It’s no secret that leafy greens are some of the healthiest foods you can put in your body, but sometimes green newbies are intimidated by all the varieties of greens and the various preparations. Never fear, these seven tips to make the most of your leafy greens will be VERY helpful. You’ll be able to select, store, and prepare greens like a superstar. Whether you prefer kale, collards, cabbage, chard, or bok choy, you will find some great tips here from a self-described kale nerd girl.
Watch me make my favorite recipe for Kale Salad in this video in partnership with Oahu Fresh!
What’s so great about leafy greens?
Oh, let’s count the ways!
Leafy greens, especially collards and kale, are famous for their high mineral content, notably calcium, magnesium, Vitamins A, K and C, and iron. Like all other plant foods, leafy greens are high in fiber, and can help the body’s detoxification systems. And because of the high antioxidant content, greens are good for overall disease prevention and optimum wellness. Most leafy greens contain potent phytochemicals known as glucosinolates that are helpful for cancer prevention.
So why are people hesitant to try new greens? I think it’s because they have a bit of a bad reputation. Greens like collards and kale can be bitter or tough, especially if they are undercooked; but if greens are overcooked or (sorry, Popeye!) canned, they can be mushy, tannic, and horrible to look at. Fresh greens that are old or improperly stored can be bitter, slimy or off-tasting. None of which you want on your dinner plate!
The first set of tips will help you choose and maintain fresh greens whether you buy from the market, store, or pick from your own garden. The second set of tips will help you prepare the greens in the best way possible.
1. Make sure your greens are GREEN
There should not be yellowing or browning of the leaves. The leaves should be bright green, and stems should be firm and erect. Lacinato kale and red Russian kale will have purple/blueish stems if they are healthy, while others will be light green. If you’re buying pre-washed greens in a container, be sure the bottom greens look fresh, light and not smashed.
2. Make sure they SQUEAK
Fresh, vibrant kale, collards and chard will quietly squeak if you squeeze the leaves gently. This means there is ample water in the leaves and that it has been grown well. To check, squish a leafy gently in your hand and listen carefully– it should squeak in the same way that very clean teeth squeak. It sounds weird, but it’s one of the best tips for finding greens that will be great tasting and nutrient-dense.
3. Check for bugs
Gross, but true! Kale, cabbage, collards and others in this large brassica family tend to attract little white butterflies, also known as cabbage moths. They lay eggs, which hatch into green worms that love to eat greens. If there are a lot of holes in your greens, check for the bright green worms. A few holes is not a big deal, so don’t pass up a nice bunch of greens if there are only a few; if you find worms once you get home, simply pick them off and toss them into the yard. Aphids, tiny little gray bugs that also like greens, are harder to wash off, so if there are a lot of aphids, find another bunch of greens to take home.
4. Soak your greens to help them bounce back from ‘shock’
When you get home from the market or the store, give all your greens a cool-water bath in the sink. Then stick them into a bowl or jar and cover the stem ends with water (just like you would for cut flowers). This allows the greens to cool down, absorb some of the water they might have lost since being picked and during transport, and ensures a much longer life in your fridge. They will sometimes double in size after soaking!
1. Learn to cook greens well
Big leaves like chard, choi sum, bok choi, kale, collards and broccoli leaves (if you are lucky enough to find them!) are quickly softened with gentle heat to create a delicate and wholesome component to your meal. Add greens at the very end or a stir-fry, curry, or pasta sauce for a burst of green goodness. Cook for just a minute to wilt, and then enjoy while still warm! If you are using baby greens or lighter greens (think spinach, baby Swiss chard, or baby kales) you can eat raw or lightly cooked (really lightly, like 10-20 seconds) for the best flavor and nutrient retention.
My new favorite version of cooked kale is to sauté some onions in coconut or olive oil until just browned. Add thinly sliced kale and one diced date – the richness of the onion and the sweetness of the dates make this simple dish totally delicious.
Kale and spinach can also be used raw in salads or smoothies, or massaged with some lemon juice for a simple kale salad. Try mixing your favorite dressings, beans, and even cooked veggies for a wide variety of kale salad awesomeness.
2. Prepare your greens ahead of time
Coming home to a fridge full of prepared greens (and other veggies, too) can help make homemade meals so much easier and so much less stressful. To prepare your greens for future use, tear all the stems off your kale and collards. You can then slice the leaves thinly and store in airtight containers for up to a week. Cabbage and other veggies can also be sliced, diced or chopped ahead of time. Some sources suggest that some of the nutritional value might be lost due to oxidation, but the majority will still be there when you get to them later in the week– and if it encourages you to eat more veggies throughout the week, then I say go for it!
3. Eat greens at least once each day
Because they are so versatile and delicious, you can enjoy leafy greens everyday in a variety of ways. Choose a different green each day to add nutritional and texture variety, and try to eat a mixture of raw and cooked greens.
Here are some great recipes for leafy greens to help you get your daily dose of greenery:
- Polenta Pizza and Kale Pesto
- Easy Kale Salad
- Coconut Quinoa with Kale
- Easy Quinoa Pilaf with Kale
- Miso Glazed Greens
- Vegan Chicken Caesar Salad with Kale
- Kelp Noodle & Kale Salad
- … and if you end up with too much, How to Freeze Kale