by Cat, Dec 2007 (photo, right, from Wikimedia Commons)
Your doctor has probably advised that you eat more dark green leafy vegetables. There are many reasons for this advice; see below, for a few.
Although many people prefer to eat greens raw or steamed, it is a far better idea to mix up the preparation methods in your diet, to maximize access to the various nutrients present in the greens. And if you want them steamed, it is more healthful to warm them in fat before steaming – a method known as braising.
- Includes: 1. Basic Braised Greens;
- See also these examples for inspiration: 1. Braised Greens with Chopped Bacon; 2. Braised Broccoli & Rapini with Cream; 3. Braised Kale with Garlic & Lemon;
- See also: 1. Good Fats for Cooking
Importance of eating dark green leafy veggies and cooking them properly
Here are a few great reasons to include them in your daily diet:
- Anti-cancer properties
- High vitamin and mineral content
- High in antioxidants
- Good for eyes and vision
- Prevent cataracts
- High in folate (a B vitamin) for heart health
- Prevent certain birth defects
- Low in calories
But what is the best way to eat or cook them, to maximize these benefits? While many people encourage you to eat your greens raw, I believe that most greens (lettuces are the exception) are better for you if they are cooked with a bit of good fat (see Good Fats for Cooking for my recommendations).
What is braising? It means warming the fat/oil over medium-low heat, then sautéing the greens in the warmed fat/oil (plus added garlic, onion, etc. if desired), for 1 – 2 minutes; then adding a bit of moisture (water, broth, etc) and steaming them over low heat (simmer) until just tender. You don’t want high heat for any part of this process, and it only takes a few minutes – not hot or long enough to denature any of the nutrients.
Why is this important?
- Assimilation of minerals: Without the presence of fat, many of the nutrients will not be absorbed, but will pass out with your stool. This is especially true with the minerals in the greens, because they are bound (chelated) by the oxalic acid during digestion, and pass out of your body in the stool. Lightly cooking the greens by braising them, breaks down the oxalic acid so you can absorb the minerals.
- Note 1: Braising also helps with absorption of other nutrients in the greens.
- Note 2: while adding a salad dressing made with oil does help with assimilation of minerals in raw greens, the heat of braising helps even more.
- Note 3: Rhubarb leaves should not be eaten, even when cooked in oil. Oxalic acid is present in very high quantities in rhubarb’s leaves, making them toxic, even when they are cooked in oil . The stems are considered safe because oxalic acid is present in much lower amounts.
- Minimize the anti-thyroid effect of goitrogens in the greens: Many greens, especially those in the cabbage family (cabbage, collards, turnip greens, kale, brussels sprouts, broccoli, rapini etc.) contain substances called goitrogens, which suppress thyroid activity, but are minimized by cooking. This is especially important if you are hypothyroid or have subclinical hypothyroid.
- Avoid damage caused by high-heat cooking, by cooking over lower heat in presence of fat and moisture – that is, by braising.
The Basic Braised Greens recipe, below, gives the details for using this method.
Basic Braised Greens
(Photo, right, from Wikipedia Commons)
This is my own recipe, learned from watching my childhood neighbor, Rena (1), braising broccoli or asparagus. Rena was an excellent cook whose tastes went far beyond the meat and potatoes tastes of most people in our small rural community.
I don’t provide amounts because I’ve never weighed my greens before cooking. You know how much greens you need for your family’s meal, and the rest is pretty much independent of the amount of greens.
You can use just one type of greens, or mix it up; you can even use non-greens like carrots, tomatoes or bell peppers. I like to combine florets of cauliflower with kale or broccoli. Sautéing a bit of chopped garlic or onion before adding the greens is another idea. You can also use asparagus and/or green beans. Sliced mushrooms can also be sautéed with the onions, if desired.
Ingredients & Equipment:
- greens (spinach, chard, kale, broccoli, rabe, rapini, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, collards, turnip greens, etc), green beans, asparagus; singly or in combination
- chopped onion, shallot or scallions (optional)
- finely chopped garlic (optional but recommended
- 1 – 2 Tbsp pure olive oil, avocado oil, or bacon fat
- 1 – 2 Tbsp boiling water
- dash of raw apple cider vinegar (optional)
- Unrefined sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Tea kettle or saucepan
- Cast iron skillet (or Dutch oven for large quantities), with lid
- Wash greens and shake them to dry a bit. Remove stems if desired. If leaves are large, cut them crosswise into 1″ strips. If using broccoli or cauliflower, separate into florets with a bit of stem.
- If using green beans, wash, then trim off ends; if using asparagus, wash, then remove woody end by allowing it to snap apart where it wants to. Cut beans or asparagus to desired length (or leave full-length).
- Chop onion or shallot coarsely, slice leek crosswise thinly, and/or chop garlic finely.
- Bring water to a boil in tea kettle or saucepan with lid, and hold at a simmer until ready to use.
- Heat oil/bacon fat in skillet over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until it begins to soften.
- Lightly sauté garlic and/or onion – not enough to brown or caramelize them – over medium-low heat.
- Add prepped greens and/or other veggies, and stir to coat well with the hot oil/fat, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper.
- Reduce heat to a simmer and add simmering water, just enough to keep things moist, about 2 Tbsp. Cover with lid and let braise for 2 – 5 minutes or until just fork tender, but still bright in color.
- Serve with a dash of apple cider vinegar, if desired.
Kale with Garlic & Lemon
Moved to Braised Kale with Garlic & Lemon.
- Rena Tanghe, my childhood neighbor, and a second ‘Mom’ to me
- Better Homes & Gardens, Dec 2007 and Jan 2008
- Fine Cooking: finecooking.com/recipes/kale-garlic-lemon.aspx