Going green & growing greens

April 22, 2009|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

For too long, cooked greens were something you ate after an ultimatum, and disliking them earned you the title of "picky eater."

Chances are, the reason you never liked cooked greens in the first place had nothing to do with a phobia of all things veggie -- childhood onset, no doubt. More likely, somebody overcooked the greens.

Let the quick-cook method come to the rescue, said Lynn Little, family and consumer sciences educator with University Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

Why not saut the greens in a bit of oil and onions? Or add some nuts or croutons to give crunch to an otherwise soft texture? Little said thinking outside the boiling pot might lead to fool-proof, mush-free greens


Fresh-grown greens might be easier to come by as early-bird gardeners start to see the fruits of their labors, said Annette Ipsan, horticulture educator for the Washington County Cooperative Extension. Planting season for most greens started in mid- March, with greens usually ready to harvest in 40 to 60 days, Ipsan said.

"It's one of the best things you can grow for your health," Ipsan said.

Cooking tip: Less is better

Unlike most foods, which dry out if you overcook them, greens get mushier the longer they stew, even if they're stewing in their own juices.

Uncooked greens are water rich, making it tough to gauge how much, if any, extra water should be added during the cooking process. This only increases the probability of nasty, soggy greens.

You can tell greens are ready once they've reached a bright green color, much like blanched broccoli, Little said. A cup of fresh, uncooked greens will cook down to a half cup, which Little said was a decent serving size for a single person.

Conversely, you can tell greens are overcooked if they have a dull color. They'll also emit strong odor, Little said.

"Bottom line to me is that (when cooked right) they're appealing and that you want to eat them, and, to me, if they're gray and mushy, chances are you're not going to want to eat them," Little said.

Greens packed with goodness

Mama was right. We really should be eating them because they're good for us.

The color is a clue that greens are a great source of beta carotene, a nutrient that's good for the eyes and skin. They're also a good source of calcium, Little said.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one measuring cup full of cooked collard greens has 236 milligrams of calcium, compared with a cup of skim milk, which has 306 milligrams.

The USDA recommends adults consume 1,316 milligrams of calcium daily.

I am a fan of spinach, which has 243 milligrams of calcium. I like to saut it in olive oil seasoned with curry and red pepper flakes. I eat it with a plain, baked sweet potato on the side. I've had similar success with collards.

Others in my family go the soul-food route, trawling produce stands for a fresh mix of greens, which they'll probably stew in a pot with some sort of meat, usually a salty hock, and will serve drizzled in hot sauce.

I can feel the hypertension setting in - but I digress.

Produce for Better Health Foundation has a database of recipes, searchable by ingredient. I found a happy medium -- an easily adaptable recipe for Mediterranean spinach. The recipe incorporates the quick-cook method. The spinach is sauted with pine nuts, basil and sun-dried tomatoes.

Mediterranean spinach

9 ounces of fresh spinach
Pine nuts, about a handful
Basil, to taste
Sun-dried tomatoes, to taste
Olive oil, about two tablespoons, enough for sauting
Feta cheese, to taste

Sauté the spinach in olive oil until just wilted. Add the pine nuts, sun-dried tomatoes and basil. Sauté until the cooked spinach is a vivid green. Sprinkle feta cheese on top and serve immediately.

Yields two servings.

-- Recipe courtesy of Produce for Better Health Foundation

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