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Thursday, September 5, 2013

Delicious Greens

Leafy greens are delicious! Of course, I didn't always feel that way. There was a time when my knowledge of vegetables was extremely limited. How limited? My idea of a vegetable side dish was either an unevenly heated bag (yes - bag) of cauliflower, carrot, and broccoli medley fresh from the microwave, or even better, veggie flavored crackers topped with a processed uncheese. It gives me the shivers just thinking about it.

Allergies opened my culinary world up. You would think that I would be more restricted, but there were so many delicious foods I never touched. Pre-allergy Cami was all about convenience and chemically fueled flavor enhancers. Now I take the time to peel and slice butternut squash (and discovered that it makes delicious oven baked fries - even better than sweet potato fries, but that's another post).  I am glad that I was forced into learning how to live with a whole foods diet. My crash course was ugly at times.  Learning cardamom and turmeric are spices that should be used sparingly was a painful, disgusting lesson. Properly pairing spices, learning when to appreciate foods in their natural, unheated state, and how to properly prepare greens are all things I'm glad I took the time to do.

Kale and Beet Greens sauteed as outlined below

All greens do not score evenly in my book, and my husband is even more particular. I have never developed a taste for collard greens.  I've tried them raw as a wrap, boiled to death, and sauteed, and none of the preparations have warmed me to the vegetable. Any other green I've tried was an instant success. Kale is good raw, especially if it's baby kale or marinated in a dressing that has a healthy amount of acid (either citrus or vinegar based). Most other greens I prefer lightly cooked, whether it be steamed or sauteed.

Friends and family have expressed concerns around eating a lot of leafy greens because of oxalic acid.  Oxalic acid is suspected to have a correlation to the formation of kidney stones.  The problem would be when oxalic acid pairs with calcium in the body and forms crystals that build into stones. I try to pair leafy greens with a little bit of citrus to cut down on the risk, although I've honestly found very little articles of substance to validate the claim.  There are also some new articles online defending oxalic acid, arguing that high salt and animal protein intake are more likely to result in the production of kidney stones.  I would just like to say there is room for debate.

A few things I will say about leafy greens before I go on to some simple recipes:
  • Wash them! A lot! Aphids love kale and dirt clings to mustard greens. I use a big bowl of water with either produce wash or food grade hydrogen peroxide, following instructions. Swish the greens around in the water before rinsing with a strong spray.
  • Do not use oils to cook outside of known healthy oils like grapeseed and coconut oil. Especially do not use canola. I read this article and was horrified.
  • Get them fresh! If the leaves are firm and full, you have a good bunch.  If they are feeling slightly limp at the farmers market or store, put them back. Usually that means they will be wilted within a day.
  • Check the stems. If there are dark black spots, mold is setting in.
  • Don't chop them before you are ready to use them. It's tempting to buy pre-chopped greens, but I have noticed that the exposed stem/ribs mold faster.
  • Don't be afraid to try them raw. 
  • Pair them with citrus.
  • Read about all of the wonderful health benefits of these delicious, under utilized veggies.
It can be really difficult to get kids to try new things. I am not above hiding veggies in unexpected places.  Just tonight, my husband made a delicious meatloaf with sauteed kale, shallots, and celery blended and combined with some spices. We will be posting that recipe soon.

Simple Kale Preparation
1 bunch kale
1/2 lemon, juice
pinch of salt
1-2 tsp coconut oil

Wash, rinse, and roughly chop the kale. Heat a saute pan up to medium heat and add the coconut oil to the pan to coat. Add the kale and salt, stirring often. After a couple minutes, add the lemon juice, distributing it evenly over the kale. If you squeeze the lemon over one spot, the kale will soak it up and it will be surprising. Only cook the kale until it is tender and a rich, uniform green - which should only take around five to ten minutes.

Variations: Try adding a bunch of beet greens, some garlic, or an onion. Turnip greens or beet greens alone prepared this way are very good.  I like mustard greens substituted for kale, but my husband prefers them with some onion added to temper the bitterness.

Fresh Baby Kale Salad
baby kale
arame or hijiki seaweed, soaked and rehydrated
julienned carrots
finely sliced green onions
miso dressing

Wash the veggies and prepare as necessary. Toss with miso dressing and let sit anywhere from 0-90 minutes. I have the patience of a gnat, so I don't wait. Waiting at least 20 minutes would give the kale a chance to break down a bit and become more tender. 

Steamed Greens
Any Green
pinch of salt
spray of lemon juice

This is my favorite simple recipe.  Just wash and rinse the greens, put them in a steamer, and remove them from the steam when the greens get to a darker green and are tender when sampled (about 1-2 minutes after the water starts boiling).  Add a little salt and lemon juice after they are cooked.