Once you become a seasonal eater, a farm market shopper, a CSA member, or all three, greens will almost inevitably become part of your life. Everyone’s mad for greens these days, and it’s no wonder. Greens are recognized as the most nutrient-rich group of veggies, and they convey a multitude of benefits. Hardy greens, like kale, chard, and collards, are superb sources of highly absorbable calcium, a perk that’s especially valuable in plant-based diets.
Greens are also one of the best sources of vitamin K, essential to bone health, and are abundant in vitamins A, B (especially folic acid), and C. Greens provide a wealth of antioxidants and chlorophyll, protect against cancer, and are anti-inflammatory. 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 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 very mild greens flavor. For either juices or smoothies, a big handful or two of spinach or one or two good-size kale or collard leaves per serving is about right. Greens blend well with bananas, apples, berries, and pears. A high-speed blender (such as Vitamix or Blendtec, though they’re quite an investment) is needed to break kale and collards down smoothly; a regular blender is sufficient for spinach. For specific recipes, search the Internet for “green smoothies” and you’ll find a wealth of ideas.
2. Use “massaged” raw kale in salads.
Strip rinsed kale leaves from their stems (in my opinion, ordinary curly kale is best for this purpose), then chop the leaves into bite-size pieces. You can thinly slice the stems and add them to your salad later, or use them in lightly cooked vegetable dishes (or if you don’t care for the stems, discard them). Make sure the kale isn’t wet before starting; use a salad spinner if you like. Place the cut kale in a serving bowl. Rub a little olive oil into your palm, then massage the kale for about forty-five seconds or a minute. It will soften up and turn bright green. To this you can add all manner of other veggies and fruits; dress the mixture as desired. Here’s a simple formula that I’ve been enjoying for years: toss massaged kale with dried cranberries, toasted or raw cashew pieces, vegan mayonnaise, and a little lemon juice. It’s downright addictive. Massaged kale also goes well with avocados, 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, or the aforementioned vegan mayo and lemon juice.
3. Add hardy greens to stir-fries.
The best greens to use for this purpose are lacinato kale (also called dinosaur kale, a flat-leaf variety), collards, or chard. Rinse and dry the leaves, then strip them from the stems (slice the stems from the kale and chard very thinly and use them as well). Stack a few leaves atop one another and roll up snugly from the 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. They blend well with all manner of veggies—broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, celery, bok choy (itself a leafy green), asparagus, green beans, and others. Stir-fried greens flavored with soy sauce or tamari and ginger are supertasty.
4. Use plenty of 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 greens and sprouts plus your favorite salad veggies and fruits for cleansing (and clean-tasting) salads.
5. Learn to love 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, deep 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 a quarter cup water or vegetable stock. Cover and cook until tender and wilted, about five minutes. Traditional additions to this kind of braise are raisins and toasted pine nuts, salt and pepper, and a little apple cider vinegar.
Cover photo: Richard Eskite
Excerpted from the book Plant Power: Transform Your Kitchen, Plate, and Life with More Than 150 Fresh and Flavorful Vegan Recipes by Nava Atlas. Reprinted with permission from HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, copyright 2014.