Seeing Green –and I’m Not Talking about Money or Jealousy
My parents are smart folks. They used the old cartoon character “Popeye the sailor man” to get me to eat my spinach when I was a kid, telling me I would grow big and strong like Popeye. Fortunate for them it worked, even though the spinach we had growing up was that nasty overcooked mushy green slimy stuff in a can. They would attempt to disguise the nasty taste with some sort of vinegar. The texture – well, was something I had to “get past” if I wanted to leave the table, let alone get any dessert. Nowadays there would not be a snowball’s chance in h*ll that you would even find one of those disgusting cans in our home. However, despite the trauma to my childhood palate, I truly enjoy preparing and eating greens today. What’s the difference? FRESHNESS and variety!
In today’s markets, a local grocery store or farmers market, there are a wide variety of fresh greens readily available to us. These include swiss chard, spinach, kale, beets and mustard greens. Generally speaking, they contain good amounts of A, B2, B6, C, E, folate, calcium, copper, magnesium, potassium, zinc, fiber. While I prefer to use and consume fresh produce, we must remember some are not readily available year around, requiring us to select frozen options or (God forbid) canned options. In the case of leaf greens, I opt for frozen or nothing. I think you got the point.
While some individuals believe raw is the only option for healthy nutrition, Joy C Rickman, Christine M Bruhn and Diane M Barrett, Department of Food Science and Technology, University of California – Davis, concluded the following in their report entitled, “Nutritional Comparison Of Fresh, Frozen, and Canned Fruits and Vegetables II. Vitamin A and Carotenoids, Vitamin E, Minerals and Fiber”, Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture:
“Recently, the obesity epidemic in developed nations has some authorities considering the exclusive recommendation of consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables. While we do not deny the benefits of consuming fresh fruits and vegetables, we believe that the scientific evidence shows that frozen and canned fruits and vegetables should not be excluded from recommendations. These processed forms offer added convenience to the consumer and offer diversity to the diet, while generally sacrificing little in nutrition.”
That being said, I still prefer to purchase fresh greens when the fresh option is available. I like to control the amount of salt added as well as the amount (of heat applied) and method of cooking.
In some cases, as is the case with spinach, “cooked” provides more vitamin A, calcium, iron, magnesium and phosphorus than “raw.” Spinach contains oxalic acid, also called oxalates, which combines with the iron and inhibits its absorption. Oxalic acid also binds with calcium, creating calcium oxalate and inhibits the absorption of calcium. If there is not enough calcium in the diet, the oxalic acid will combine with the calcium in the kidneys and form kidney stones. Therefore, eating raw spinach on a regular basis increases the risk of kidney stones. Cooking spinach breaks down the oxalates and prevents the formation of un-absorbable mineral complexes in the body. Spinach (and other greens) provides a good source of fiber and protein. The high fiber, vitamin C and vitamin A content of spinach provide good protection against colon cancer. The high protein and low carbohydrate content make it a good food for diabetics.
When selecting the larger leaf greens for eating, look for crisp leaves without any sign of wilting or browning and stiff stalks. Keep the greens dry in a plastic bag under refrigeration until they are ready to use, at which point they should be washed thoroughly. Depending on the preparation you are using, the greens can be gently patted dry on a towel or cooked while they are still damp from washing.
When cooking (dark) greens, I like to steam them in a little wine just until the leaves wilt a little and their color darkens, no more. I steam vs. braising in liquid to minimize nutritional leaching (nutrients lost in water not consumed). I flavor them with shallots or garlic, a little salt and pepper and add some sort of acid, either citrus (lemon or lime) or a vinegar (take your pick). Rainbow Chard (a variety of chard with different colored stems such as white, yellow, red, pink and of course green) is one of my favorites that offers a visually appealing side dish or salad entrée. I use ALL of the chard, stems included. It is a classic combination of tastes and textures I have modified a bit. Try my version below and let me know what you think.
Rainbow Chard with White Wine, Dried Cranberries and Pine Nuts
1 lb. of Rainbow chard (2 large bunches), rinsed and patted dry
1½ tablespoons, olive oil
1/8 cup white wine
1 large shallot, finely minced
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup roasted/toasted pine nuts (or toasted sliced almonds if you prefer)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1) Cut the stems out of the chard leaves, setting the stems aside.
2) Pile the leaves together and roll the leaves up. Slice the roll of chard leaves into 1” ribbons, and set aside in a large mixing bowl for tossing.
3) Pour the wine over the chard leaves and toss in the bowl.
4) Finely chop the stems (~ 1/4” dice).
5) In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat, add the shallot and chopped stems and cook until the shallots are translucent and the stems are tender but crunchy.
6) Turn the heat up to high and add the chard leaves in wine to the pan, tossing them into the oil and shallots. Cook the chard leaves for about 2 minutes, or until they are just beginning to wilt and tender.
7) Season the chard with salt and pepper. Add the cranberries and toss them in the hot pan. Garnish with the nuts. Serve immediately.
Note: For added flavor, fry some uncured applewood smoked bacon until crispy, reserving a SMALL amount of the fat for sautéing the shallots and stems. Chop the bacon to use as an additional garnish.
Until next time, eat some greens, take some brisk walks and laugh till it hurts. You’ll be glad you did.
Chef David Hall, CGC