I’ve been reading a lot about optimal nutrition lately. We are bombarded every day with all kinds of diet and nutrition advice, but all the experts seem to agree on one thing – green vegetables are the healthiest thing you can eat, and you can’t over-eat them. (For the purposes of this discussion, “green vegetables” include all non-starchy green vegetables, such as dark leafy greens [mustard, turnip, kale, collards, spinach], salad greens, artichokes, green beans, zucchini, bok choy, cabbage, and asparagus. As a rule, the darker the color, the higher the nutrient density. Starchy veggies like green peas don’t count.)
Greens really are the superstars of the nutrition world. All green vegetables, leafy greens in particular, are dense in nutrients and very low in calories. Calorie for calorie, they have more iron and protein than red meat and more calcium than dairy. Even more important, they are loaded with fiber, phytochemicals, and antioxidants – all things that animal foods lack. Scientists are just beginning to understand how some of these properties keep us healthy.
Most people tend to eat about the same weight of food every day, not the same number of calories, so if you are like the typical American and wanting to shed a few pounds, try cutting back on calorie dense foods and filling up on watery, low calorie foods instead. A pound of green vegetables only contains between 100 and 150 calories, and is chock full of nutrients. Leafy greens should be base of your personal food pyramid. Instead of shooting for 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day, try aiming a bit higher.
In his book Eat To Live, Dr. Joel Furhman advocates eating a pound of raw greens and a pound of cooked greens every single day! He acknowledges that this is a pretty tough standard to meet, ad it designed to help you lose weight, but for most folks, it should be your goal. I will admit that eating a pound of raw green veggies every day is tough for me, especially in the winter when I don’t even want to look at cold food, but eating a pound of cooked greens is considerably easier.
Let’s look at some ways to make eating all that green stuff (cooked and raw) simpler and tastier. (By the way – you should also be eating red, green, yellow, and other colors of vegetables, but the 2 pounds Furhman is recommending are just green veggies – mainly dark, leafy greens. The other veggies are above and beyond those two pounds. You can see pretty quickly how one could lose weight on this plan. It’s hard to fit in all the vegetables, without even looking at the rest of the foods on the program!)
If you want more ideas for cooking greens after checking out the recipes below, look at my “Eating of the Greens” article from 2 years ago, on the sidebar.
It’s pretty chilly out right now so a smoothie might not be tops on your list of ways to start the day. If that’s the case, save this recipe for warmer weather. Some folks, however, don’t seem to mind cold food in the winter, so here goes. I know it sounds bizarre, but trust me – it’s delicious.
Bizarre Broccoli-Spinach Smoothie
Serves as many as you like
Prep time: 5 minutes
Frozen broccoli florets
Orange juice (your favorite kind)
Frozen spinach leaves (loose in bag – optional)
Pour about a cup of frozen broccoli florets per serving into a sturdy blender. Pour enough orange juice to cover the broccoli. Blend, adding extra juice if you like to make the consistency more drinkable. This will make a strange looking drink (greenish orange), so to make it a prettier shade of green, throw in a handful of frozen spinach leaves and blend again. Voila! Emerald perfection.
Note: this recipe sounds strange, but it’s really delicious. The frozen broccoli has very little flavor – it just makes the orange juice taste icy. The spinach just adds color – not much flavor – and boosts the smoothie’s antioxidant profile as well.
Don’t try this with fresh (non-frozen) veggies. It is definitely not the same!
Almost-as-Easy-but-Less-Bizarre-Sounding Spinach Soup
Serves 2 as a main course, or 4 as a first course
Prep time: 10 minutes
1 16-ounce bag frozen spinach leaves (see notes)
2 garlic cloves
1 cup unsweetened soy milk
sea salt and pepper to taste
lemon juice (optional, to taste)
nutritional yeast (optional, to taste)
1. Thaw a bag of frozen spinach and throw it into your blender (a Vitamix works best, but any blender will do). Add the garlic and soy milk. Blend until smooth. Add enough water to make a nice soupy consistency.
2. Warm the soup up on the stovetop or in the microwave, adding salt, pepper, lemon juice, and/or nutritional yeast to taste.
Cook’s Notes: You can use any frozen greens you like. Frozen collards, mustard greens, kale, and turnip greens all work well this way.
Greens A La Lisa
This is the default way I flavor greens when I don’t have any particular ethnic cuisine in mind. Think of it as “nouvelle Southern”. My dirty little secret is that I often use the bags of cleaned, pre-prepped fresh greens available in the produce section rather than prepping my own.
2 pounds of cleaned greens (mustard or turnip greens, collards, kale), chopped roughly
2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large or 2 small yellow onions, chopped
3-6 large garlic cloves, as desired
1 or 2 veggie bullion cubes (I like Rapunzel Vegan Bullion cubes – any flavor)
2-4 tablespoons nutritional yeast (to taste)
1. If using fresh greens, clean them and prep them as needed (removing tough stems, cutting or tearing leaves into bite-sized pieces, etc.). If using bagged, prepped greens, just open the bag(s) and set aside.
2. Heat oil in a large pot. Saute onion and garlic over medium heat until the onion is somewhere between lightly golden and brown. Don’t burn the onion or garlic.
3. Add the greens, and crumble in the bullion cube(s). Add enough water to come up about 2/3 of the way up the greens. Bring to a boil, and then lower the heat, cover, and simmer for 20 – 30 minutes for kale, and a little longer (up to 2 hours) for the tougher greens. Just make sure that the water doesn’t entirely cook out or you can burn the greens. I like to leave a fair bit of “pot likker” in my greens, but you might prefer yours cooked almost dry.
4. Taste the greens when they are cooked through, and add salt, pepper, and nutritional yeast if you think they need a little more “oomph”. Serve them as is or with pepper vinegar.
Cooks Notes: You can cook these greens in a large crock pot if you like. If you have no time for prep, cut the recipe in half and throw everything into a 6 quart cooker and set it on high for 2 – 3 hours, or on low for up to 10 hours for collards.
If you have a few minutes, saute the onion and garlic first, add the greens and a portion of the liquid, cover the greens for about 10 minutes and let them wilt down. Then you can fit the full recipe into a 6-quart cooker. Cook for 2-4 hours on high, or up to 12 hours on low (less time for kale, more for collards).
Serve with corn bread, beans, and baked sweet potatoes for a perfect cold-weather meal.
Super-Simple Fried Cabbage
One of the least expensive green vegetables – easy and quick to cook up as a side dish. Another Southern specialty – just like my mom makes it.
1 large green cabbage – outer leaves removed (save if desired for stuffing)
1 large yellow onion, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced (optional)
2 tablespoons (or less) canola oil
sea salt and pepper to taste
1. Shred cabbage and set aside.
2. Heat the oil in a large skillet, and saute the onion (and garlic, if using) until it begins to color. Add the cabbage and cook until desired texture. (I like it cooked and browned thoroughly — the cabbage become very sweet when cooked that long — but you do lose some vitamins that way.)
Cook’s Notes: Substitute toasted sesame oil for the canola oil and add a tablespoon of shredded ginger along with the garlic to give the cabbage a Chinese flair. Just cook it until tender but still crisp. You can also substitute bok choy or any other Chinese green for the regular cabbage. Instead of seasoning with salt and pepper, add a tablespoon or so of soy sauce to finish the sauce.
Winter Salad Ideas
If you can look at raw veggies this time of year (I’m trying!), try some of the following seasonal suggestions to spice up your salads. Keep dressings to a minimum to avoid piling on the calories. To get the most flavor from your dressing with the least calorie load, try keeping your dressing on the side, and dipping the tines of your fork in the dressing before spearing a bite of salad. Each bite ends up flavored with dressing, but you’ll only use a fraction of what you would normally pour over a salad.
Use mixed baby greens. (A huge bowl only weighs about 4 ounces, so eat up!)
Add sections of mandarin oranges (clementines) or tangerines.
Top with a small amount of toasted, chopped nuts, and dress with a mixture of 1 part extra virgin olive oil to 2 parts raspberry vinegar or 2 parts orange juice with a splash of lemon. Add a little sea salt and pepper to taste.
On a plate of mixed baby greens or baby spinach leaves, sprikle fresh pomegranate seeds. (Wear an old apron or old t-shirt when digging the seeds out of the fruit – the juice squirts and stains.) Dress with one part extra virgin olive oil and 2 parts pomegranate juice with a splash of lemon.
Add diced, cooked beets and a little fresh dill to your salad greens. Dress your salad with a little orange juice –olive oil dressing as described above.
For creamy dressings with less fat and fewer calories (not to mention more protein and “sticking power”), use pureed silken tofu instead of mayonaisse and unsweetened soy milk mixed with a tablespoon of lemon juice in place of buttermilk.
Toss dried fruit (cranberries are especially nice in the winter, as are dried tart cherries) into your favorite salad. A diced apple (Pink Ladies are my current fave) or a perfectly ripe pear (Red Bosc are pretty) pairs well with the dried fruit. Add a fruity vinaigrette.
Make a winter slaw with shredded cabbage, diced apple, dried cranberry, and dress with a light tofu-based creamy dressing. You can even add a little cinnamon or a bit of fresh ginger for more zing.