There are many benefits that come from adding greens to a meal

January 21, 2004|by LYNN F. LITTLE

In addition to lightening up your calorie intake, including more greens in meals will add an extra helping of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals that promote health and may help reduce the risk of cancer.

Greens are good sources of vitamins C, A and E, which are antioxidants known to fight cancer. Greens typically are high in beta carotene. Depending on the type, they also can be a good source of calcium, iron, potassium and lutein. Greens are low in calories, with 18 to 40 calories per serving, and are a good source of dietary fiber.

Leafy greens also are the next best thing to dairy products, when comparing calcium content, which makes them a great source of the nutrient for vegetarians and lactose-intolerant people who do not eat dairy products. Just one cup of cooked collards has almost as much calcium as one cup of 2-percent milk.

By cooking greens, more calcium can be squeezed into a serving. Greens decrease in size when cooked. It takes more cooked greens to equal the raw measurement, so the total calcium content fis increased. For example, about 3 cups of raw greens yield 1 1/2 cups of cooked greens. The amounts of calcium in a serving of greens can double or even quadruple, depending on the type of leafy green.


Leafy greens, such as mustard, collards and turnips, long have been a tradition in African-American cuisine. The ethnic food market is booming, and many people are discovering the taste and nutritious qualities of these vegetables. Mustard, collard and turnip greens all have distinct flavors and can be eaten in many ways. They often are served as main dishes or added to soups and salads. Whether boiled, steamed or fried, greens should not be cooked longer than 30 minutes. Cooking them in aluminum or copper pans causes sulfur compounds within the greens to react, causing an unpleasant odor and flavor. It also destroys the vitamin C, folic acid and vitamin E content of the greens.

Other tasty greens include arugula, Swiss chard, endive, escarole, kale, radicchio and watercress.

When buying greens, look for fresh green color. Purchase unwilted, moist, crisp and unblemished leaves. Wrap unwashed greens in a damp paper towel and place them in a perforated plastic bag. Collard greens will keep three to five days, kale only one to two days, as it will develop a stronger flavor the longer it is kept. Greens will stay fresh as long as the paper towels are moist. Wash greens in cool water just prior to using.

Once you start eating greens, you will discover many tasty ways to prepare and serve them. Experiment by including them in a variety of salads, soups and side dishes. Here are several recipes to help you get started.

Phytopia Pesto

3/4 pound kale, washed, large stems removed

3 to 4 cloves garlic, peeled

3/4 cup basil leaves

Juice of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

Freshly ground black pepper

Wash and stem kale, stem basil, and juice lemon. Coarsely chop kale, leaving water on leaves from washing. Place in large microwaveable bowl and cover. Microwave on high (100-percent power) for 5 minutes. Stir; return to microwave for another 5 minutes. Let stand 2 to 3 minutes, remove cover to cool.

Drop garlic into bowl of a food processor with the motor running. When finely minced, add the basil and cooked kale. Process until uniform.

Add lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Serve as you would pesto -- over pasta, on bruschetta, even as a spread on wrappers and quesadillas.

Easy, Delicious Swiss Chard

1 to 2 teaspoons olive oil

1 large bunch chard, washed

2 to 3 cloves garlic

1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste

Pepper to taste

1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

Squeeze of lemon

Remove stems from chard, and cut stems into 1/4-inch pieces. Mince garlic. Stack the chard leaves on top of each other, and cut into 1-by-3-inch strips.

Place a large skillet over medium heat and add olive oil. When hot, add the chard stems, cover and cook 3 to 4 minutes, stirring a couple of times.

Add the chard leaves; use tongs to stir the chard until it reduces some in volume (like spinach). Add the garlic and salt and pepper to taste. Stir again; cover for another 2 minutes, until tender.

Drizzle sesame oil and lemon juice over chard; adjust salt and pepper. Serves 4. Swiss chard is a mild green, and red-stemmed chard has a faint beet flavor.

Variation: Increase the olive oil to 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 teaspoons; omit the sesame oil. Omit the lemon juice; drizzle with balsamic or fruit-flavored vinegar instead.

Lynn F. Little, is family and consumer sciences educator with Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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