Your mother always said to eat your greens, but in order to get the most health benefits you can, you need to be sure that you identify, purchase and clean the right greens. Knowing which greens to purchase depends on how you feel about foods that are sprayed with fungicides and chemicals, or organic foods that are grown using healthier alternatives.
No matter which way you go, cleaning your greens properly is important. At the very least, you will need to clean off any loose soil left on the leaves or stems. Many grocery stores sell greens in bags where they have been pre-washed. You usually need to use these quickly as they wilt more quickly. Even if the package says the greens are pre-washed, it's best to be cautious and rewash them anyway.
How to Clean Greens
First, cut off the unwanted part of your greens, either the head or the stem. Then, you'll need to separate the leaves. Depending on how much time you really want to spend, you can individually clean each piece of lettuce by running it under cold water or swishing it in a bowl of cold water.
Otherwise you can place all of the leaves in a bowl of cold water, swishing them around for a few seconds. Let them sit in the bowl for a minute and you will begin to notice that the sand and dirt has sunk to the bottom of the bowl.
Take each piece of leaf out one at a time, gently shaking the water off and laying them on a piece of paper toweling or a clean, cloth towel. Blot the leaves dry.
If you don't plan on using your greens right away, it's important to store them properly so they will be fresh and crisp when you are ready for them. Lay the leaves out on paper towels and begin to roll them up in the paper towel. This will help blot out excess water. Store the greens in a plastic container or bag.
Now that you have clean greens, you can use them in a variety of ways. A typical salad will consist of greens and all the toppings you may enjoy, including other cut-up vegetables. Some prefer a sweet taste being added to their salads, using fruit like apples, strawberries, or oranges. Topping your greens with nuts, sunflower seeds, avocado or even low-fat shredded cheese makes for a delicious green salad with a bit of healthy fat and protein.
Eating greens is not the only thing that you can do with them, however. How about a nice green smoothie? This is a very healthy drink that can be altered to suit any taste.
A mix of 3 types of fruit (apple, kiwi, mango, pear, banana, etc.)
1 to 1 1/2 cups of Kale or Romaine lettuce
1 celery stalk
Cut the fruit into chunks and blend all the ingredients together with either one cup of water or one cup of your favorite juice in a food processor or juicer.
Environmentally Friendly Greens
If you want to eat your greens and make a positive impact on our environment at the same time, then going organic is the best way. When greens are grown organically, the soil is replenished constantly. With greens that are grown commercially, the soil is depleted.
Of course, you could always opt to grow your own greens. This is known as growing locally. This eliminates pesticides, depletion and can actually save you money. You can even freeze some types of greens (like spinach) to use when the growing season ends. No land to grow your own? Eat locally by visiting a farmer's market or farm stand.
Blanching Your Greens
Blanching your greens allows the opportunity to safely freeze them. If you just stick your greens in the freezer they will become tough, discolored and lack flavoring. Vegetables contain enzymes that help a plant to grow and mature. You want to slow down or stop that process in order to freeze the greens while they are fresh.
To blanch your greens, you will need a wire basket that can fit into a large pot. For each pound of greens you are blanching, you will need 1 gallon of water, brought to a boil. Put the greens into the basket and lower the basket into the boiling water. Cover the pot and allow it to return to a boil, which will take about one minute.
It is very important that you blanch your greens for the right amount of time. If you are blanching collards, set a timer for 3 minutes. Most other greens will take 2 minutes. If you are blanching greens that have very tender leaves, you will only want to leave them in for about 1 1/2 minutes.
Cooling Your Greens
Cooling your greens is an important step. They need to be cooled quickly so that the cooking process is stopped. If they remain hot, they will continue to "cook." The basket should be placed into a container of cold water. However long it took you to blanch the greens is how long it will take to cool them. So you may need to change the water to keep them cold, or you can run cold water over them.
Greens aren't just for cold salads. Many greens truly shine when cooked. Some of the more popular types of greens that can be cooked include:
- Bok choy
- Collard greens
- Mustard greens
- Swiss chard
There are many other types of greens that are delicious when cooked. To cook these greens, bring 2 quarts of water to a boil. Submerge whole leaves into the water. Use a spoon to press them down to the bottom of the pot. It can take anywhere from 30 seconds to 5 minutes, depending on the type of green you are cooking.
Another popular cooking method for greens is wilting the leaves on a stove top with olive oil. You can also add other sautéed vegetables for a healthy and delicious meal or side dish.
The best way to tell if your greens are done cooking is a taste test. There should still be a bright color to them and when you take a bite, there should be a release of sweet juices. If the greens are bitter, they need to cook longer. Run cool water over the greens once they are done to stop the cooking process. Once cool, gently squeeze out the excess water. They are now ready to be served however you like.
Greens are a great addition to any meal. They are versatile, bursting with important nutrients, and when properly grown and harvested, are good for the environment and you!