Written by Donna Navarro
So did you grow up eating greens, or did you grow up NOT eating greens? I fall into the latter group and have, gratefully, long since recovered from it.
Whichever group you may be in, let’s briefly consider a few facts. Both wild and cultivated varieties of greens have been a significant part of the diet of humans for millions of years. Wonder why? Greens are high in vitamins (C, K, E, folic acid and some B vitamins), minerals (iron, calcium, magnesium and potassium), phytochemicals (lutein, carotenoids, folate, zeaxanthin) and soluble fiber. They are also quite low in carbohydrates, fat and calories.
I could plunge further into the chemistry of greens and how our body machinery thrives on them, and indeed will do that in future posts. For now though, let’s release ourselves from the details for a moment. Underlying the science is a simple reality - a person who eats greens takes good care of their body. That’s a goal that all of us can grab onto, whatever path life in our family of origin may have started us out on.
Greens belong to numerous plant families, two of which many people are acquainted with: Asteraceae (lettuces, endive, thistle) and Brassicaceae (cabbage, brussels sprouts, turnip greens). Greens commonly available in central Texas are kale, cabbage, chard, spinach, chaya or tree spinach, collards, arugula, endive, escarole, lettuce, beet greens, radicchio, mustard greens, brussels sprouts, bok choy, Napa cabbage, turnip greens, and watercress. Many of these can be eaten raw, while others are typically cooked.
I recommend learning about greens by going to farmers markets; you can be certain that whatever is available was just harvested and the flavor and nutritional content of the vegetables will be at their peak. Experiment with one type at a time if you are just learning to enjoy them. Choose greens that are firm, not wilting, and without a lot of brown spots. If you plan to use them within a few days, go ahead and wash them thoroughly, pat them dry, and store them in a good quality organic cotton bag in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator to keep them fresh.
For those needing an inspirational introduction, beet greens are the green leaves at the end of the beet root. They are as nutritious as the beets themselves. Even if you don’t like beets, it’s actually probable that you will like beet greens, as their flavors are not at all similar. Some market growers sell the greens separate from the beets. Look for full firm green leaves with deep magenta stems, one of the truly glorious color combinations of the vegetable world. A word to the wise – buy more than you think you need because greens reduce in size drastically when cooked. Two people can easily eat two bunches of greens as a side dish during one meal.
For inspiration, try our Beet, Citrus, and Fennel Salad.
To prepare the beet greens, wash them thoroughly and spin or pat dry. Trim the stems and coarsely chop the leaves. Better still, stack them, roll lengthwise into a tight cigar-like bundle, hold the bundle tightly and slice it into narrow ribbons (“en chiffonade”). Sauté finely chopped red onion in coconut or olive oil until translucent (and with caramelization in progress), then add minced garlic to taste. Add the beet greens, fresh minced ginger and grated lemon or lime zest. Cover and let cook only until wilted, to retain the bright color. If you like a little sweetness, add golden raisins along with the greens.