Most of us are always trying to get more greens into our diets, especially during the colder months. Winter is actually high season for some unparalleled greens, including chard, collards, and kale. (Yes, many of these can grow in your snowy backyard and even survive those intense blizzards and ice storms.)
You can get them straight from local farmers, conveniently bagged from the supermarket, or possible even from the freezer section. Regardless of how you're buying them, you're getting tons of nutrition! They are jam-packed with calcium, potassium, iron, folate, vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin K, fiber and chronic disease-busting antioxidants, like the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin.
From a quick garlicky saute to a slow, flavorful braise, there are many ways to prepare them to still get that cozy, comfort food-feel out of your winter green dishes.
Let's dive into the sea of green and see just what we have to work with, shall we? (As a sidenote, if you've been avoiding these nutritious superstars because of their bitter reputations, this guide is for you. Learn how to look past that bitterness and discover the flavorful potential once you balance these awesome veggies with the right ingredients.)
Here are a few of our favorites:
1. Beet Greens
Next time you buy beet root, think twice before tossing those greens! They are both edible and delish with a sweet, earthy flavor. As a matter fact, they are the most nutritious part of the plant! They are an excellent source of calcium and magnesium.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Aim for crisp leaves that aren't slimy or wilted. Look for a lively green color! Refrigerate your beet greens in an air-tight plastic bag for up to four days.
USES: Their mild, earthy flavor works well in raw salads, quick sautes, or even steamed.
SPECIAL NOTE: Since beet greens contain oxalic acid, a quick 3 minute boil helps bring out their sweet, mild flavor and rid them of some undesirable acids. Simply add them to already boiling, lightly salted water. Immediately remove after 3 minutes.
2. Mustard Greens
This next favorite is a magnificent detoxifier, packed with antioxidants that boost both Phase 1 and Phase 2 of liver detoxification processes. This makes it a great weapon against cancer.
These greens are also praised for their cholesterol-lowering ability raw or cooked. How? Mustard greens have fiber-type nutrients that bind with bile acids in the intestine and keep them there instead of absorbing into our bloodstream. This helps reduce the amount of fat and cholesterol that is being absorbed. This mustard green super power is especially strong when steamed.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Search for unblemished, crisp, lively, rich green leaves. Avoid any spotted, yellowish leaves. Smaller leaves tend to be more tender.
USES: Add baby greens to salads. Make a quick lunch by briefly sauteing them and mixing with walnuts and bulgur. Add chopped mustard greens to a veggie-rich pasta salad. Their bold, peppery taste also works well in indian-style lentil curries. They also work wonders in Asian stir-fries.
This green has long been valued for its "cleansing" properties. Recent research shows it contains one of the highest concentrations of glucosinolates than any other vegetable. Glucosinolates are sulfur-containing compounds that play a role in cancer prevention. They're also strong inducers of enzymes involved in your liver's detox activities. Watercress also has super high concentrations of anti-cancer carotenoids, including lutein and beta-carotene.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Choose green leaves with no yellow spots or slippery stems. That's a sign they are beyond bitter and stale. USES: Add watercress to your favorite winter salads. They're a great simple addition to a sandwich. They're great raw or cooked (especially sauteed or steamed).
4. Dandelion Greens
These poor guys are often frowned upon as a pesty weed. That weed you're looking at is actually packed with vitamins A, C, K, several B vitamins, calcium, iron, and fiber!
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Look for flat, crisp leaves.
USES: If you're looking for flavorful greens, these are it! They add a pleasant, peppery taste to your dishes. Try them in a soup. They're popularly cooked with a tasty vinaigrette and garlic to balance off the bitterness. Stir them into your favorite pasta recipe or tomato-based sauce.
And now for a milder green to replace those spring and summer lettuces! We choose the charming chard! Chard is unique in its beneficial effects on blood sugar control. Although more human studies are needed, lab studies show beneficial hypoglycemic effects. Chard is also a great support for bone health as it is rich in calcium, magnesium, and vitamin K.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Select the most vivid green leaves with crisp stalks.
USES: Stir-fry brown rice with fresh chard. Use chard instead of spinach in your favorite egg scramble, omelete, frittata, or quiche. The secret to bringing out its sweetness, though, is adding them to plenty of boiling water (stems and all) for 3 minutes to release undesirable acids. Discard the boiling water.
This list is no where near finished! There are still so many winter greens to play with in the kitchen. Parsley, endive, escarole, arugula, kale, spinach. The list goes on.
- toss them on pizzas
- use them as a base for fresh or warm winter salads
- stuff your favorite baked potatoes with them
- wilt a few ribboned handfuls into a soup
- add them to your morning frittata
- snack on them (we know you've already heard of kale chips!)
- get your morning boost and blend them into a yummy, spicy winter green smoothie with your favorite fruits
- don't forget how well they go with seafood
- bath them in a garlicy vinaigrette
- layer them in a lasagna
1. Nutr Res. 2008 Jun;28(6):351-7.
2. Am J Clin Nutr February 2007 vol. 85 no. 2 504-510
3. Int J Vitam Nutr Res. 2002 Jan;72(1):26-31.