Most people have a love-hate relationship with greens.
As kids, we tend to fear the green — our picky palates preferring sweets over Swiss chard. As we grow up, we start to encounter the green stuff in new and creative ways, like in bright salads or stir fries or omelets, and many of us start embracing the colorful addition to our plates. Yet still, even as grown up, decidedly adventurous eaters, there is no worse turn-off than soggy spinach, poorly-cooked cabbage or bland kale.
But it shouldn’t be a chore to eat these nutritious, colorful vegetables. Here’s a breakdown of our favorite greens, and some quick tips for delicious prep that may finally take the “hate” out of your love-hate relationship with cruciferous vegetables.
Kale: Whether you think of kale as a superfood or not, there’s no denying that kale is king when it comes to nutrition value. The trendy green is full of antioxidants and nutrients like fiber and Vitamins A, K and C. Given its low calorie count, kale is actually one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet — so it pays to cook the stuff in a way you’ll enjoy. Cooking Tips: Kale is one of those things that you should either cook quickly in a fast sauté, or braise low-and-slow for quite some time. A fast preparation of the stemmed greens will result in essentially a more flavorful, denser spinach which can be mixed into lots of other things (quinoa, rice, stir fries). Braising it, a la collard greens, will soften up the dense stems and wilt the greens down to a toothsome stew of sorts. Or, skip cooking altogether and serve it — just be sure to remove the stems and sliver the leaves up finely to keep it chewable.
Spinach: Packing a similar — if not slightly lesser — nutritional punch as kale, spinach is a great option for someone who may be turned off by the toughness of kale. Cooking tip: Because of its cellular structure, spinach absorbs dairy fat far better than it does oil, so the next time you want a quick spinach-and-garlic sauté, opt for butter. You’ll get the flavor and necessary fat for cooking without a sense of slick oiliness at the end.
Swiss chard: Often used in Mediterranean cooking, Swiss chard is best-known for its pretty multi-colored stalks. But beyond their good looks, Swiss chard is full of the typical nutritional benefits of greens, high in both protein and fiber. Cooking tip: Swiss chard can be a bit temperamental once it’s cut, so if you’re storing, be sure to wrap it in damp paper towels all the way down to the stems so that it stays nice and hydrated. After that, sauté with confidence.
Collards: Known best for their southern adaptations, collard greens are less bitter than kale, and tend to be one of the more versatile of the greens. Not to mention, they are a great antioxidant. Cooking tip: Once you’ve de-stemmed the big, elephant-ear-esque leaves, low and slow is the only way to go with collards. You’ll want to add a hit of vinegar (red wine, apple cider or sherry all work equally well) to the steaming liquid to brighten your collards.
Cabbage: Cabbage is a staple in culinary traditions ranging from Ireland to Asia. Also found in red or Napa varieties, cabbage is most closely aligned to collards in its nutritional profile. Cooking Tip: The good thing about cabbage is you can shred or dice it well in advance for most varieties. Not all cabbage needs to be cooked for long periods of time, and a handful of, say, julienned red cabbage tossed into a stir fry or salad adds a nice, bright crunch.