Mustard & Green Leafy Friends
Allison Mignery, Guest Writer
Physical Activity & Nutrition Supervisor
Mecklenburg County Health Department
No, we are not talking about the condiments mustard, ketchup and relish. In this article, we will look at a variety of vegetable greens—mustard, collards, kale and Swiss chard. Greens are a Southern tradition, and superstitiously thought to bring good luck for the upcoming year when eaten on New Year’s Day. However, they are wonderful to eat all autumn/winter long.
Dark green leafy vegetables are good sources of many vitamins and minerals your body needs to stay healthy, such as vitamins A, C, and K, folate, iron and calcium. They are also great sources of fiber. Research suggests the nutrients found in dark green vegetables may prevent certain types of cancers and promote heart health.
Mustard Greens have a peppery flavor and are delicious when eaten raw in salads or in stir-fries and soups. Of the vegetable greens, mustard greens are the highest in folate. They are also the most pungent of the cooking greens and originated in the Himalayan region of India more than 5,000 years ago. Brassica juncea, the mustard plant, is characterized by its crumpled or flat leaves that may have scalloped, frilled or lacey edges. This plant produces the brown seeds that are used to make Dijon mustard.
Collard Greens (pictured left) have a mild flavor and are especially rich in calcium. Collard greens grow best in warm weather though they can withstand the cold temperatures of late autumn. Interestingly enough, the flavor of collard greens is enhanced by a light frost. Collards are the oldest known greens in the cabbage family, dating back to ancient times because of their similarity to cabbage eaten by prehistoric people. The best way to prepare collards is to boil them briefly and then add to a soup or stir-fry. You can also eat collard greens as a side dish: just add your favorite seasoning and enjoy!
Kale has a slightly bitter, cabbage-like flavor and, out of the vegetable greens, is the richest in vitamin A. Kale is tasty when added to soups, stir-fries and sauces. Kale has long ruffled leaves that resemble large parsley sprigs, and hues that vary from lavender to chartreuse. Like most cooking greens, kale can grow in colder temperatures and withstand frost, which actually helps produce even sweeter leaves. It is a favorite in the southern United States, where like many cooking greens it has been considered a poor man’s food.
Swiss Chard tastes similar to spinach and has a sweet yet slightly bitter flavor (similar to beets), and has large green leaves with ribs running throughout. The leaves can be smooth or curly and are attached to fleshy, crunchy white, red or yellow celery-like stalks. Swiss chard is best stir-fried or eaten raw in salads. Its popular name stems from the fact that a Swiss botanist determined the plant’s scientific name.
When storing fresh greens, store in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator or wrapped tightly in plastic wrap. However, fresh greens last only a few days, and quickly becoming faded, dry and yellow. In preparing greens for eating, you should first remove any wilted or yellow leaves. Next, dunk greens into a bowl of tepid water a few times to clean. Drain and use a salad spinner to dry greens for use in salads. For use in cooking, it is not necessary to completely dry leaves.
Here are some cooking ideas for using vegetable greens:
Grits and Greens Casserole
In this recipe, you can omit the bacon and use vegetable broth to make it a vegetarian dish.
4 slices bacon, chopped (optional)
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth, divided
1 teaspoon salt
16 cups chopped collard greens or kale, stems removed (about 1 large bunch, 1.5 to 2 pounds)
2 cups water, plus more as needed
1 cup grits (not instant)
¾ cup shredded extra-sharp Cheddar cheese, divided
¼ cup prepared salsa
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Coat an 8-inch-square baking dish with cooking spray.
2. Place bacon (if using) in a large Dutch oven. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until crispy, 4 to 6 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Pour off the bacon fat.
3. Return the pot to medium-low heat; add oil, onion and garlic and cook, stirring often, until fragrant and starting to brown in spots, 2 to 8 minutes (cooking time will be quicker if you started with bacon). Add 1 cup broth and salt; bring to a boil over high heat. Add collards (or kale); stir until wilted down to about one-third the volume and bright green, 1 to 2 minutes. Cover; reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until tender, 18 to 20 minutes.
4. Adjust heat during cooking to maintain a simmer, and add some water, ¼ cup at a time if the pan seems dry.
5. Meanwhile, bring 2 cups water and the remaining 1 cup broth to a boil in a large saucepan. Pour in grits in a steady stream, whisking constantly. Bring to a simmer, whisking constantly. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, whisking often, until thick, about 5 minutes. Combine ½ cup cheese, salsa and egg in a small bowl. Remove grits from the heat and quickly stir in the cheese mixture until combined.
6. Working quickly, spread about half the grits in the prepared baking dish. Top with greens, spreading evenly. Spread the remaining grits over the greens. Sprinkle with the remaining ¼ cup cheese and the reserved bacon (if using).
7. Bake the casserole until hot and bubbling, about 20 minutes. Let stand for about 10 minutes before serving.
Nutrition per serving: (makes 6 servings, 1 cup each) 226 calories; 8 g fat; 50 mg cholesterol; 31 g carbohydrates; 11 g protein; 4 g fiber; 473 mg sodium.
Produce for Better Health Foundation, Fruits & Veggies More Matters: www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org;
Allison Mignery is a Registered Dietitian nationally and a Licensed Dietitian in North Carolina. Allison is employed with the Mecklenburg County Health Department’s Health Promotion Team in Charlotte, NC, where she works closely with Mecklenburg County’s Park and Recreation Department and Cooperative Extension to help build and sustain community gardens in the area. Allison’s series To Your Health shares recipes and articles focused on good health.
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