Go with Green

Spring 2015
Swiss chard is among the greens that are great for braising. These bunches were being sold at the Belfast Farmers’ Market by New Beat Farm. English photo.

By Cheryl Wixson

Spring is the start of my favorite season of eating. I love the shift from eating root vegetables to just-picked, seasonal and local food. After the cold and dark days of winter, we are enjoying especially a good supply of fresh greens; ruffled leaves of kale, baby spinach, bok choy, ‘Bright Lights’ Swiss chard and tender beet greens. Whether in a salad or sautéed, greens are a quick and nutritious addition to any meal.

More than any other hue, green is the color of life. I can’t imagine Mother Earth without green, especially in the springtime. A green planet is a healthy planet, and all of this is made possible by the green pigment chlorophyll. However, the main reason to enjoy greens is not to consume the chlorophyll, but to tap into the extraordinary bounty of phytochemicals that are packed into these foods.

Take spinach, for example – often labeled the “king of vegetables.” Spinach is one of the richest sources of the orange-yellow carotenoid lutein, one of the main antioxidants in the eye. Packed with vitamins C, K and B6, folate, iron, potassium and zinc, spinach is the ultimate health food. The lutein in spinach (and kale, chard and other greens) plays a crucial role in preventing blindness, stopping tunnel vision, preventing cataracts and improving night vision.

Spinach also contains two other important antioxidants: glutathione and alpha-lipoic acid. Maintaining a high level of glutathione is critical for life, as it helps us maintain a healthy liver, boosts the immune system, repairs damaged cells and helps prolong life. Alpha-lipoic acid helps the body guard against stroke and heart attacks and strengthens the memory.

Our favorite way to enjoy greens, besides in a salad, is braised, a cooking technique in which the greens are first sautéed in a small amount of fat and then simmered in liquid until tender. For a hearty breakfast or a quick supper, I love to combine greens with sausage or bacon. Braised greens and cooked beans make a savory and filling sandwich. Chopped greens are a delicious addition to an omelet or soup. No matter how you enjoy them, greens are an amazing health food.

Spring is here. Let the super-food eating begin!

Braised Greens

Braising, a cooking process in which the food is first cooked in a small amount of fat and then simmered in a liquid, is an excellent way to cook a wide variety of greens such as kale, chard, spinach and collards. Cooks often add chopped garlic and/or onion and use different fats, such as olive oil, sesame oil or bacon. Liquid can be water, stock or wine. Braised greens retain many of their phytochemicals and provide the body with a wealth of health benefits, including maintaining a healthy liver, boosting the immune system and repairing damaged DNA.

Wash greens thoroughly and roughly cut them. If greens have large stems, chop the stems separately. Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the toughest pieces first, stirring and cooking. If necessary, add some liquid or stock. When the stems have started to become tender, add the garlic, onion and chopped leaves. Stir and cook until wilted and tender. It may be necessary to add stock and cover and cook until the greens are tender enough. Season to taste with sea salt and fresh pepper. If desired, add chopped fresh herbs such as parsley, basil or cilantro. Generally, 1 pound of greens feeds two to three as a side dish.

Here are some greens to try:

Kale – a green-leafed member of the brassica family. The stems are often thick and may be discarded. A vegetable loved by Italians and for which Americans are starting to develop a taste. Becomes much sweeter after the first frost.

Kohlrabi – another member of the brassica family with a bulb on the end. The bulb is often peeled and eaten like turnip and the greens cooked.

Bok choy – a Chinese cabbage with the flavor of a mild cabbage crossed with spinach. Try it braised with fresh ginger and garlic.

Spinach – the most versatile of greens, spinach needs to be thoroughly washed to remove sand and grit. Braised spinach usually does not need the addition of liquid, as its leaves contain enough water. My favorite is braised with sesame oil and sesame seeds.

Swiss chard – although in a different genus than spinach (but the same family), chard has similar characteristics. Separate the leaves from the stalks. Chard comes in a variety of bright colors and grows well in our Maine climate.

Beet greens – the leaves of beet plants; the best having tiny beets attached to them. Be sure to wash thoroughly. Delicious when sautéed with bacon fat!

Seed catalogs list many other types of greens that are enjoyed by adventuresome cooks!

Braised Swiss Chard with Sausage

1 pound Swiss chard

1 pound sausages (pork, turkey, chicken)

Wash and roughly chop the chard. Chop the large stems separately. Simmer the sausages in a large sauté pan with about an inch of water until they are about half-cooked. Add the chopped chard and continue to simmer until the chard is cooked. Allow the water to boil off. Briefly brown the sausages and the chard, and serve. Makes four servings.

Nutritional analysis per serving (approximate, varies with sausage): 282 calories, 8 grams carbohydrates, 18 grams protein, 21 grams fat, 900 mg sodium, 2 grams fiber

This article was originally published in the spring 2015 issue of The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener.

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