If you've ever spent New Year's Day in the South, you know that nothing starts the year off right like a "mess o' greens." For good fortune, you simply must have black-eyed peas and greens on the first day of the year.
Actually, you'll get a lot more than good luck from your New Year's greens. The cruciferous veggies usually found in the stewpot are a concentrated source of good health as well. Collards, kale, and mustard greens-the classic triumvirate-provide a plenitude of protection against a host of ills.
The array of antioxidants found in these three greens is staggering-well over 45 and counting. They contribute to a reduction in oxidative stress and chronic inflammation, two factors that can lead to cataracts, heart disease, cancer, and numerous other maladies. These same compounds also help lower cholesterol by binding the bile acids in the intestines to allow them to pass safely out of the body. And by contributing to both phases of the body's detox process, they help provide protection against numerous environmental stresses.
So even if you live in cold northern climes and have never whiled away a muggy Southern afternoon on the porch with a mint julep in hand, it's time to get yourself a mess o' greens. Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Always choose greens that are bright and crisp, with no yellow or brown spots, and no discolored edges or small holes. Colors should be vibrant-yellow leaves means they're long past fresh and have lost much of their nutritive value.
- If you can, select smaller leaves rather than larger, because they're sweeter and less bitter.
- Let the leaves sit for a few minutes after you chop them; this helps release beneficial compounds and amplifies the greens' nutritional value. Cooking accomplishes the same thing-cooked greens have a far denser nutritional profile than raw ones.
- Store greens in a resealable plastic bag with most of the air squeezed out. Keep them in the coldest part of the fridge for no more than a few days.
Did You Know ... ?
... greens were growing wild in Asia and the Mediterranean before recorded history?
... during the Middle Ages, kale was one of the most common vegetables across all of Europe?
... in Brazil, a juice made from collards is favored as a remedy for gout and bronchitis?
... on Halloween in Ireland, the traditional dish called colcannon is made with mashed potatoes and kale?
... mustard greens are used to remove dangerous heavy metals from soil in hazardous waste sites?
... an old superstition in the South holds that hanging a collard leaf over the door will ward off evil spirits?
Mess o' Slow-Cooked Greens
This traditional Southern dish is perfect with a roast chicken and mashed potatoes.
2 cups organic low-sodium chicken broth
4 bunches fresh greens (collard, kale, mustard), stems removed and coarsely chopped
6 whole cloves garlic, peeled
4 spring onions, cut into one-inch pieces
1 smoked ham hock, or 1 smoked turkey drumstick
½ tsp. coarsely ground black pepper
- Bring broth to a boil in large, heavy pot. Add remaining ingredients, and return to a boil. Reduce heat to low, and barely simmer, stirring occasionally, about 1 1/2 hours.
- Remove ham hock, and shred meat, discarding skin, fat, and bones. Return meat to pot. Crush garlic with fork, and stir pot thoroughly. Serve hot.
PER SERVING: 160 cal; 13g pro; 5g total fat (2g sat fat); 19g carb; 19mg chol; 138mg sod; 11g fiber; 2g sugars
Spicy Kale & Pinto Bean Soup
A tasty treat that makes a perfect light supper paired with a crunchy green salad and a whole wheat baguette.
2 Tbs. canola oil
1 small brown onion, chopped
1/2 tsp. ancho chile powder
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 tsp. chopped red jalapeño
6 cups organic vegetarian broth
2 bunches kale, stemmed and chopped
2 15-oz. cans organic pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
- Heat oil in large heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and chile powder, and cook until onions are barely translucent, stirring often, about 5 minutes.
- Add garlic and jalapeño, and cook 1 minute more. Add broth, and bring to a boil. Add kale and pinto beans, and return to a boil. Reduce heat, and keep at a high simmer until kale is wilted and cooked through, 8-10 minutes.
- Remove from heat, stir in cilantro, and serve immediately.
PER SERVING: 344 cal; 16g pro; 8g total fat (1g sat fat); 55g carb; 0mg chol; 428mg sod; 17g fiber; 7g sugars