As we are moving into spring, leafy greens take center stage in my kitchen. I I just love them so much – I crave them – I want to eat them every day. Leafy greens are the most nutrition-filled land vegetables. As the green part of the plant, they contain chlorophyll, a pigment they use to capture sunlight and form oxygen. Leaves are, in essence, the lungs of a plant, and consuming them brings energy and strength to our own lungs.
You will feel a burst of energy within minutes of eating greens. If you make them a regular part of your diet, they will uplift your spirit and infuse you with potent sun energy. Green is the color of spring, of renewal, of hope, of the heart chakra. No wonder green leafy greens have such positive effects on us.
On a nutritional level, leafy greens provide us with an abundance of minerals, vitamins and other valuable substances: iron (The darker the green, the more iron), calcium (Where do cows get the calcium to make milk? From the green grass!), magnesium, potassium, phosphorous, zinc and vitamins A, C, E and K. Leafy greens also deliver fiber, folic acid and, of course, chlorophyll. Chlorophyll nourishes the friendly bacteria in the digestive tract, thus promoting healthy intestinal flora, strengthening immunity and preventing cancer.
Leafy greens have cleansing properties, helping to support liver and kidney function. The bitter-tasting leafy greens, such as watercress, dandelion, arugula and broccoli rabe, are great liver tonics. All leafy greens are excellent blood purifiers, and they improve circulation. They help reduce mucus and clear congestion, especially in the lungs.
Please be aware of two cautions regarding leafy greens:
—Beet greens, Swiss chard and spinach contain oxalic acid, which can leach calcium out of our bones and teeth. Eat these in moderation and combine them with other calcium-rich foods such as legumes, dairy and fish.
— Vitamin K-containing foods such as leafy greens should be eaten sparingly by people who take the blood-thinning medication warfarin (commonly known as Coumadin), which prevents blood clots by blocking the action of vitamin K. Because leafy greens are an abundant source of vitamin K, eating them can undermine the drug’s protection against blood clots.
Leafy greens are easy and quick to prepare. The most time-consuming part of preparation is washing the greens. I recommend that you fill your sink with cold water, cut the greens into pieces that suit your recipe and submerge them in the water. With your hands, move the greens about to dislodge any earth or sand particles. If you find a lot of debris at the bottom of your sink, repeat the procedure.
After washing the greens, place them in a colander to drain. It is good to leave a little water on the leaves, as it provides some steaming action during cooking.
You can steam, boil or sauté greens. Save any cooking liquid to enjoy as a soothing and alkalizing drink. The cooking time for leafy greens is very brief—anywhere from two to five minutes. Always keep a watchful eye—the brightness of the green color will give you a clue as to when they are ready. When the color turns a more vibrant green, that is your signal that they are done. If you cook them for too long, their color changes to olive green and they lose both visual appeal and flavor. Once they turn bright green and are ready, serve them right away, unless you plan to use them in a salad—you would then rinse them with cold water at that point to stop the cooking process.
When serving greens to my guests, I complete all preparations beforehand, but I don’t actually cook the greens until right then and there—while my guests are sitting at the dining table. There is nothing more delicious than freshly cooked greens that have been prepared just a minute ago.
When preparing greens, use some form of oil or fat, whether in the cooking process or drizzled over the finished dish, as this will help with the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, E and K. Squeezing a little lemon or lime juice or white balsamic vinegar over the dish will help to pull more calcium out of the greens.
When buying greens, make sure they are fresh. Do not buy greens that are limp or have turned yellow—you do not want any wilted energy in your body!
If you are not using them right away, know that leafy greens keep well in the refrigerator for a couple of days. Before placing them in the fridge, hold the bunch together and cut a small piece off the bottom of their stems and place them in a vessel with some water. Let them have a drink of water, then wrap the stems with a wet paper towel and place them in a loose plastic bag into the fridge.
Another way of prepping them before putting them in the fridge would be to cut them into desired pieces for use later. I usually set myself up next to the kitchen sink, fill it with cold water and place a chopping board to the left of the sink (I am right-handed). Then I take each leaf and remove the stem by cutting along both sides of the stems. When I have a few leaves destemmed, I place them on top of each other, cut them crosswise into strips of my choice and push them into the water. I repeat the same procedure with all leaves and move them around in the water so that any dirt gets dislodged and sinks to the bottom. I let the leaves soak up some of the water, then transfer them to a colander to drain. I then place them into a plastic bag, blow some air into the bag and tie a knot. This way the leaves will not be squashed. When it is time to use them in a recipe, I take either part or the whole portion of pre-cut leaves and add them to my cooking.