Winter greens pack a nutritional punch

EATING WELL

January 10, 1995|By Colleen Pierre | Colleen Pierre,Special to The Sun

To everything there is a season, and for every season, there is special produce. Winter is the time for "cooking" greens.

Traditionally appreciated far more in the South, kale, collards, dandelion, turnip and mustard greens are expanding to markets across the nation. Nutritionally dense and with a distinctive bite, low-calorie greens break the boredom of pale winter salads. Naturally low in fat and high in fiber, these fresh winter vegetables can help you pare off those holiday pounds.

For less than 50 calories per cup, cooked greens offer significant amounts of vitamin A from beta carotene, vitamin C, calcium and fiber. In addition, kale, collards and mustard are members of the cruciferous, or cabbage family, vegetables believed to have cancer-preventing power.

Greens vary in the amount of each nutrient they provide, proving once again that variety is the spice of life. Dandelion greens give the most vitamin A. Turnip greens are highest in calcium and fiber. Kale offers the most vitamin C. If you're not an experienced greens eater, there's all the more reason to experiment with different types. You'll get a wider range of nutrients and more interesting flavors.

When shopping, buy only greens that have been kept well-chilled, which protects both flavor and vitamin content. Leaves should be dark green, lively and spunky-looking. Greens that are limp, turning yellow, or marked with bug bites are past their prime and lower in nutrients. Smaller leaves will be more tender and less likely to be bitter.

At home, store greens wrapped in paper towels inside a plastic bag. Place them in a dark spot in your refrigerator, like the vegetable drawer, since exposure to light can reduce vitamin C and folic acid content.

Most greens can be kept a day or two at home, but the sooner you use them, the better. Some, like kale, develop a stronger flavor the longer they are stored.

Before cooking, wash the greens several times, until the water is clear of sandy sediment. Particularly with kale and collards, remove the tough stem and mid-rib that runs up into the leaf.

Sturdy kale and collards are best simmered, covered, in a small amount of broth, for 10 to 30 minutes. Cooking time will depend on the toughness of the greens. Use the least amount of liquid possible to save vitamins, and use any leftover liquid in soups or sauces. Cook as little as possible. Longer cooking develops sulfur-containing compounds with a very unpleasant odor.

Traditionally, greens are cooked with a ham hock or other fatty meat, which wrecks their low-fat status. Instead, add a bit of lean, low-salt ham during cooking, for nearly fat-free flavor. A splash of vinegar is the customary seasoning for turnip greens.

Very young, tender leaves of any greens can be added, uncooked, to winter salads for distinctive flavor and higher levels of vitamin C.

Add leftover cooked greens to bean or vegetable soup (even canned), to improve nutritional quality.

Colleen Pierre, a registered dietitian, is the nutrition consultant the the Union Memorial Sports Medicine Center and Vanderhorst & Associates in Baltimore.

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