A Quick Guide to Healthy Greens

If you’ve never sampled Swiss chard, bought broccoli rabe, or cooked collard greens, it’s time to turn over a new leaf. Fall is prime time to sample a variety of dark, leafy greens, since they lend color, flavor, and fiber to a variety of satisfying stews, warming soups, and comfort-food casseroles. Besides being delicious, they’re rich in health-boosting nutrients. While all leafy greens are nutritious, those from the cruciferous (or cabbage) family, like collard, kale, and mustard, are particularly so because in addition to being antioxidant powerhouses, they contain sulforaphane, which may increase the activity of cancer-fighting enzymes in the body. So what are you waiting for? Look for these healthy veggies on your next trip to the supermarket (many come both fresh and frozen) or farmers’ market. Avoid washing greens until just before you plan to use them.

Kale
Currently starring in salads at some of the trendiest restaurants across the country, uncooked kale packs crunch, color, and a hefty nutritional punch. It’s loaded with beta-carotene, and also provides vitamin C, folic acid, calcium, and iron. If an all-kale salad sounds like too much of a good thing, try combining it with other elements, like chopped hard-boiled eggs, cherry tomatoes, and a little crumbled reduced-fat blue cheese. Always store kale in the refrigerator, and try to use it within three days. After that, the flavor intensifies and the leaves may grow limp. Remove the tough center stalk of kale before using. Salads aren’t the only way to enjoy kale, however. It’s showcased in this delicious Kale and Turkey Bacon Gratin, a satisfying main course that gets a nice protein boost from diced turkey bacon.

Escarole
Versatile and widely available, escarole can be tossed into a salad, cooked in a soup, or even sautéed with garlic and cannellini beans for a flavorful side dish. Pale green escarole, a great source of beta-carotene and vitamin C, has a somewhat milder flavor than certain other greens, and it only takes a few minutes to sauté. When you get escarole home from the store, rinse it well, roll it up in a clean dish towel, and store it in a plastic bag in the refrigerator crisper for up to several days. Try escarole in this thick, restorative Escarole and Turkey Sausage Soup, which also contains sweet Italian turkey sausage and garlic.

Collard Greens Collard greens, which can be used in place of kale, mustard greens, or turnip greens, taste like a cross between cabbage and kale. A mainstay of soul food cookery, collards have plentiful amounts of beta-carotene and vitamin C, along with calcium and iron. Look for crisp green leaves; avoid bunches that are wilted or yellowed. Store collards in the refrigerator, wrapped in plastic, for 3 to 5 days. You can use collards in place of kale in this Cauliflower and Kale Bake, a satisfying meatless casserole.

Swiss Chard
Featuring earthy-flavored dark green leaves and crisp, celery-like stalks, chard contains iron and is a good source of vitamin C and beta-carotene as well as two other carotenoids (lutein and zeaxanthin), which are believed to promote eye health. It’s also a source of calcium and potassium. Wrap Swiss chard in a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Your family will want seconds of this balsamic vinegar-spiked chicken entrée, which includes tomatoes and shallots in addition to Swiss chard.

Broccoli Rabe
Green, leafy broccoli rabe looks a lot like broccoli but is actually more closely related to turnips. A good source of beta-carotene and vitamin C, it also contains potassium and iron. When shopping for broccoli rabe, avoid buying any with wilted leaves or a yellowish tinge on the flower heads. Stored in a plastic bag, broccoli rabe should keep for up to five days in the refrigerator. Try it in Broccoli Rabe with Olives, where it’s cooked with lemon zest, then combined with pitted, chopped Kalamata olives and spiked with a little fresh lemon juice.

Mustard Greens
They’re spicy, peppery, and perfect for steaming or sautéing. A good source of beta-carotene, vitamin C, thiamine, and riboflavin, mustard greens may be subbed in whenever a recipe calls for kale, spinach, or Swiss chard. Fresh mustard greens should have crisp, rich green leaves; avoid bunches that have fibrous, thick stems. Store fresh mustard greens, tightly sealed in a plastic bag, for up to a week in the fridge. This meatless side dish recipe, Black-Eyed Peas with Greens & Smoked Tofu, calls for frozen greens, though you certainly could sub in fresh mustard greens if you like (they’ll take a little longer to cook.)

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