The changing seasons conjure images of yearly traditions like holidays, social events and seasonal food. For me, spring and green go together. The color green (as new plants emergy), and edible greens. Citrus fruits aren’t at their peak quality anymore. It’s too early for summer fruits. Time to put greens on the menu.
Benefits of greens
- Easy to use. You can buy greens ready-to-eat, or give them a quick wash. No peeling necessary.
- Versatile. Eat them raw in a salad, add them to soup or a casserole, put them on a pizza or a sandwich or sauté a batch for a quick side dish.
- Widely available. Fresh or frozen, greens are available year round.
- Tasty. Flavors range from mild lettuces to spicey arugula to rich kale.
- Healthy. Fiber, vitamins, minerals — all in a low fat refreshing package.
- For gardeners: easy to grow.
The best greens
From a nutritional standpoint, greens are very similar. They’re low calorie with a high water content; typically 90% or more of the weight is water. All greens have the same mix of vitamins and minerals, although some are particularly good sources of one or another. Kale and collard greens are particularly high in calcium and fiber; kale is also high in vitamin C. Spinach and beet greens are good sources of iron and potassium.
The table below compares nutrient values of common greens on a 100 gram portion basis, which is 2 or more cups of raw greens, a hefty amount to eat at once.
|100 gram portion||calories||fiber grams||vit. A (RAU*)||vit. C mg||folate mcg||potassium mg||magnesium mg||calcium mg||iron mg|
|Green leaf lettuce||15||1.3||370||9.2||38||194||13||36||0.9|
*Vitamin A is expressed in Retinol Activity Units, measured in micrograms. The form of vitamin A in greens will be carotenoids, which must be metabolized to active vitamin A.
Which is “best?” The one(s) you like and will eat. If kale isn’t your thing, focus on spinach or arugula. If you don’t like raw greens, sauté beet greens or chard for a healthy and filling side dish. Or add those (or some chopped spinach) to a soup or rice dish (they go great in risotto). Make your tossed salads with mixed greens. And if you have the space, grow your own greens outside, in a vegetable garden, planter box or pot.
Collard greens are pretty tough, so they have to be cooked. The good news is that cooked collards are delicious in addition to being nutritious. I always order them as a side with BBQ, and add a splash of hot pepper vinegar sauce.
The internet has plenty of recipes for collards. Most call for long slow cooking to tenderize the greens. Most recipes also call for a small amount of meat, to add a rich flavor, which is fine with me, since I’m talking about a ‘sometimes vegetarian’ diet on this website. I suggest cooking the greens with bacon, since you don’t need to use much bacon. This recipe uses only 3 slices. The suggested cooking time is 45 minutes, but most other recipes call for 2 hours or more. The greens should be very tender, so you may need a longer cooking time.
What to serve with collard greens? They are a great side dish for BBQ meats. Or pair collards with a black eyed peas dish for a mostly vegetarian meal.