We all know we're supposed to eat lots of green leafy things, but many people are confused about how to choose, prep and cook these plants. There are so many greens to choose from, and today we'll cover some of my favorite reasons to eat greens and share five easy ways to incorporate them into your life. Which you should do immediately!
But let's begin with the basics– when I write about greens, I am referring mostly to plants that fall into the botanical family Brassica. This huge family includes kale, cabbage, arugula, collards, mustard greens, among other edible non-so-leafy things like broccoli, turnips, kohlrabi, wasabi and radishes. Other greens like lettuce, spinach, dandelion and seaweeds are also important components for our diets, but they don't always pack the nutritional punch of the Brassica family. Kale, collards, watercress and mustard greens alone score 1000 on the ANDI scale, which rates foods on a nutrient-density/calorie ratio. These green leafies contain a wide spectrum of vitamins, minerals (including calcium and iron), protein and dozens of micronutrients and antioxidants; the sulfurous compounds in these plants are correlated with cancer prevention.
And if the health information isn't enough to sway your towards greens, know that they taste amazing too! Greens like collards and kale have a bit of a nasty reputation as being bitter or tough, which is sometimes true. But these hearty leaves are quickly softened with a massage, some acids, or heat to create a delicate and wholesome component to your meal. And preparing greens is super easy too. Here's a helpful tip I often share with my cooking class students: prepare your greens ahead of time. Coming home to a fridge full of prepared greens (and other veggies too!) can help make meal prep much easier and so much less stressful! When you get home from the market or the store, give all your greens a cool-water bath in the sink. Then stick them into a bowl or jar and cover the stem ends with water (just like you would for cut flowers). This allows the greens to cool down, absorb some of the water they might have lost since the field, and ensures a much longer life in your fridge. To prepare, tear all the stems off your kale and collards. You can then slice the leaves thinly and store in airtight containers for up to a week. Cabbage and other greens can also be sliced ahead of time. While there might be minimal nutrition lost due to oxidation, the majority will still be there when you get to them later in the week– and if it encourages you to eat more greens, then I say go for it! As an aside, most greens are super easy to grow at home throughout the year! So if you have a garden, get thee to the seed store!
How to Add Greens into your Everyday Meals
Greens & Pasta
If you enjoy pasta or pasta salads, adding greens is super easy and can boost the nutrition of your meal. Simply add some de-stemmed, chopped greens (you prepared it ahead of time, right?) to the pasta water just before draining. The residual heat will wilt the greens very quickly, so you don't need more than a minute in the water. Drain pasta as usual, then mix with your favorite sauce. Done! Add at least one heaping cup of greens per person, which will wilt to about half that size. On those just-can't-bring-myself-to-cook kinda nights, I do this with Annie's macaroni and cheese and feel totally justified in my choice of comfort food!
Perhaps you don't do pasta, and instead cook up mixtures of veggies to serve with rice or other grains. Try adding some leafies into your regular vegetable mixture right at the end of cooking. These greens need less than a minute to cook, so don't add them too early or they will lose much of their nutritional value. These add a colorful component to your meals and pair well with any type of sauce you might be using.
Green smoothies are, like, so totally popular right now. And for good reason! Because of the aforementioned nasty reputation of greens, sometimes it's easier to get kids (those big and small!) to get their greens blended with fruits and flavorful liquids. Green smoothies can be made with kale, spinach, chard and even lettuce. There are many good tutorials for creating delicious green smoothies, including Glue and Glitter's 40 Days of Green Smoothies, Choosing Raw's perfect green smoothie formula, and Kathy Palsky's many recipes for green smoothies.
Collard greens are delicious in many ways, but one of the best ways to use those beautiful big leaves is as wraps! Not only is this a gluten-free option, it's an easy way to make a quick meal out of whatever is in the fridge. Hummus? Cashew Cheeze? Leftover chili? Anything goes into a collard wrap, the same way that anything goes for burritos. Check out Honest Fare's tutorial for mastering a collard green roll, and check out my recipe for Super Greens Rolls here, featuring collards, kale, cabbage and nori for a quadruple green meal!
A Week of Greens Salad
This is my new favorite meal, and incorporates all the tips we've already covered. I usually make this salad once or twice a week, and then always have a big bowl of ready-made green goodness to use. The recipe below is just a guideline, so use what's available and make the salad work for you! And don't be scared to use this in multiple ways: in your pasta salad, in a green smoothie, in your wraps, or in stir-fries. Of if you want to feel super clean and healthy, just enjoy the salad on its own!
Super Greens Salad
3 cups thinly sliced kale
3 cups thinly sliced cabbage
1 bunch dandelion greens, sliced
1-2 cups shredded carrots
1-2 cups fresh chopped herbs (basil and cilantro are best!)
Pinch of sea salt
- Massage the sliced kale gently by squishing together in your hands. This will release some green juice and help wilt the kale to a more palatable texture. Just a few minutes should be good!
- Toss the kale and all remaining ingredients into a large bowl and toss to combine. Drizzle with the juice from one lemon and just a sprinkle of salt. Toss again to combine.
- Enjoy immediately or keep for up to a week!