Once you get into the leafy greens habit, it’s hard to stop. And why would you? Greens are the most nutrient-rich vegetable group, with a multitude of benefits. Here are some easy ways to eat more leafy greens, with tips, ideas, and links to recipes.
The benefits of leafy greens
Leafy greens are sources of Vitamin K, essential to bone health, and are abundant in vitamins A, B (especially folic acid) and C. Greens also provide a wealth of antioxidants and chlorophyll, are protective against cancers, and are anti-inflammatory.
The hardier greens, like kale, chard, and collards, are superb sources of highly absorbable calcium, a perk that’s especially valuable to vegans.
All of these are great reasons to eat more greens, aside from the fact that they’re delicious, versatile, and add interest to all manner of preparations. Here are a handful of ways to enjoy them every day:
1 Use “massaged” kale in salads
Strip rinsed kale leaves from their stems and chop them into bite-size pieces. Make sure the kale isn’t too wet before starting; use a salad spinner if you’d like.
Place the cut kale into a serving bowl. Rub a little olive oil into your palm, then massage the kale for 45 seconds to a minute. It will soften up and turn bright green. To this, you can add all manner of other veggies and fruits, and dress any way you’d like.
A simple formula that I’ve been enjoying for years: add dried cranberries, toasted or raw cashew pieces, vegan mayonnaise, and a little lemon juice. It’s downright addictive.
Massaged kale goes well with avocado, apples, pears, napa or red cabbage, carrots, pumpkin seeds, walnuts … what you combine it with is limited only to what happens to be in your fridge. It can be dressed in ordinary vinaigrette, sesame-ginger dressing, tahini dressing, and the aforementioned vegan mayo.
Here’s an expanded tutorial on how to massage kale, with some additional tips.
2 Add hardy greens to stir-fries and skillets
The best greens to use for this purpose are lacinato (or “dinosaur,” a flat-leaf variety) kale, collards, or chard.
Strip the leaves from the stems (you can slice the stems from the kale and chard very thinly and use them again. Stack a few leaves atop one another and roll up snugly from a narrow end. Slice very thinly.
This will make long, thin ribbons; cut them once or twice across to shorten. Add these toward the end of your veggie stir-fries, as they cook pretty quickly this way.
Prepared like this, collards blend well with all manner of veggies that you’d usually use in stir-fries—broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, celery, bok choy (itself a leafy green), asparagus, green beans, etc.
3 Use greens in smoothies and juices
Some greens are better for this purpose than others. Spinach tastes so mild in smoothies and juices that your taste buds barely know it’s there.
Kale and collards are a bit more assertive but add a mild green flavor to smoothies and juices. For either juices or smoothies, a big handful or two of spinach or one or two good-size kale or collard leaves per servings is about right.
Greens blend well with bananas, apples, berries, and pears. You’ll need a high-speed blender to break kale and collards down smoothly; a regular blender is sufficient for spinach. For specific recipes, search “green smoothies” and you’ll find a wealth of ideas.
4 Use plenty of tender leafy spring greens in salads
Granted, this isn’t a revolutionary idea, but look beyond lettuce to create invigorating warm-season salads.
Use lots of peppery watercress (a nutritional superstar), baby bok choy, tender dandelion greens, tatsoi, and mizuna (the latter two are Japanese greens that have become increasingly available at farm markets and CSAs).
Combine with baby green and sprouts, plus your favorite salad veggies and fruits, for cleansing (and clean-tasting) salads. Learn more and get more ideas:
- A Guide to Watercress—Recipes, Tips, & More
- A Guide to Bok Choy, a Versatile Asian Vegetable
- A Guide to Baby Greens
5 Learn to love the bitter greens
Add variety to your greens repertoire by getting to know escarole, broccoli rabe, and mustard greens. These greens mellow out considerably with gentle braising or when incorporated into soups and stews.
The basics: Heat a little olive oil in a large steep-sided skillet or stir-fry pan; sauté as much chopped garlic and/or shallots as you’d like. Add washed and chopped greens, stir quickly to coat with the oil, then add about 1/4 cup water or vegetable stock. Cover and cook until tender and wilted down, about 5 minutes.
Traditional additions to this kind of braise are raisins and toasted pine nuts, plus salt and pepper and if you’d like, a little apple cider vinegar.
6 Incorporate greens into dips
Wilt greens down lightly and it’s amazing how much you can incorporate into dips. One of my absolute favorites is Spinach Dip with Avocado and Tahini, shown above. A couple of times I’ve used the greens raw and it was fine that way, too, though in that case you’d want to start with a little less so as not to crowd your food processor.
7 Add greens to roasted vegetables
Adding some greens into a pan of roasted vegetables is an easy way to get more goodness into an already great veggie preparation.
There’s not much to this — just add some ribbons of kale (any variety), collard greens, or chard to your roasted vegetables in the last 10 minutes of baking time. Greens are great with roasted winter squashes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, roots, Brussels sprouts, beets, or any combination thereof.
8 Greens as a pizza topping
This is easy to do with just about any pizza recipe. Once your pizza is nearly done, simply take it out of the oven and toss some baby greens over the top — spinach, arugula, baby kale, or mixed power greens. Return to the oven just until the greens wilt, as you see in the photo above.
9 Greens on the grill
Your grilling unit offers yet another way to prepare leafy greens. Some greens lend themselves to grilling better than others. Not surprisingly, sturdy greens with lots of surface, like broccoli rabe and baby bok choy work well, while there’s no reason on earth to cook delicate baby arugula or watercress over the flames.
Grilling greens can involve some enjoyable experimentation on your part, and the outcome will vary depending on what kind of unit you use. An indoor/outdoor electric grill is the easiest to use, allowing the most control over the cooking of your leafy greens.
You can place them right on the grill surface and adjust the heat setting as needed. With other grills, you’ll want to use a grill basket so that the greens don’t fall through.
No matter what kind of grill you use—electric, charcoal, or gas—the idea is to cook the greens quickly to bringing out deep flavor without totally charring them. Once they’ve acquired those attractive grill marks, they’re ready to eat. Here are the greens that are the best to cook on the grill:
- Broccoli rabe: Separate into sections that include one or two of the florets. Rub lightly with olive oil or any healthy vegetable oil of your choice before grilling. Grill for 5 to 8 minutes total, depending on the heat level of your grill, using tongs to turn the sections every couple of minutes.
- Baby bok choy: Cut in half as described in the sidebar for Seared Baby Bok choy on page 000. Rub lightly with vegetable oil or use Sesame-Ginger Salad dressing (page 00) as a marinade. Grill for 3 to 4 minutes per side, or until grill marks appear, using tongs to turn.
- Escarole: Cut a head of escarole into quarters, right through the stem, so that the leaves remain connected. It’s easiest to give the leaves a light coating with olive oil cooking spray; otherwise drizzle with olive oil and rub into the leaves as best you can. Grill for 3 to 4 minutes per side, or until grill marks appear, using tongs to turn.
Kale chips on the grill: Cut washed and dried curly kale leaves into large bite-sized pieces. Rub olive oil into the leaves until evenly coated. Place in a grill basket (even if you’re using the electric grill, as this makes it easier to stir them) and cook until crisp and starting to brown, using a small metal spatula to stir them frequently. Season as you would oven-baked kale chips.
Adapted from Wild About Greens by Nava Atlas