Tips for cooking with kale, swiss chard, spinach, collards, and other greens.
You’ve heard the term, maybe you’ve even danced around them, but what exactly are dark leafy greens? And why are they touted by so many nutritionists?
Dark leafy greens are varied in texture, size and taste but they are grouped into one family because of their bold hunter green hue and common nutrient content. Some of the greens also come in a small variety of colors (purple kale or red swiss chard, for example) and those too provide the same healthy boost as their verdant counterparts. The more color saturation of a fruit or vegetable, the more vitamins and minerals it supplies. So our dark leafy friends pack quite a punch when it comes to being nutrient dense.
The dark leafy family includes kale (green and purple, curly and dinosaur), swiss chard (green, red, and rainbow) collard greens, mustard greens, dandelion greens, spinach, beet greens, and turnip greens. They all are excellent sources of vitamins A and C, calcium, magnesium, iron and potassium. Plant leaves are rich in chlorophyll, thus their robust color, and chlorophyll supports liver function and blood production.
To help you get to know them better, here are some interesting and lesser known facts:
Kale contains lutein and zeaxanthin which protect eyes from macular degeneration and colon against cancer.
Swiss Chard can ease constipation, helps stop hemorrhaging, and supports lungs and liver.
Collard Greens and Turnip Greens contain almost the same amount of calcium as milk.
Dandelion Greens are quite bitter which indicates they’re a good tonic for the liver, spleen, pancreas, stomach and kidneys. A diuretic, laxative and anti-rheumatic; improves digestion, stimulates liver, reduces inflammation; antiviral, improves eczema, acne, jaundice, cirrhosis, gout and hepatitis.
Mustard Greens’ bitter bite means that they move stuck energy so are good for stagnant issues like colds, arthritis, and depression.
Spinach moistens, supports vision, helps constipation, supports functioning of stomach, liver and large intestine, quenches thirst.
Beet Greens are more health-promoting than the beets themselves, with notable amounts of the B-complex vitamin.
When buying any of the dark greens, look for vibrant color, leaves that “stand at attention,” crisp edges, no browning or wilting and of course organic, to avoid toxins and pesticides.
Preparation of spinach is the most familiar so here’s a recipe to encourage getting the other greens onto your table. (This works best with greens other than spinach.)
One bunch dark leafy greens, rinsed thoroughly, thick center stem removed, torn into large pieces
1.5 T olive oil (less if using a non-stick pan)
One yellow onion, chopped
⅓ cup fruit juice-sweetened dried cranberries (or raisins or currants)
1 T fresh lemon juice
Sea salt and freshly ground black or pink pepper
1 T Seaweed Gomasio (a blend of dried seaweed, sesame seeds and salt)
1. Sauté the onions in olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet until translucent and well wilted, even a bit brown if you enjoy that. Mix in the cranberries and let cook for 1-2 minutes.
2. Turn the heat to medium low and add the dark leafy greens. Using tongs, keep flipping them over so the ones on the top reach the heat on the bottom. After 2-3 minutes they should start to wilt.
3. Sprinkle on the lemon juice, salt and pepper and flip with the tongs to coat. Right away add a scant tablespoon of water and cover immediately to capture the steam.
4. Let stand covered for 1-2 minutes, only until the greens are bright and vibrant. As soon as they’re bright green, take them out of the pan and put onto a serving plate. They will continue to cook with the residual heat.
5. Taste and add more lemon juice, salt or pepper as your preference dictates. Sprinkle generously with gomasio and serve immediately!
The vitamin C in the lemon juice assists the absorption of the iron in the greens. Use this recipe as a starting point and then get creative – put over a rice pilaf, stir into quinoa, or even have it for breakfast.
Kale in particular is a very versatile green. It can be roasted with olive oil, nutritional yeast, onion powder and sea salt to create dry “ kale crisps” that even kids love.
A raw kale salad is best when the clean kale is torn by hand, put into a large bowl and massaged with olive oil then left to soften slightly for about 15-30 minutes. When combined with other salad veggies (shredded carrots, tomatoes, celery, red cabbage, etc) it becomes a hearty and soul-satisfying dish. Dressing for kale salad needs to be assertive like the green itself – here’s a good one: Lime
Cumin Salad Dressing
Freshly squeezed lime juice
1-2 drops of essential oil of lime (therapeutic grade only)*
Freshly ground pepper
Use twice as much olive oil as lime juice. Add the essential oil of lime* and about a scant teaspoon of cumin for every ¼ cup of olive oil. Add salt and pepper and taste, taste, taste! Adjust as you go. If you have extra leftover, it will keep well in a glass jar in the fridge for about a week but you will have to add fresh lime juice to perk it up.
*Not all essential oils are safe to be ingested. Check the label to ensure that it is an approved supplement and safe for consumption.
Enjoy experimenting with the dark leafies: I’d love to hear how your creations turn out!
Laura Freundlich holds a Master’s in Holistic Health Education, is a nutrition educator, a natural foods chef, a yoga teacher and a Young Living Essential Oils health advisor. To learn how to integrate nutrition, yoga, mindfulness practices or essential oils into your life for greater health and vibrancy, contact Laura at Laura@HolisticNut.com or visit www.HolisticNut.com