Leafy greens have a high protein per calorie ratio, and they contain an abundance of important nutrients, including iron, calcium, potassium, folic acid and vitamins A, C, and K. Many of these nutrients are essential to protect the body against disorders such as diabetes, vision impairment, calcium loss and cardiovascular diseases. In addition to this long list of nutrients, leafy greens contain a lot of fluid and fiber, both of which are vital to a healthy digestive tract. Leafy greens are so important to our health that the vegetarian nutritionist, Laurel Robertson, calls them the “nutritional powerhouse” of the food family.
Dehydrated wheat grass juice and green algae are recommended as supplements by health practitioners to treat and prevent many nutrition-related disorders. Many scientists, working to combat food shortages, also claim that leafy greens can solve world hunger not only because they contain concentrated nutrition, but also because they can be grown in abundance, even in small spaces.
Leafy greens are available year-around, but they do not store well. Unlike some vegetables such as potatoes or squashes, freshness is extremely important when buying leafy greens. Purchase them at health food stores or farmers’ markets which carry locally grown fresh produce rather than at supermarkets, where they are often wilted or packaged in plastic bags that stay on the shelf for many days. Avoid any greens that show signs of dehydration or yellowing; look for bright, deep color and crisp fresh leaves.
Nutrients in the leafy greens are highest if they are consumed raw or cooked briefly. Ways to prepare leafy greens while conserving their nutrients include: (1) steaming briefly, (2) stir frying with a small amount of fat, (3) incorporating them in soups and salads or (4) mixing them in a casserole or adding them to dough for quick breads such as chapattis or a vegetable loaf. Here are three recipes using some of these methods.
Another way to boost your intake of raw leafy green in cooked dishes is to use a handful of chopped cilantro or parsley for garnish.
In the following recipes, I have mostly chosen spinach, kale and chard for their easy availability and mild flavor rather than dandelion or mustard greens which are bitter and may be an acquired taste.
Stir Fry with Three Super Greens: Spinach, Kale and Swiss Chard
2 cup spinach leaves, rinsed and chopped after removing stems
2 cups kale, rinsed and chopped after removing thick stems
2 cups Swiss chard, rinsed and chopped after removing thick stems
2 tablespoons olive, peanut or sesame oil
2 to 3 cloves of garlic, minced
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
Freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice to taste
Salt to taste
Prepare the greens as described above. Heat the oil in a skillet or wok and sauté the garlic for two minutes until fragrant. Add the cumin seeds and stir-fry for a minute, and then toss in the greens. Stir-fry for few minutes, just long enough for the leaves to wilt, but still remain very green. Remove from the heat, and sprinkle with fresh lemon or lime juice and salt to taste. Serve immediately.
Green Chapattis (Theplas) with Rice and Watercress
This is my Gujarati family’s favorite recipe for the rainy season, using abundant monsoon greens and left-over rice or khichdi to make tortilla-like unleavened bread. Traditionally fenugreek leaves are used but watercress or any other leafy green will work as well.
1 cup cooked and completely cooled brown or white rice or khichdi (left-over works fine)
1 cup whole wheat or unbleached white flour (or rice flour for a gluten-free version)
1 cup firmly packed chopped fenugreek leaves, watercress or spinach, stem removed, washed and drained
½ teaspoon each turmeric and coriander powder
½ to 1 teaspoon salt
3 to 4 cloves of garlic minced
½ teaspoon whole cumin seeds or oregano seeds
Approximately ½ cup water
4 to 5 tablespoons corn, safflower or peanut oil
If making the dough by hand, first combine all of the ingredients except the water, oil and cumin (or oregano) seeds in a bowl and mix well. If you are using a food processor, mix all of the ingredients except the water, oil and cumin (or oregano) seeds and blend briefly for two minutes. Transfer the mixture into a bowl.
Next, add 2 tablespoons of oil and the cumin (or oregano) seeds to the mixture in the bowl and stir well. Then start adding water with one hand, a few tablespoons at a time, while mixing the dough with the other hand, just until it hold together into a compact mass. Then sprinkle few teaspoon of oil on the surface and knead briefly to form a ball. Cover the dough with a damp cloth until ready to roll it out.
To form the chapattis, divide the dough into ten equal portions. Using the palms of your hands, press each piece into a flat circle. Lay each circle on a lightly floured surface and with a rolling pin, roll it out into a circle 5” to 6” in diameter. Once you have rolled out a few disks, you can start frying them. Keep the remaining dough under a damp towel. If you have a helper, one person can roll out the disks and the other can fry them.
To cook the chapattis, heat a skillet over a medium heat and place a chapatti in the hot pan. Cook for a minute, and flip it to cook the other side for a minute. Then spread a teaspoon of oil over the surface. Flip the chapatti again and spread the same amount of oil on the other side, and cook for a few more minutes. Continue to cook on both sides by turning the chapatti several times until it turns brown and forms blisters. Repeat this process to cook the rest of the chapattis. Keep them warm under a tea towel until ready to serve. They can be served cold, at room temperature, or be reheated in the oven at 200 degrees for a few minutes.
Baby Spinach and Curly Kale Salad with Feta Cheese Dressing
In this salad, gentle baby spinach greens mingle with finely chopped textured curly kale, dotted with shredded carrots, and drizzled with a creamy feta cheese dressing.
4 cups of baby spinach leaves, washed and rinsed using a salad spinner
2 cups of curly kale, chopped after removing thick stems and being washed and rinsed
½ cup grated carrots
¼ cup finely crumbled feta cheese (goat feta preferred)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar or freshly squeezed lime juice
2 cloves of garlic, minced
l teaspoon minced mixed fresh herbs such as oregano, tarragon and parsley
Freshly grown black pepper to taste
Prepare the leaves as described above and place them in a salad bowl or on a platter. Mix the dressing ingredients together in a jar with a lid and shake well. (Use a blender or a food processor for a creamier dressing). Drizzle the dressing on the salad just before serving.
|Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff, author of Flavors of India: Vegetarian Indian Cuisine, lives in San Francisco, where she is a manager of Other Avenues, a health-food store. Serena Sacharoff is a chef, illustrator, and art student. Visit Shanta’s Vegetarian Ethnic Kitchen|