In a fruit and vegetable rut with the same old banana for breakfast, apple for lunch, and green beans for dinner? That is not too bad. But consider that you can shake it up a little with the kitchen hacks we share here.
Cooking greens will surprise you with their versatility and nutritional pedigree!
Cooking greens have bold flavor and impressive nutrients including: beta carotene, vitamin C, iron and calcium. While these can be found year-round in your grocery store, quality is at its peak during the spring and summer for most greens.
Beet greens are the green tops of this root vegetable and are more nutritious than the beets, providing over 120% RDA for vitamin A, 50% RDA for vitamin C, over 20% RDA for iron and 15% RDA for calcium per 3½ ounces raw greens (which is 2-3 cups). They are delicious steamed and sautéed with garlic and olive oil cooking spray. Finish with fresh lemon juice to bring out the beet flavor.
Collards are a cruciferous vegetable and a member of the cabbage family. They have a mild, cabbage-like flavor and can be sliced thin and mixed in with a variety of dishes such as salads, soups and stir-fry dishes.
Dandelion greens are tender when young, with a taste similar to chicory. They are second to turnip greens in their amount of calcium (187 mg. per 3½ ounces raw greens). They can be added to salads, veggie burgers, sandwiches and pita pockets for variety in texture and flavor.
Kale comes in two varieties: Scotch (with yellowish-green leaves) and Blue (with blue-green leaves). Kale is high in vitamins A, C and E and a good source of iron and calcium while being low in calories. Slice it thin and add it to slaws or salads for variety in flavor (which is like cabbage) and texture. Or slice it thin and add to pasta dishes so it looks like chopped spinach or basil.
Mustard greens have a strong bite so you want to find ones which are young and tender. A small amount added to tossed salads adds a zip about the intensity of a radish. Turnip greens are similar to mustard greens in their sharp flavor but are not in season until the fall. They also go very well with pork chops or roasted poultry.
Swiss chard is similar to spinach in flavor and comes in two colors, white or red; the latter is beautiful with its beet-colored veins throughout the leaves. It is good when sliced thin and tossed into salads, soups or pasta dishes. The very mild flavor makes it a favorite of the Food and Health Communications Test Kitchen.
Tips for tasty greens include:
• choose smaller leaves with a fresh green color,
• keep them chilled as they will taste bitter if left warm,
• store them unwashed in a plastic bag for up to 5 days,
• wash carefully to remove dirt while trimming tough leaves and stems and
• cook quickly in an uncovered pot with very little broth or water to preserve color and nutrients.
The Food for Health Test Kitchen recommends buying a different bunch of greens every week to become familiar with all of them.You will add flavor, color, variety and important nutrients and phytochemicals to all your meals.
Sources: Wellness Encyclopedia of Food and Nutrition, Produce Marketing Association, Bowes and Church Food Values of Portions Commonly Used.
By Robyn DeBell, M.S., R.D.
More Cooking Hacks to Maximize Flavor With Vegetables
Use these quick techniques to prepare delicious vegetable side dishes and entrees.
• BBQ vegetables on your grill. Slice vegetables ¼ to ½ inch thick and marinate in nonfat salad dressing briefly or overnight. Cook on cooler side of the grill.
• Microwave vegetables with small amount of broth or water. Cut the vegetables into same-size pieces. Stir or rotate halfway through cooking. For best results, remove vegetables when crisp-tender and allow to stand for a few minutes to finish cooking.
• Pouches are made easily using aluminum foil. Cut vegetables in same size pieces using a variety of colors and textures. Use sauces (bbq sauce, nonfat salad dressing or salsa) or fresh herbs for flavor. Bake for 20 minutes at 350º til crisp-tender.
• Stove-top grilling is easy with a nonstick grill skillet designed for this purpose. Cut vegetables ¼ to ½ inch thick and use a small amount of a flavored oil cooking spray to keep from sticking.
• Sauté vegetables in a nonstick skillet with flavored broths such as chicken or vegetable or small amount of flavored oil cooking spray. Finish with chopped fresh herbs.
Include Fruit Chutneys and Salsas With Your Meals for Flavor and Variety
These simple-to-prepare, fruit and vegetable based condiments take advantage of fresh produce and add rich flavor and moisture.
• Chutney can be defined as a sweet and sour spiced fruit puree. Most commonly made with mangoes, it can be made with most any dense fruit such as apples, pears, peaches, plums, nectarines, apricots and papayas. Start with 1 large or 2 small fruits, peel and remove pits or seeds. Add 1 tablespoon of sugar and 1 tablespoon of vinegar. Add red onion, fresh ginger and/or spices (e.g. cardamom, ginger or nutmeg). Cook briefly until fruit becomes soft. Serve warm or cold with fish, poultry or grilled vegetables.
• Salsa is traditionally made with tomato, onion, cilantro, chile pepper and bell pepper. It can also be made with any combination of these along with the addition of fruits such as peaches, grapes, apples, pears and/or raspberries. Choose ripe ingredients, chop fine by hand or in the food processor and serve at room temperature. Use for topping baked potatoes, chicken, burgers or fish; additionally serve as a snacking dip.
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