Dark green leafy vegetables are easily the most nutritious addition to your diet. They are an excellent source of vitamins A, C and K and have bragging rights as a good source of several other vitamins and minerals. As the kale trend continues, it might be challenging for some to join Team Kale when they are trying to gnaw on a somewhat bitter and fibrous piece of vegetation. If this is you, you are at the right place! Learning how to cook your greens is the key to unlocking the love for this nutrient power house.
Leafy greens claim to fame is their nutritional adequacy, but their versatility is another trait that is definitely worth talking about. While many find raw kale, chard and collards to be tough and strong in flavor, add the right amount of heat, healthy oil and seasoning and you will be thrilled with the delicious outcome.
Before heating up this conversation with the proper cooking techniques for leafy greens, your success starts at the market. When buying, look for greens that are vibrant in color and crisp versus dull or yellowing with wilted leaves. Younger leaves are typically smaller and will have a more mild flavor so if this is your first go, look for smaller leaves or even varieties labeled as “baby” kale or chard. Store greens in an airtight container or bag to help keep them crisp.
Now for the fun part, cooking your greens. Below are 5 ways to cook your green to full potential.
Blanch or steam
Blanching and steaming are both moist-heat cooking methods, because they use water, liquid or steam to heat food. To blanch, heat a pot of water to boil and season with salt. Submerge chopped greens in the boiling water for a minute or less and then quickly shock them by putting them in cold water to halt the cooking. To steam, you will need a pot and a steamer basket. Add a small amount of water to the pot and bring to a boil. Add 2-3 handfuls of chopped green to the steamer basket and cover for 5-8 minutes or until greens are cooked to desired tenderness.
Blanched and steamed greens are a great addition to wraps, sandwiches, salads or as a nutritious and delicious side. Add a sprinkle of salt and pepper or your favorite seasoning to boost the flavor. Here are a few seasoning combos to try:
- Garlic, dried parsley and dried dill
- Sesame seeds and asian 5 spice with a drizzle of sesame oil
- Garlic with a sprinkle of parmesan and a squeeze of lemon
Sturdy greens like kale, collards and chard, as well as softer varieties like spinach, arugula, mustard greens or bok choy are all great additions to a mixed vegetable saute or as a side of their own. To saute, heat a small amount of oil on medium heat and add greens. Toss greens until fully coated in oil and cooked to desired tenderness. If cooking with other vegetables be aware of how firm the other vegetables are and the order in which you add them to the skillet. For example, if sauteing squash, potatoes or carrots it’s good practice to cook them for 7-10 minutes before adding your more delicate vegetables like spinach and arugula. Here’s a combination to try:
Start by sauteing ½ an oil in 2 Tbsp of oil. Add a tsp of garlic and a dash of salt after onions have start to soften and become transparent. Add 2-3 handfuls of greens and toss until lightly coated with oil. Cover pan for 1-2 minutes and then retoss greens to cook evenly. Continue this method until cooked to desired tenderness.
The method of braising is typically used in meat dishes and involves a small amount of oil at the start of cooking and then adding liquid to finish cooking. This method can be used for greens as well. Braising greens will soften them and add a depth of flavor that might be challenging to accomplish with either of the cooking methods listed above. Braising is a great method to use for green that are extra firm. Use braising to cook down large kale and collards leaves or consider adding leafy greens when braising meat.
To braise, add a small amount of oil to a large deep skillet. Add ½ c onions, 1 Tbsp garlic, 1 red pepper(diced) and 3-4 cups greens to the skillet and cook until onions and garlic are fragrant. Add a can of diced tomatoes with the liquid and ½ cup of broth of choice to cover the bottom of the pan with a half inch to a full inch of liquid. Cover with lid and let simmer for 5-8 minutes.
Roasting leafy greens might sounds a bit odd, but once you’ve tried kale chips or mixing leafy greens into your roasted vegetables you might want to give this cooking method a try. Roasting is a dry-cooking method because it utilizes fat or oil instead of water or liquid like broth. To roast greens you want to toss them in oil and use your hands or tongs to ensure all part of the leaf are fully covered in oil. Sprinkle salt and pepper to taste and arrange leaves in a single layer on a cookie sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes or until crispy. Let cool for at least 5 minutes (cooking will actually continue and the leaves will get even more deliciously crispy as they cool).
Also consider adding greens to roasted potatoes or firm vegetables after 15-20 minutes of baking. This will add color favor and lots of nutrients!
Soups & Stew:
Adding greens to soups and stews is just about as easy as it gets. No matter the recipe a handful of chopped greens adds that something extra that you might not have even realized it was missing. Whether you prefer vegetable, chicken, beef or pureed soups, the addition of greens goes a long way. Add greens to crockpot chilis or add a handful to leftover chicken noodle soup to sneak in an extra serving of vegetables.
Hearty greens including kale, collards and chard pair well with the rich flavors of beef, while lighter green like spinach and bok choy are great additions to a seafood or white meat soups. Greens can also be added to blended soups like split pea soup, or a rich potato leek soup. Add greens toward the end of cooking and chop them into small pieces if you are “hiding” them from a picky eater.
Have some fun experimenting with different leafy green varieties and finding where each fit into your diet and cooking style. They are extremely forgiving so don’t stress about stepping outside of your comfort zone. Include green in your diet to add flavor, color and a nutrient boost!