Popeye may have gotten a lot of iron in his canned spinach, but it was missing key nutrients such as vitamins-c and minerals. Plus, I’m not fan of canned vegetables of any type. They taste like tin and metal and have a strange, over cooked texture that makes me want to gag.
I prefer fresh greens, preferably garden grown. It may be difficult to get your hands on fresh squash and pumpkin leaves, but they are worth the effort. They are delicious in soups, stews, baked and stir fried. Go ahead, eat them by the bowl full, low calories and high in vitamins and fiber. They won’t add to your waistline if you don’t add lard.
Here are a few quick and easy recipes and ways to use fresh greens found in your supermarket. Go ahead, don’t be shy, pass up traditional iceberg and romaine lettuces and canned spinach for these delicious additions to any meal.
In the frozen section you can find mustard greens, Swiss chard, and spinach. I even buy economy size bags of raw spinach and other greens and freeze them. These frozen and usually chopped greens make quick stir-fries and delicious additions to any soup or hot-dish. Plus, they don’t take much to cook, when adding them to soups, add them at the end, so the bright green leaves can liven up the meal. When serving them in stir-fries, they take just 5 minutes or so to stir up in extra virgin coconut or olive oil and taste delicious with just a dash of garlic and salt.
You may find the strong flavors of the kale and mustard greens a little off putting at first. But they lend themselves well to garlicky stir fry’s and spicy stews. The delicate flavor of frozen spinach goes well with chicken soup, tomato soup, or as a topper when heating up leftovers. And they are easy and ready to go right from the freezer, no thawing needed.
In the fresh produce section, you can find more tantalizing favorites such as radicchio, butter leaf lettuce, and often many fresh herbs. You don’t need to take a cooking class to understand how to use any of these. Be like the Greeks, Japanese, and other rural cultures, grab a pan, some garlic, some onions (shallot and green onions work), and some oil for a delicious quick meal.
These leafy vegetables are actually inexpensive, compared to frozen varieties. Experiment each week with a new herb and green in your cooking. Most greens are forgiving and can simply be chopped up and added to any dish. However, avoid mustard in late summer and fall since it will often be pungent and woody. Actually, most greens are this way, so look for those with smaller leaves and thin stems. Wash them well and drain well before storing them in a vegetable bag in the refrigerator.
The herbs found in this section shouldn’t be avoided. The mint, tarragon, marjoram, basil, sage, and others all are delicious in small amounts to most dishes we eat every day. I grow some on my deck to cut down on expenses because I use them so much. Take a small handful of any of the herbs you think smell good and gently wash and chop them up. Add them at the end of the cooking time to preserve their delicate flavors, over cooking can make them bland or pungent.
1-Stir fried Healthy goodness- Take any left over vegetables, such as potatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, or tidbits left over from other meals and chop them up. Next chop up a large onion or a bunch of green onions. Dried onion will do, but fresh is better. Chop up some fresh cloves of garlic. Heat up an extra large skillet or wok and add some coconut oil, peanut oil, OR palm shortening. (this will be too hot for olive oil). While that’s heating up, start washing the greens up.
To the pan add the garlic and onions and quickly fry for a minute or two, then add the cooked, frozen, or raw vegetables (use the rule of no more than three different veggies, or one at a time) of your choice. Stir this until you see a scorch mark or two. Then add a little water and put a lid on it. Turn the heat down to medium-low and allow the vegetables to steam for 5 to 10 minutes. Add your choice of chopped greens (any single green will do) and stir well. Replace the lid for 5 more minutes. Add the chopped herb of your choice, stir lightly and serve with bread, rice, or wontons.
2-Gently Warming Soup – take the same ingredients you used in the stir-fry recipe and use them for this soup. In fact, left over stir-fry makes delicious hot soup. Start with starting a large soup pot boiling with water or stock (vegetable, chicken, beef, or fish). Add your starchy vegetables such as potato, yams, cauliflower and or broccoli.
After about ten minutes, add the onions and garlic. After five minutes, add the rice/barley/cooked potatoes or other cooked starchy food, in a minute or two add the greens and then the herbs you have selected. Be sure to wash and chop these vegetables and herbs well. Turn the heat off immediately after adding the greens and herbs and put a lid on it. Let it set about 5 minutes or so then dish it up.
3-Hot-Dishing- you can use left over noodles, potatoes, or any left over starchy vegetable or grains that’s been cooked. Mix into a large bowl your starchy food and add to that your greens, herbs, and sautéed garlic and onions. Then mix in something such as a can of soup (favorites include cream of celery, cream of mushroom, or tomato soup, even canned tomatoes or tomato sauce will work).
Then spread this mixture into a baking dish deep enough so that it allows for at least 1 inch of space between the food and the dish rim. If desired, top with grated cheese, parmesan cheese, or chopped meat. Top that off with a little more soup or tomato sauce. Bake in a preheated oven on 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until heated through and cheese is melted.
4-Fresh and Delicious- who wants iceberg after tasting a salad made of fresh spinach, red romaine, radicchio, or kale. Trade up the substandard iceberg lettuce for freshly washed and chopped butter leaf lettuce, and other tender greens. Swiss chard, beet greens, and even some kale will work. Just rinse well and chop up. Top with salad favorites such as chopped boiled egg, chicken, cucumber, tomatoes, and even croutons. You may have just discovered a filling favorite!
I grew up in California. Different cultures could be found in the farmers market on Saturdays. In addition to standard favorites such as collard and spinach, we could get fresh squash greens, long beans, and other delicacies. These are absolutely wonderful fresh picked foods. In case your wondering, pumpkin leaves make an excellent steak substitute in a meal. Rich, meaty, and with a texture like fine steak, they are filling and purported to be one of the healthiest greens on earth. They are delicious in soups, stir fried alone or with others vegetables, and can even be a great substitute for lasagna noodles. The fresh, younger leaves are best.
Have fun with your meals. Fresh leafy dark green vegetables are delicious. If you have avoided them because you hate canned spinach, that’s like avoiding fresh fruit because you have canned fruit salad.
Canned vegetables pale in comparison to fresh ones in flavor, texture, and nutrition. Most easily lend a delicate flavor to foods, while others prefer to take center stage. And don’t be disappointed if you don like one green cooked a certain way, every- body has their favorite method for cooking and eating each green. Maybe you will be like me and love to make tuna salad wraps with your tender
Swiss chard or endive leaves.