive down to New Orleans. I decided upon a well-known establishment and headed over there as soon as I put my bags down in the hotel room. The pulled pork was amazing and the zesty, cheesy grits were immediately a favorite in my recipe book. But what struck my taste buds and heart strings the most was the salty, spicy, tender, melt-in-your-mouth goodness that was the collard greens. And they’ve been a big part of my soul since that first taste. Collards originated in ancient Greece but have been made most famous in the Southern U.S. It’s there that they are sautéed with onions and garlic, simmered with bacon or ham hocks and seasoned with some crushed red pepper, salt and pepper. They’re a typical New Year’s Day dish, their leaves representing the wealth and prosperity to come in the next year. Other variations on collard greens recipes have popped up in Kenya, Brazil, Portugal and in Kashmir, India. If you haven’t tried them, make it your goal in the next month to learn how to cook collard greens. You will immediately understand what I’m talking about.