6 Ways to Eat More Leafy Greens
How to 'Go Green'
To reap the health benefits of leafy greens, eating them consistently is key (and far more important than which types you're choosing). Aim to eat a serving of dark green vegetables most days of the week; non-leafy varieties, such as broccoli, count too. That's not easy, I know, but it's a worthwhile goal. Buying and preparing fresh greens can be intimidating if you're new to these ingredients, and admittedly, they do require a fair amount of prep work. If cleaning and chopping greens just isn't realistic for you, you can purchase bags of washed, cut greens that are ready to hit the sauté pan. Spinach, kale, and other varieties are available in the freezer case, too.
If you're willing and able to invest a little more time, you can choose from a wider variety of inexpensive greens sold in bunches at grocery stores and greenmarkets. And I promise, as you prepare them more often, you'll get much more efficient and comfortable cooking greens from scratch. Like anything else, it takes a little practice. I didn't truly embrace leafy greens until I started buying produce at farmers' markets. Because greens were so abundant and affordable at the market, I got into the habit of buying a bunch or two every week and serving them primarily as a side dish, sautéed with plenty of garlic. Now that there's more demand for kale and other leafy greens, I've found that my supermarket has a larger supply, and their stock turns over more quickly — which means the greens are fresher, too.
Cooking 101 for Leafy Greens
It's difficult to provide a universal cooking method for greens since some have sturdy leaves and fibrous stems, while others, like arugula and baby spinach, are so tender that they can be served raw. Here's a general approach that works for me. If the stems (or ribs) are tough, as with kale and collard greens, rip them out by grabbing the stem end in one hand and tearing the leaf toward the opposite end with your other hand. Then pile up the leaves, cut them into strips, and rinse and dry them using a salad spinner if you own one. If you don't, you can wash greens by dropping them into a clean sink filled with cold water, and agitating the leaves with your hands to remove dirt and debris. To cook the greens, heat some olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat, add chopped garlic, and sauté for a minute. Add the chopped leaves and sauté tender greens, such as spinach, uncovered for about 5 minutes. Hardier varieties like kale require longer cooking. After a quick sauté in the oil, add some water or broth to the pan, cover the pan with a lid, and steam over medium-low heat until softened (the amount of time will depend on how tough the leaves are).
This basic technique works if you're serving greens as a stand-alone side dish, but you can also easily work them into other recipes. Here are some of my favorite uses.
- Soups and stews: You can add greens to almost any soup recipe even if it doesn't call for them. Chop or tear the leaves into bite-sized pieces, and add them during the last few minutes of cooking to retain the color and a little chew. Or, pour in a bag of frozen, chopped greens.
Eggs: Use sautéed greens in an omelet, frittata, or scrambled eggs alone or in combination with other vegetables. Simply sauté the greens in a skillet as outlined above and, when they're tender, add the beaten eggs to the pan.
- Marinara sauce: Greens are a healthy addition to pasta sauce or any dish that uses it, including lasagna and baked ziti. Roughly chop the leaves, add them to a pot of simmering sauce, and cook until wilted. Ladle this veggie-studded sauce over spaghetti, or layer it into baked pasta dishes.
- Smoothies: Add a handful of raw spinach, kale, or chard to a fruit smoothie. Greens pair well with blueberries or mixed berries, which complement the deep color of the veggies and soften their flavor.
- Greens and beans: Turn sautéed greens into an easy and hearty vegetarian meal by adding a can of cannellini or navy beans and a little broth. Simmer for a few minutes and garnish with a squeeze of lemon juice and optional grated Parmesan cheese.
- Sandwiches: For a more sophisticated — and high-fiber — version of grilled cheese, pile on a layer of sautéed greens. Cooked spinach and kale also make great quesadilla stuffers.
You can even add chopped kale to cookie dough! OK, perhaps that's going a bit too far...What's your favorite green, and how do you prepare it?
Photo credit: Pavel Gramatikov/Stocksy
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