Sunday, February 1, 2009

"That Sure is Colorful Lettuce, Mommy!"

We are greeted at the grocery store by fresh colorful produce piled high. Apples in pyramids, bananas stacked like a puzzle, and then there are those lovely crisp greens nestled one on the other. If you are like I used to be, you approach slowly, touch them, maybe even pick one up only to shrug not knowing what to do with it. Not anymore! Turns out it's easy to prepare that wide variety of fresh greens. They are versatile and delicious, nutritious and an essential part of good health.

Greens offer a nutritional wallop of high levels of vitamins and minerals including Vitamins A, B, C, E, K, beta-carotene, calcium, potassium, iron, magnesium, folate, lutein, phytochemicals, cartenoids, and chlorophyll. Greens are naturally high in fiber, low-fat, low-sodium, and low in carbohydrates. Most greens are also considered cruciferous vegetables. Cruciferous vegetables are rich in nutrients isothiocyanates, sulforaphane, and indole-3-carbinol, all linked to reducing the risk of breast, prostate, cervical, lung, and other cancers. Not only do they work to lower the incidence of cancers, cruciferous vegetables boost our immune system, support cardiovascular health, build bones, fight cardiovascular disease, fight age-related macular degeneration, and help fight against birth defects. If you're looking for a super-pill, greens are the answer!

Most all greens can be simply sauteed in olive oil with garlic and onions. Some people like them spiced up with hot sauce or dried chili peppers or with a little kick from a splash of vinegar. Some greens are bitter but turn sweet as they cook longer. It's very easy to incorporate greens into your regular meals, both raw and cooked. The variety makes it easy to enjoy them in everything from breakfast frittatas and omelets to souffle, stews, salad or quick saute.

Many people discard the stalks but I have found that those can be cooked and used along with the leaves. What I normally do is add the stalks earlier in the cooking process to get them started, add the leafy greens toward the end to keep them vibrant.

Greens tend to be dirty so clean them easily in a sink full of water, just agitate every so often. The dirt will fall down to the bottom. Pat dry before cooking or salad spin dry if using raw to get off the excess water.

Chard is a lovely green, very much like Spinach. Chard, also called Green Chard or Swiss Chard, has green leaves with white stalks. Red Chard, pictured below, has green leaves with red stalks. The color adds antioxidants but they are all Chard, pronounced with a hard CH like choo choo. Rainbow chard pictured at the top has vibrantly colorful stems.

When my then 3 year old saw it he declared, "that sure is colorful lettuce, mommy!" He was right. You can use chard raw or cooked. It is mild so does not need to be cooked a long time like collard greens (Today we're just talking about more mild greens but I'll attack more bitter greens like collards, which are absolutely delicious when cooked low and slow!, another day.)

The stalks of chard can be used much like you'd use celery. They are perfect added to a stir-fry.

Sweet & Salty Chard Saute

1 bunch chard, washed, rolled and sliced into thin ribbons
.25lbs pancetta (optional but it adds a nice salty bite)
1 onion
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup chicken broth (or veggie or even water but we like chicken broth)
handful chopped almonds (lightly toasted if you like)
splash of apple cider vinegar

Saute the pancetta until crispy. Remove. Add the onions and saute until caramelized, add garlic. Add the chard, don't worry, it will cook down. Top with stock & raisins and cover. Cook on medium covered for 8 minutes turning every so often to mix it all up together. Uncover and cook a couple more minutes, continuing to turn in pan. Top with chopped almonds. My husband likes a splash of apple cider vinegar too.

Another fave with Chard is Syrian Swiss Chard with Chickpeas by Joan Nathan. We make that every Rosh Hashanah.

Kale is another mild green. It comes in Dino or Lacinato Kale which has a more prehistoric look as well as Curly varieties - both Red and Green. Kale is a good one to juice since it's not bitter or strong and even the kids will like it if you add an apple as that masks the veggie flavor.

Kurly Kale Chips
1 bunch curly kale
olive oil
sea salt

Rip off the leaves and roughly chopping in appealing uneven pieces. Toss with some olive oil and salt and roast at 425F for a 3-5 minutes until crispy but NOT brown. You will probably need to flip them 1/2 way through the cooking. The secret is to keep them in a single layer when cooking so that they will crisp up instead of steam.

Black-eyed Peas, Kale, and Red Pepper

3 pieces bacon (optional)
1 onion
2-3 cloves of garlic
1 red pepper chopped
big bunch of fresh greens like Kale
1 can black eyed peas
1/4 cup chicken (or veggie) stock or water
hot sauce

I made it with bacon but you can certainly leave it out. What I did was cut a couple pieces of bacon into pieces and fry them up. Once crispy, I removed them and set them on a towel to drain and poured off most of the grease. I left enough to saute 1 chopped onion until translucent and then added 2-3 chopped garlic cloves. Let that saute up another minute. Added a whole bunch of chopped Kale (you can add stems first and cover for 2 minutes and then add the leaves but for this dish I discarded the stems because I didn't want that firmer texture with the creamy beans.) Add the diced red pepper (I love the flavor of fresh red pepper so I don't saute that with the onions. The fresh flavor, crisp texture and lovely red color remains if you don't cook it out.)

Add one can of black eyed peas, sea salt, freshly grated black pepper, and 1/4 cup chicken stock (if you omitted the bacon, you can add water or veg stock instead to make it vegetarian) cover and simmer 5-8 minutes. Some people like their greens more wilted but Kale isn't one of those bitter greens so we enjoy it a little fresher. You can cook it longer if you prefer.

Take out everything with a slotted spoon and reduce the liquid by cooking another minute or two uncovered. Top with a splash of hot sauce, fresh diced tomatoes, the crunchy bits of bacon and serve over brown rice. This is a meal in itself but you can use it as a side dish.

Spinach is another super veggie and we try to eat it twice each week. Bunches are usually inexpensive but bags of baby spinach can be a super convenient for salads or adding to stews, soups, or a quick saute. If using a bunch, do not chop off all the stems, trim gently at the base as the sweetness is in the stems.

While some juice spinach, we prefer it cooked since cooking breaks down cell walls and allows us to absorb more of it's nutrients. However, there is debate on whether to eat spinach raw or cooked since it contains oxalic acid. Cooking breaks down the oxalic acid into crystals that can limit the absorption of iron so always add some iron-rich foods with spinach. Eaten raw, oxalic acid in spinach cleans our intestinal tract but also binds with calcium and diminishes the absorption of calcium so enjoy calcium-rich foods when eating it fresh.

I make and freeze basil spinach pesto which I then add to stews, soups, and frittatas. I like to keep it in the house fresh and frozen so I have it on hand for all sorts of things including:

Basil Spinach Pesto
This is a good way to get spinach into the kids and husband and they won’t even know it! The spinach adds nutrients and a lovely green color but you won’t even know it’s there. If you don’t use it all in a couple days, freeze it into ice cube trays and then you can take out a cube whenever you need it.

1 bag of (organic) spinach
1 bunch (handful) of basil
Handful of pine nuts (about ¼ cup)
1 – 2 garlic cloves
¼ teaspoon Salt & grinds of Pepper
Lemon Zest (optional) (from one organic lemon)
Olive oil (about a ½ - ¾ cup)
½ cup Grated Parmesan Cheese (imported or organic)

Boil a pot of water. Drop the spinach in for a moment then remove and put in ice water. Drain well and dry best you can. (Spinach offers more nutrients when cooked but you can also use raw spinach if you prefer.) In a blender or cuisinart blend the spinach , basil, pine nuts, garlic, lemon zest, salt and pepper until ground into a thick paste. With the blender on, stream in olive oil. Stir in cheese by hand. Taste, add more salt if necessary.

This is very versatile and flavorful and perfect to have on hand to make any meal gourmet. Toss with pasta by itself or add chicken and/or veggies. Use as a spread on sandwiches with cheese and deli meats. Use as a pizza topping. Add to soups or stews for an Italian flavor. Mix in cream cheese and use as a dip. Add a little cream or cream cheese or use as is to top meat, fish, veggies, or chicken before or after cooking. Mix with eggs to make a green eggs frittata.

I made green eggs for my son's class when they had Dr. Seuss day with spinach-basil pesto mixed in a frittata. The kids said they were the best eggs they ever had!

Green Eggs Frittata

8 Eggs
¼ cup milk or cream
1 small container Ricotta Cheese (8 or 12oz)
1 handful Parmesan Cheese
¼ cup Spinach Basil Pesto (or more to taste)
¼ teaspoon salt & some grinds of pepper

Preheat oven to 425F. Put pan in oven to heat. Mix all ingredients together.

Remove pan and butter around all sides of pan. Add egg mixture. Cook for 20-30 minutes until slightly golden on top and done in the center. Depending upon your oven, you may need to turn the pan around after half-way through cooking for even rising and browning. This is a soufflé so it will fall therefore serve immediately. Great for breakfast, brunch or lunch served with side salad and toasty garlic bread.

Creamed Spinach is classic and actually simple to make. You can use a roux if you don't have cream to thicken the sauce. So many recipes on the web so I won't add mine here but be sure to add a scrape of fresh nutmeg to your white sauce.

Spinach Souffle is easy, light, and tasty.
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 package frozen bag spinach
4 eggs, separated
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup milk
1 cup shredded cheese

Preheat oven to 350F. Prepare souffle dish with butter and then coat with bread crumbs or some grated parmesan cheese. This allows the souffle to climb up the wall and cling to the side.

Beat egg whites on medium to high with a pinch of cream of tartar if you like, for added insurance.

No need to defrost the spinach, just break it up and put it in the food processor. Pulse until grated.

Make roux - add butter to pan and melt. Add flour and stir. Allow to cook one minute and bubble but not brown. Add milk and stir to make sure no lumps. Once it boils again it will thicken, mix in the shredded cheese. Mix in the frozen grated spinach. Add the 4 egg yolks. The pan should be cool enough now from the frozen spinach to add the egg whites but you can move it all to a bowl instead if you prefer.

Take 1/3 of the egg whites and mix into the spinach mixture to lighten it up some. Then fold in the rest of the egg whites. Bake 33 (don't peek or open the door for at least 30 but check at that point if it maybe needs 5 more minutes.)

Nontraditional Picadillo
1lb grassfed beef
1 small onion diced
2 cloves garlic chopped
1 small can of diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2/3 cup raisins
1/2 to 2/3 cup or so pitted olives stuffed w/almonds, roughly chopped
1/2 sweet red pepper diced
1 Tablespoon cumin
1 teaspoon grey salt or sea salt
black pepper
spinach, frozen or fresh, whole package

Saute onion and garlic. Add ground beef and brown. Add can of tomatoes, tomato paste, raisins, olives, cumin, salt, pepper, red pepper, cover and simmer 10-15 minutes. Add fresh spinach and toss in there to wilt it (if you're using frozen spinach put that in with the raisins and then cook uncovered a bit more if too liquidy) and cook 2 more minutes. If you don't have olives with almonds, add olives and then chopped up almonds on top before serving. Serve over rice.

Chicken Spinach Stew
I was kind of sick so I didn't fuss too much and was surprised how delicious and easy this came out so had to share it.

2 packages chicken (we used breast w/bone and thighs w/bones)
1 big red onion diced
2 tablespoons flour (optional as thickener)
3 cloves garlic chopped
1 12oz can stewed tomatoes
1/2 lb carrots
1 package frozen spinach, like 10 oz
1/2 teaspoon cardamom

Warm pot, add chicken skin side down until it browns, about 6 minutes. (I normally would have removed the chicken then and added the onions, garlic and stir around a bit to get up the brown pieces. Then add the flour and cook one minute. But I was not feeling well so I just threw it all together in one step and mixed the flour with the water and added that when I added the water.) Then to the chicken, onions and garlic add a can of stewed tomatoes and then fill that can with water twice and add that with diced (or whole baby) carrots, sea salt, pepper, cadamom, and frozen spinach. Simmer 30 minutes until done. Enjoy with rice.

Even better the next day, take all the chicken off the bone and shred it up. Add the rice and warm it all up together. Made me feel all better.

If you think your child won't touch greens, first, set a good example. Then explain. My 3 year old is on a non-veggie kick, take them off his plate and move them away from him. I showed him that it was all yummy. Took a couple bites in front of him while we actually talked about how healthy vegetables are and how they make you strong all the while making yummy sounds. He finally said, "souwy, mommy, I want to try it." and ate the whole thing, well, until he looked at the spoon and then looked at me and said "I just don't like to see it." so we got a different bite that hid the greens and he asked for more. It takes patience but they will eat their veggies, especially when they are not overcooked and are delicious.

Greens create a classic salad, can be added to sandwiches and wraps, can be used as a wrap instead of bread. You can create pockets using greens, like mixing meats or beans with grains like rice or bulgur and then steam them in the big green leaves or braising them in a tomatoes or stock. When we make soup I always toss in some greens, frozen or fresh, at least a couple handfuls. Greens can be added to omelets and frittatas, mixed with pastas, or pulverized in your food processor to be mixed in meatballs or used as a topping to chicken, beef, fish. Juice fresh greens (we like a bunch of kale, 2- 3 stalks celery and one apple) to supercharge your day

Add Greens, fresh or frozen, raw and cooked. A super-food, they come in a huge variety and can add great texture, color and flavor to your menu while adding lots of nutrients to your life.


  1. Hey Annie,
    What size are your packages of the frozen spinach for the pesto and the souffle? I've seen two: 10 oz and 16 oz.

  2. I had a 3lb bag and grabbed a bunch out of it, I probably used about a pound but you can use 10oz, I sometimes overdo the greens and then get worried but I end up happy with the results so it all works out. I'd say start with the 10oz is probably better. I'll make it again tomorrow and measure more precisely.


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